Who is Munira Mirza: Boris Johnson’s controversial race inquiry pick

The Downing Street adviser has accused previous anti-racism probes of fostering ‘culture of grievance’

Munira Mirza
Munira Mirza during her tenure as London’s deputy mayor for education and culture back in 2014
(Image credit: Mary Turner/Getty Images)

Critics are claiming that a new government commission on racial inequalities is “dead on arrival” amid reports that the inquiry is to be lead by a Downing Street adviser who has cast doubt on the existence of institutional racism.

According to The Guardian, Boris Johnson has chosen Munira Mirza, the head of the No. 10 policy unit, to oversee the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which is being launched in the wake of global Black Lives Matter protests.

Who is Munira Mirza?

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Mirza was born in Oldham, Greater Manchester, to parents of Pakistani origin and went on to read English literature at Oxford University.

After a stint at Policy Exchange, a Tory think-tank, she worked for Johnson during his tenure as London mayor, between 2008 and 2016. She initially acted as his director of arts, culture and the creative industries, before becoming his deputy mayor for education and culture, The Sun reports.

Johnson has described Mirza as his “nonsense detector”, and earlier this year included her in a list of “the five women who have influenced and inspired him the most”. The prime minister told Grazia magazine that she was “capable of being hip, cool, groovy and generally on trend”.

Despite her close ties to the Tory leader, Mirza started out as a supporter of the Left. She was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party while studying at Oxford’s Mansfield College, Oxford and went on to contribute to the party’s magazine Living Marxism (now called Spiked).

However, she “got frustrated at what she saw as the narrow-mindedness of the Left, and embarked on the journey across the political spectrum”, says The Guardian’s political editor Heather Stewart.

Indeed, Mirza has become “an outspoken critic of anti-racism” and what she has described as “its culture of grievance”, the newspaper reports.

She was a vocal critic of David Lammy’s 2017 report on racial disparities in the criminal justice system, arguing in an article for The Spectator that in some ways people from BAME backgrounds had got “more favourable treatment compared with whites”.

And in a 2018 blogpost, she wrote that injustices were only treated seriously if there was a “social justice angle that can be divined (or manufactured)”.

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And the reaction over her new role?

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy tweeted that Mirza’s appointment “further undermines [Boris Johnson’s] race commission”.

Lammy added: “My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Cameron and May. But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it. Johnson isn’t listening to #BlackLivesMatter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.”

Former Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott has warned that “a new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival”, PoliticsHome reports.

“She has never believed in institutional racism,” Abbott added.

The Institute of Race Relations think-tank has also voiced concern about Johnson’s choice. A spokesperson said: “Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors.

“It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities.”

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