Another carnival of outrage
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities released its report to another carnival of outrage.
I’m very much looking forward to James Wild MP grilling Tony Sewell about the absence of even a single one of our cherished union flags.
Academics Raminder Kaur and Gill Hague, give a good summary of criticisms. Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London convincingly destroys the methodology. Then he writes, using a favoured turn of phrase: “Some people were quick to accuse the Commission of ‘policy-based evidence making’ (instead of ‘evidence-based policy making’). I think this gives it too much credit as the Commission’s policy proposals are mostly sensible, unoriginal and inoffensive. Instead, the report is better viewed as ‘rhetoric-based evidence making’: the point was not to distort the evidence to provide a basis for specific policies, but to justify the sort of vitriolic hyperbole deployed by Professor Kaufmann when he says that it is a “major blow against institutional wokeness… the sacralisation of historically disadvantaged racial, sexual and gender minorities”.
I go further. I’d say the report was designed to foment the loud reaction to that position — the anti-anti-wokeness — as part of a process of further estranging ‘progressive’ voices from the working class.
I’ll explain below, but first…
An emphasis on class over racism
I took a quick look at the report. One of the recommendations is a reasonable call to ditch the term BAME, which they called “reductionist”. The others, on the face of things, are a model of blandness. Encourage this, improve that, invest in the other, all under headings that nobody could disagree with: build trust, promote fairness, create agency, increase inclusivity.
The authors write they “never assumed that minorities are inert victims of circumstance,” before adding “the fact most of us are successful minority professionals has no doubt shaped this thinking”. This is unintentionally funny because I immediately wondered which of the authors they were suggesting were not successful. It is also indicative of a phenomenon worth exploring further: the tendency of succesful people to think their own success is proof success is available for everyone. Plus its an admission that their experience is unusual and might prejudice their conclusions.
Fundamentally, the report says disparities are better explained by social class than race. And if there is a racial explanation it’s to do with “different cultural patterns and expectations” from within groups, rather than any negative force from outside. Both are important, yes, but the report fails to acknowledge their importance does not exclude structural racism as a contributing explanatory factor.
Munira Mirza and the Living Marxism network
The report has received most criticism for concluding there is no institutional racism in the UK.
But really this conclusion should come as no surprise.
The authors were picked by Munira Mirza, head of the Downing Street Policy unit, specifically because they do not believe institutional racism exists. In 2017 Mirza described the anti-racism movement as bogus moral crusade imported from the US. In fact, she has continually rejected the idea that racism is a problem, as summarised by Zarah Sultana MP.
So what’s the background?
Mirza graduated from Oxford, married a Tory swinger, and wrote for Claire Fox’s Institute of Ideas, Culture Wars, and Spiked. These are nodes on a network that emerged from the ashes of Living Marxism, the magazine of the Revolutionary Communist Party, after it was sued out of existence for libel (as all recounted in this article).
Jenny Turner in the LRB says this network shares “a rather shallow and repetitive libertarian agenda”, and displays “varying degrees of left-liberal-baiting enthusiasm for all the big, scary corporate technologies”. With ‘Marxism’ expunged from the rhetoric, freedom of speech and anti-anti-fascism became the banner under which to promote causes important to those who provided significant funding: tobacco, GM-agriculture, big pharma, fossil fuels, and the Koch brothers. (If you don’t know the Koch bros, you’ll get a good idea of what they’re about from this book review in which a member of the Living Marxism network defends them).
These politics appealed to the emerging new Tories, and Mirza got a job at Michael Gove’s think tank Policy Exchange. From there she was recruited as cultural advisor by Boris Johnson when he became London Mayor. Johnson sought to add a libertarian edge to the progressive camouflage of Cameron’s Conservatives, and Mirza, as “a long term critic of multiculturalism…was able to give Boris arguments for making reactionary decisions while giving apparently progressive justifications”.
For balance, Conservative Home paints a prettier picture of Mirza, painting her as an independent mind unafraid to challenge preconceptions. While this government is venal and mendacious, Mirza herself may be (naïvely) acting with intellectual honesty.
Scott Alexander’s recipe for electoral success
With this provenance in mind, if I’m trying to look past stock reactions, what is the intention and the effect of the Race report?
Marina Hyde says it is designed to stoke culture wars, and such efforts always end badly. She doesn’t say how they end badly, apart form pointing to Trump; but of course many people who don’t read Hyde don’t think he is bad.
I think this is only part of the story.
Independent of whether Mirza and her colleagues really believe in their conclusions (and I think they do), they also appear to be already acting on a strategy that the champion blogger Scott Alexander recently outlined in a belated and compelling recommendation to US Republicans.
Alexander suggests Republicans can build on Trump’s successes by pivoting from “mindless populist rage” to a platform of fighting classism; by moving from seeking support from the WHITE working class, to support from the white WORKING CLASS.
Alongside a war on higher education, experts, and the upper-class media (formerly known as the mainstream media), a key component of the strategy as Alexander outlines it is a war on wokeness.
Alexander recommends arguing that, “Wokeness is a made-up mystery religion that college-educated people invented so they could feel superior to you”, leading to a situation in which “the only way not to be racist is to master an inscrutable and constantly-changing collection of fashionable shibboleths and opinions which are secretly class norms. The whole point is to make sure the working-class white guy…feels immeasurably inferior to the college-educated white guy who knows that saying ‘colored people’ is horrendously offensive but saying ‘people of color’ is the only way to dismantle white supremacy.” Then, “If anybody asks you for your theory of racism, it should be that a lot of modern racism is a subform of classism, where people naturally assume minorities are lower class”.
It’s a strange strategy. In some ways it seems all backwards with the ‘right’ invoking class to gain power. But give it a moment’s thought and it makes sense, and has already been happening, if not in those terms. Free market small state low tax low regulation capitalism painted as the solution that allows hardworking individuals to get ahead, untramelled by the EU, welfare state, red tape, urban elite, and scoffing intellectuals. Whether those are you politics or not, the fact it also allows billionaires and multinationals free reign is surely significant in their promulgation.
Intention and effect
If it is in any way true that Mirza et al are following a strategy like this — and it does not seem unlikely considering Mirza’s long links to a network that used to argue in the class terms of Marxism, that has long enjoyed baiting liberals, and that is funded by the Koch brothers — the intention of the Commission’s Report, therefore, is:
- To start the shift towards a discussion of class rather than race, as continuation of the positioning of the Conservatives as the party of the working class as opposed to elites and social justice warriors; and
- to provoke an angry response in the “upper-class media” that alienates them even more from a quiet majority of normal decent non-racist people who are confused by all the fuss and a bit scared of being called racist.
The effect on both counts has been achieved.