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5 August 2022

The absurdities of Suella Braverman’s “war on woke”

The Attorney-General claims we live in a country in which diversity, equality and inclusion is the new orthodoxy – if only.

By Philip Collins

We live in a land whose orthodox religion is, apparently, diversity, equality and inclusion. That is what Suella Braverman, the Attorney-General for England and Wales, tells us in a piece for the Daily Mail. To which the obvious response is what a marvellous country Britain has suddenly and unexpectedly become. It would be wonderful to live in a land in which diversity, equality and inclusion were the dominating ideas of public discourse. It reminds me of when people moan about the liberal elite. If democratic politics requires an elite of any sort – which it does – then a liberal elite is just the elite I am looking for.

Sadly, it’s not true that diversity, equality and inclusion is the new orthodoxy, and it is not true that we have a liberal elite either. The first exhibit in that particular case is the fact Suella Braverman is the Attorney-General for England and Wales. It is quite remiss of the liberal elite to allow someone so illiberally ungenerous into a position of such eminence. What kind of liberal elite appoints someone to the pinnacle of the judicial system who is prepared to pretend that the breaking of an international treaty such as the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit deal is in fact entirely in order? And it is a pretty unsuccessful liberal elite whose Attorney-General is to be found writing a child-like primal scream of an article about the war on woke.

Diversity, equality and inclusion are not just ubiquitous, she says. They are a new religion and a dangerous one. The new religion has its “zealots” and its “witch-finders” who conduct inquisitions and whose “priestly robes” scare off dissent and encourage pliant (but unidentified) others to “nod along and recite the creed”. The vast exaggeration and the lack of names being named is the tip-off that what is being played out here is a stupid prejudice.

And, just to complete the bingo card of political cliché, guess who gets the blame (or in my opinion the credit) for this new country contaminated by diversity, equality and inclusion? Yes, it’s old demon eyes himself, Tony Blair. “The new ‘DEI’ sector”, writes Braverman, “came about as a by-product of the rights culture created by a combination of New Labour’s Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.” Never mind that the idea of human rights, a great achievement of a liberal elite if ever there was one, was written into international law more than three decades before Blair came to power. Braveman is undeterred by the slightest historical accuracy: “The plight of women like Maya Forstater,” she goes on, “who lost her job after tweeting that transgender women could not change their biological sex, is all part of this long tail of Blairism.”

[See also: How politics became the chosen hobby of retirees]

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It would take a braver man than I to take this rubbish seriously, but let us take the three parts of the apparent orthodoxy in turn. First, diversity. The Conservative Party leadership election has been an admirably diverse affair, although it does seem that the Margaret Thatcher tribute act is likely to win. But on the dimensions of gender and race, the contest has offered a wide spectrum.

Diversity is, sadly, a long way from being the norm in Britain. The police, for example, is a 94 per cent white British institution. Given the strength and importance of the police in urban areas that suggests diversity has some way to go. The recent history of the police would suggest the same. Braverman has taken aim at diversity monitors in Whitehall and advertised her relish at getting rid of a set of diversity schemes in her own department but just 9.3 per cent of the senior civil service is from an ethnic minority. The overall black and ethnic minority representation in the workforce is 12.8 per cent. It’s better than it was but it is hardly a new religion.

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Second, equality. In a way it is a remarkable concession of defeat for Braverman to say that, after 12 years of Tory government, the country is controlled by an ideological precept, namely equality, that her party loathes. The Tories really must have been losing that culture war on the quiet. But again, it’s sadly not true. How can it be true in a country in which the poorest fifth of society takes 8 per cent of the income and the top fifth takes 40 per cent? On wealth, a household with a white British head is nine times more likely to be in the top fifth as a household with a black African head and 18 times more likely than a household with a Bangladeshi head. The stark inequalities will soon become apparent as recession bites. Forty-four per cent of all families classified as Black African and Other Asian have debts that exceed their assets. That’s twice as many as the White British.

This vast inequality makes a mockery of inclusion, the third part of Braverman’s new religious trinity. Inclusion doesn’t really mean anything at all in the absence of diversity and equality.

None of this means that Britain is not a place that has made a relative success of multiculturalism. Relative to other European countries or the United States, for example, it has. But that hardly amounts to a new religion, still less a dangerous one, when so much remains to be done. Of course there are examples of poor training courses and there are certainly examples of illiberal cancelling of voices that need to be heard. But we should deal with those case-by-case, on their merits. A lawyer and a serious politician ought to know this. Suella Braverman may be the first but she is evidently not the second.

[See also: Rishi Sunak boasted of taking money from “deprived urban areas” to help wealthy towns]

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