Puru Miah says the Johnson race commission is part of a deliberate policy to avoid taking action against racism
On the third anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy, with Black Lives Matter protests breaking out throughout the country and a series of reports highlighting the high Covid-19 death rates in our BAME communities, what lessons have been learnt by the Government in terms of inequalities in the United Kingdom? It appears no lessons have been learnt, but that of business as usual.
Responding to an unprecedented public awareness of racial inequalities in the UK, a Trumpian sleight of hand is deployed. Addressing demands for a Commission to deal with the issue of structural racial inequalities in the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson puts in charge a person who does not believe in structural racism: Munira Mirza.
Mirza is a controversial choice to head such a commission. In 2017, she was critical of the racial inequalities review commissioned by Theresa May. In 2018, she was critical of the then universities minister, Sam Gyimah, when he criticised Oxbridge for failing to admit more black students. She also defended the Prime Minister’s comments describing Muslim women as letterboxes.
The announcement was instantly criticised by David Lammy, the Shadow Justice Secretary, who asked the Prime Minister to show leadership and implement existing recommendations from previous commissions on inequality: 35 recommendations in the Lammy report on inequality in the criminal justice system; 110 specific recommendations in the Angiolini review about disproportionality in deaths in custody; 30 recommendations in Wendy Williams’s review about the Home Office’s failure in the Windrush scandal; and 26 specific recommendations in Ruby McGregor-Smith’s review about discrimination in the workplace. This criticism was echoed by Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote and chair of the government’s Race Disparity Unit advisory group, who also warned the commission must implement existing recommendations rather than going over old ground.
The Prime Minister seems to be taking a page out of his hero Donald Trump’s playbook in appearing to address the issue but, in essence, doing nothing. In his book, Art of the Deal, Trump describes the hustle of luring unwitting investors into underwriting a casino. He creates the ruse by directing his construction manager to rent dozens of pieces of heavy equipment, to move dirt around on the proposed casino site, creating the illusion that construction was underway. Like Trump, the Johnson Government deals with this crisis by feigning activity in order to gain political capital from an unwitting public.
Similarly, we see another hustle on addressing gender inequality arising from Covid-19: the increase in incidences of domestic violence. A summit is declared but nothing is done. No new funding measures announced; no acknowledgement of a reduction in services over the past years.
This do-nothing approach to addressing inequalities is not just a case of incompetence, but a deliberate ideological course of action, where inequalities and divisions in society are an essential part of the project. Like his counterpart in the White House, Boris Johnson is rewriting the conventions of politics. In the age of post-industrial populism, citizenship is redefined to that of a dominant majority. The state no longer serves the function to inform and educate the populace but is engaged in a series of elaborate ruses, to enrage and mobilise a majoritarian political base.
A good illustration is a response to the Black Lives Matter protests. Trump addresses the protests by posing with the Bible; the Johnson Government responds by proposing to make it a specific criminal offence to desecrate war memorials. Righting wrongs suffered by minorities no longer becomes a political priority, but is superseded by the need to address the anxieties of a majoritarian political base. A global hustle, not just restricted to the shores of the Atlantic, but seen throughout the world, from Turkey, India, Brazil, the Philippines etc.
In this brave new world of hustler politics, there is only one rule. To understand this rule, one must go back in history to one of the greatest political hustlers of all time. A conman, purveyor of hallucinogenic drugs, human trafficker and leader of a medieval messianic political movement, Hassan-i Sabbah. His words were preserved for posterity by Vladimir Bartol in his novel Alamut: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”