Sir Humphrey Appleby, the amoral civil servant who served his lazy minister in the long-running BBC series, might have allowed himself a wry smile this week on the release of a report on racial inequalities that, despite coming from an independent panel, had strong echos of the UK government’s stated view of the issue. Like many of Sir Humphrey’s fictional schemes though, this one risks inflaming the very problems that it purports to address.
The report’s staggered release began with a summary of the findings that graced the nation’s front pages on Wednesday morning. It stated 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 some of the UK’s ethnic minority population should be “regarded as a model for other white-majority countries.”
‘Shoddy piece of work’
“It was pretty universal from everyone credible in these areas, who all said this is a shoddy piece of work,” said Jonathan Portes, a public policy professor at London’s King’s College and chief economist at the Cabinet Office between 2008 and 2011. “What they are trying to do is justify a particular rhetoric about racism in the UK,” he told CNN.
The report was politicized from the outset to play down legitimate concerns about racism and how to address it, say campaigners. “The whole structure of this commission was to fit in that worldview they had right at the beginning of the report,” said Simon Wolley, founding director of Operation Black Vote and chair of the government’s race disparity advisory unit July last year.
“The way it has been spun is policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy,” Wolley added.
While the commission is independent to the government, experts said the report’s conclusions echoed the “war on woke” mindset by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration.
CNN has contacted Downing Street for comment.
“It is absolutely essential that a government watchdog… is seen to be independent and impartial,” said Martin Bright, editor at Index on Censorship. “It is of serious public concern if it reached conclusions convenient to ministers in advance of seeing all the evidence, as the whistleblower Alice O’Keefe suggests,” he added. CNN has reached out to HMIC for comment.
The race report “was always going to provoke this 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 the pleas of 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 from northern England, many of whom ended their longstanding allegiance with the opposition Labour Party in the 2019 general election.
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 their attitudes towards race; and feel unduly criticized by what the government has been calling the ‘woke warriors,'” Bale said.
The long-term risk with this approach though, is the further disenfranchisement of young British people, many of whom are suffering amid the pandemic-induced recession.
“A lot of young people, be it from an ethnic minority or from the white majority, feel very strongly about these issues and will remember this report and take it as a signal that Conservatives have no understanding of their values,” Bale said. It will also play into wider concerns that the party “does not get what they want on housing, benefits, education, and jobs — it perhaps does not bode that well [electorally] in the long term,” he said.