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Culture wars give Boris Johnson and his government a quick and easy high. They do not replace the government |




“Two basic rules of government: never examine anything that you don’t have to do. And never open an investigation unless you know in advance what its conclusions will be.” The words are taken from ‘Yes Minister’, an ’80s television satire on the dysfunction of British politics, but they could also apply to the Westminster today.

Sir Humphrey Appleby, the amoral official who served his lazy minister on the BBC’s long-running series, could have allowed himself a wry smile this week at the release of a report on racial inequalities which, although it comes from ‘an independent panel, had strong echoes of the opinion expressed by the UK government on the issue. However, like many of Sir Humphrey’s fictitious ploys, this one risks igniting the very problems he claims to solve.

The report, released on March 31 by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities, was commissioned last fall following pent-up frustrations at the protests by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and their supporters – who demanded that the government seriously consider and correct racial inequalities. which still permeate the British. society.

The report’s phased release began with a summary of the findings that made headlines across the country on Wednesday morning. He said the report found no evidence to support “the well-meaning idealism of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist.” In fact, the successes of part of the UK’s ethnic minority population should be “seen as a model for other white majority countries”.

The reaction to what has been described as a spinning operation was furious. It has been called “government-level gas lighting” by sections of the press and the public and the damage was done even before the report was officially released later that morning.

Once published, there was a lot more for critics to do. The report was accused of putting a positive spin on slavery and empire with its inflammatory suggestion to teach children “the Caribbean experience which speaks of the era of slavery not only about profit and suffering, but how Africans transformed themselves.” culturally in a reshaped Africa / Britain ”.

‘Poor quality work’

Policy experts have also noticed glaring gaps in his analysis. Disparities – such as the reasons ethnic minorities disproportionately die from Covid-19 as well as discrimination in the labor market – have been explained by other factors, such as geography, living conditions and location. social income, while ignoring the role race played a role in determining these factors.

“It was pretty universal on the part of everyone who was credible in these areas, who all said it was shoddy work,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of public policy at King’s College London and an economist. chief at the Cabinet Office between 2008 and 2011. “What they’re trying to justify a particular rhetoric about racism in the UK,” he told CNN.

The report was politicized from the start to downplay legitimate concerns about racism and how to deal with it, activists say. “The whole structure of this commission had to fit into this worldview they had from the start of the report,” said Simon Wolley, founding director of Operation Black Vote and chairman of the government advisory unit on racial disparity in July of last year.

“The way this was spun is evidence based policy, not policy based on evidence,” Wolley added.

Although the commission is independent from the government, experts said the report’s findings echoed the “war awakening” mentality of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration.

This included a speech given in December by Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss, who said tackling inequality should not be limited to “change of sex, race and sex.“She complained that too much time was spent in her school during the 1980s talking about ‘racism and sexism’ rather than ‘making sure everyone could read and write. The following month, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick launched a law to protect historic statues, promising to protect monuments from “activists and worthy awakened,” he wrote in the right-wing newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

Only one statue – a source of controversy for a long time – was overthrown at the height of the BLM protests; those accused of committing his fall have been charged and will be tried under the legislation in force.

CNN has contacted Downing Street for comment.

No liability

Another reason the report has attracted so much criticism is the growing sense that the government is mark one’s own homework. Its publication comes a few days after a report from The British Police Watchdog, The Inspectorate of His Majesty’s Gendarmerie (HMIC), absolved the metropolitan police of any wrongdoing heavy dispersion of a vigil in London for the murdered woman Sarah Everard.

The nonprofit Index on Censorship, which defends free speech around the world, questioned the independence of the watchdog the next day, publish excerpts from a whistleblower complaint questioning the impartiality and independence of the HMIC.

The whistleblower’s complaint concerned a report released by HMIC early March backing the Home Office’s proposal to crack down on protests through new legislation, later known as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The HMIC report was commissioned by Home Secretary Priti Patel following the BLM climate change protests and the Extinction Rebellion last year, HMIC wrote.

But HMIC whistleblower Alice O’Keefe, whom Index on Censorship supports, “said the inspectorate decided to back the government’s proposals ahead of the fieldwork. [had] been finished, ” according to a press release. He added that O’Keefe feared the HMIC report “may have contributed to the crackdown on Sarah Everard’s vigil on Clapham Common in south London”.

“It is absolutely essential that a government watchdog … be seen as independent and impartial,” said Martin Bright, editor of Index on Censorship. “It is of great concern to the public to come to conclusions that are acceptable to ministers before seeing all the evidence, as whistleblower Alice O’Keefe suggests,” he added. CNN has reached out to HMIC for comment.

Even in cases where independent bodies produce results critical of the government, they have regularly been taken under the rug. The most important case concerns Minister of the Interior Patel and the allegations regarding his treatment of officials. A Cabinet Office investigation found that Patel had violated the Ministerial Code for “behavior which can be described as bullying”, independent advisor Alex Allen wrote in his conclusions last year.

Allen resigned after Johnson chose to defend Patel, saying he had “full confidence” in the Home Secretary – who later apologized for his behavior. Allen’s resignation indicated “a trend – a government which is indifferent to constitutional norms and conventions and which views self-limitation as mere inconvenience to be fired,” legal commentator David Allen Green written in his blog.

Social divisions

The storm so far shows little sign of damaging the popularity of Johnson and his ruling Tory party. He took advantage of a lead in polls for most of the past year, despite its response to the widely criticized pandemic, which has seen 127,000 people die from Covid-19 in the UK.

The race report “was always going to cause that kind of backlash. And presumably that was part of the intention,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.

By ignoring calls from Black Lives Matter protesters and playing into the culture wars debate, the government is appealing to its traditional Conservative base and new working class voters in northern England, many of whom have put an end to to their long-standing allegiance to the opposition Labor Party in the 2019 general election.

He also has cuts with the older generations. Polls show that more citizens belonging to ethnic minorities agree that the is systemically racist compared to the white population. “Whites under 35 say the answer is absolutely ‘yes’ (Britain is systemically racist), and ethnic minorities over 55 generally think ‘no’ (which Britain does ‘is not systematically racist),’ Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, a think tank specializing in integration and migration, told CNN.

Therefore, the denial of institutional racism would directly appeal to socially conservative voters across the country who feel anxious about cultural change, feel defensive – in terms of attitudes towards race, and feel unduly criticized. by what the government called the ‘woke up the warriors,’ Bale said.

The long-term risk with this approach, however, is the further deprivation of young Britons, many of whom are suffering amid the pandemic-induced recession.

“Many young people, whether from an ethnic minority or a white majority, are very attached to these issues and will remember this report and take it as a signal that the Conservatives have no understanding of their values “Bale said. It will also lead to broader concerns that the party “is not getting what it wants in housing, benefits, education and jobs – this may not bode well. . [electorally] long term, ”he said.

For “Yes Minister” cynical Sir Humphrey, a good investigation has always been one that threw a problem into the tall grass, without doing anything to address the real problem. As for this report, it probably won’t do much to weed out the protest drivers. The more inequalities are not recognized and corrected, the more so-called independent bodies are seen as partisan, the further Britain can be from a full account with its divisions.

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