The departing Head of Policy was in charge of fighting the culture war
You don’t leave a boss you have been working with for 14 years because he made a single ill-judged gaffe in the House of Commons. Munira Mirza’s elegantly expressed resignation, apparently on the basis of the Jimmy Savile comments, is surely about much more than that.
The timing of her walk-out is interesting. It suggests she thinks Boris is doomed and that she is considering her next moves. She made her announcement half an hour before Rishi Sunak’s presidential address on cost of living. Might this suggest she has thrown her lot in with the Chancellor, and that with Cummings in the wings, Sunak could be the new vehicle to get the old gang back together? We will see soon enough.
It’s on the philosophical level that Munira’s departure is most significant, though. And the effect that it will have on Team Boris. Despite her broad brief as Head of Policy she was known to be the person within the administration in charge of pushing back on progressive fundamentalism around race, gender and the accompanying threat to free speech. If anyone was concerned with rolling back the “long march through the institutions” of the Blair years and putting conservatives in positions of cultural influence, it was her.
She was closely involved in the “Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities” report that appeared last year — subject to predictable attacks in the Left-wing media — and which made genuinely brave statements about the difficulty of focusing on race to the exclusion of economic factors. Its recommendations are waiting to be formally adopted by the Government.
It was Munira who put Kishwer Falkner at the helm of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and brought in voices such as David Goodhart and Jessica Butcher (again, despite the predictable attempt to resist them) — the combined effect of which has been to radically change the orientation of that organisation. On issues like the ongoing trans controversy, we should expect a very different tone from now on.
On the question of freedom of speech, she has been a powerful voice within Government to try to avoid a culture of censorship.
I know this first-hand. When I got in touch to express my concerns about the impact the so-called “Online Safety Bill” would have on new media publications like ours, Mirza not only responded straight away but set up a meeting with her and Elena Narozanski (who was leading on the Online Safety Bill, and who also resigned this morning) to hear more. How many senior officials would do that? The draft bill that ensued is not perfect by any means, but compared with the heavy-handed government-approved censorship that is taking place in the US, it represents a much more sensible starting point. Other initiatives such as the recent government bill to protect freedom of speech on university campuses, for example, have been driven by her office.
So Munira Mirza mattered a lot. For a nominal populist, Boris Johnson was known to be oddly embarrassed of what he called “culture war” issues; he was keen not to be “Britain’s Trump” and found them distasteful. Ultimately Mirza cannot have felt properly supported in her mission — otherwise she wouldn’t have left. She leaves an ideologically listing ship with very little ballast left at her end of these important arguments.