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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Labour hits out amid reports Number 10 adviser Munira Mirza will set up Boris Johnson’s race commission

Labour hits out amid reports Number 10 adviser Munira Mirza will set up Boris Johnson’s race commission

Boris Johnson and Munira Mirza have worked together since the PM’s days as mayor of London. (PA)

3 min read

Labour MPs have claimed Boris Johnson’s new commission on racial inequalities will be “dead on arrival” amid controversy over the involvement of a top Downing Street adviser who has been critical of past inquiries into the issue.

The Guardian and Financial Times report that Munira Mirza, who heads up the Number 10 policy unit, will lead work to form the new review, which was announced by the Prime Minister in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy accused Mr Johnson of “trying to wage a culture war” after he pointed out that his own review into inequality in the justice system had been attacked by Ms Mirza.

“My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Cameron and May,” he said. 

“But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it. Johnson isn’t listening to Black Lives Matter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.”

And former Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott said: “A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival. She has never believed in institutional racism.”

That view was echoed by the Institute of Race Relations think tank, which warned: “Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors.”

A spokesperson said: “Munira Mirza’s previous comments describe a ‘grievance culture’ within the anti-racist field and she has previously argued that institutional racism is ‘a perception more than a reality’

“It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities.”

Ms Mirza has also been sharply critical of other previous probes into racial inequality in Britain, describing Theresa May’s race disparity audit as an example of how “anti-racism is becoming weaponised across the political spectrum” in a 2007 Spectator column.

In one column she said for Ms May “to claim that we have a serious problem with racism really would be a burning injustice”.

Former shadow equalities secretary Dawn Butler told The Guardian: “I am tired of fighting the government on this issue. The only review needed is a review into all the past consultations and reviews as well as their failure to implement over 200 prior recommendations.”

Ms Mirza served as a deputy mayor for education and culture when Boris Johnson was mayor of London, and previously worked for the Policy Exchange think tank.

She took charge of the Number 10 Policy Unit when Mr Johnson entered Downing Street in July last year.

Number 10 on Monday confirmed the PM’s new commission would look at “wider inequalities” such as why working-class white boys are behind others in school.

Confirming work to establish the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has already begun, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said a report and recommendations are expected by the end of the year.

He confirmed its membership is yet to be announced, but it will “examine continuing racial and ethnic inequalities in Britain”, reporting into Mr Johnson with the support of the existing Race Disparity Unit.

“The aim of the commission is to set out a new policy agenda for change, balancing the needs of individuals, communities and society, maximising opportunities and ensuring fairness for all,” he said.

And Mr Johnson told reporters in Number 10 on Monday: “What I feel most strongly is that there are so many positive stories that are not being heard.

“Things really are changing. You’re seeing young black kids now doing better in some of the most difficult subjects in school than they were ever before, more going to top universities.”

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