The BLM takeover of Whitehall
Why don’t ministers care about the politics of their civil servants?
Britain’s civil service is supposed to be politically impartial. Its professional Code binds civil servants to advise ministers and execute policies without letting their personal political opinions intrude. But however well senior civil servants follow this impartiality principle with regard to party politics, they have entirely abandoned it with regard to identity politics. This is a politically contested matter: indeed, we are frequently told it’s a matter leading ministers in the current government contest. But just like US federal administrators in Washington (according to City Journal), the mandarins in Whitehall have become partisans of “Critical Race Theory” and its radical tenets about “systemic racism”, “white privilege” and “white fragility”. They have adopted this left wing ideology, promoted it, and are now institutionalising it throughout the civil service, root and branch, using new internal organisations such as “Project Race” and the “Race Ambassadors Network”. Your taxes have paid for these views: it’s about time you saw in the press what you were getting for your money.
Outward signs of something amiss first came in June, as senior civil servants joined the stampede to openly endorse the Black Lives Matter movement. Take a moment to consider what was happening here: politically neutral senior civil servants were using the authority of their publicly funded offices to express their political opinions on a contentious, topical issue; they did so; they did so openly; and as far as we can tell, did so without contradiction or sanction from their responsible ministers. They further, when using work emails, expressed these “opinions” at people they line managed.
On 3 June, Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education, responded to the DEFRA Permanent Secretary Tamara Finkelstein’s call to “fight racism” by tweeting the Black Lives Matter hashtag and declaring his quest to “tackle the whiteness of Senior Whitehall” (both these Whitehall heads are white, incidentally). On 5 June, Stephen Lovegrove, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, sent an email (reported here and here) declaring that “Systemic racial inequality … has deep roots within UK society, including Defence” and, like the DfE head, signed off with #BlackLivesMatter.
On the same day, the Civil Service Race Forum, a group which coordinates BAME networks across the civil service, tweeted an official statement giving its “unequivocal support for the global Black Lives Matter movement”. For good measure, the Civil Service Race Forum also quoted Marxist academic Angela Davis enjoining people to fight their “racist society” by being “anti-racist”, blamed systemic racism for disparities in UK policing and Covid-19 lockdown fines, and retweeted #BlackLivesMatter on 28 June. Another civil service network for boosting the careers of BAME staff, called “Race to the Top G6/7“, used its Twitter feed to endorse #BlackLivesMatter on 29 May, 13 June, 23 June, 13 July and 17 July.
Public declarations of allegiance were also accompanied by internal calls to arms. On 5 June, staff in DEFRA were reportedly directed to an all-staff discussion about George Floyd and US protests facilitated by Project Race (about whom more below), while staff in both DEFRA and DfE were also told to educate themselves about concepts such as “white privilege”, “racial profiling”, “systemic racism”, “intersectionality”, “microaggressions”, and “whitewashing”. In the meantime, staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were reportedly signing off emails with Black Lives Matter logos.
Senior civil servants also made gushing confessions of past sins and narrated their Damascene conversions to the cause: on 21 June, The Critic reported that DfID mandarin Sarah Sanyahumbi used her department’s intranet to post a sermon entitled “How to be a White Ally”, describing how, after Colston’s statue was torn down in Bristol, she suddenly recognised her complicity in “the white status quo”. Her epistle to white civil servants read: “Recognise your white privilege”; “Call out racism in your family, friends and colleagues … (unintended or not)”; “Avoid drawing parallels with other types of social injustice such as sexism or discrimination of lower socio-economic groups”; “Join the Race Network, and work to embed the Race Action Plan in your business areas and continue to talk about the Race”.
Our supposedly impartial civil service is institutionalising far-left identity politics
Instances of still more extravagant BLM-aligned activism within the civil service have been reported to me off the record. One egregious example I can make public is this: in late June, a link to this spreadsheet (authored and posted by an activist on Twitter here) entitled “Practical Ways to Support BLM from the UK” was circulated to staff on DEFRA’s internal mailing lists. Alongside links to donate to BLM, the spreadsheet contains over 140 links to email templates, petitions, and open letters supporting BLM-aligned campaigns and political demands. One typical link is this: “Email your MP for action to be taken on Government policy and UK law that underwrites systemic racism in the UK and abroad, with regard to the UK’s immigration policies, law and order enforcement, labour law, and housing policies”. Other linked petitions and letters include these demands: that the UK stop selling riot gear to the US; that the Met Police be barred from Pride marches; that Black History Month be a compulsory part of the national curriculum; that GCSE reading lists include texts such as Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race; that all UK museums donate to BLM and impose mandatory unconscious bias training to show their ‘anti-racist’ credentials. Whatever their personal opinions on them, even the dullest of civil servants should have recognised that these causes were politically partisan and should not have been promoted using civil service resources. We can test their ability to recognise political causes pretty easily by asking – what other causes of this sort received such approbation and backing? The answer is simple: none did or would. So the question arises, why has BLM?
Civil servants have not, after all, lacked evidence of how partisan a movement Black Lives Matter itself is, whatever its slogan. BLM founders have described themselves as “trained Marxists”, while BLM UK’s fundraising website (established 2 June) declared its commitment to “dismantle capitalism”. The BLM movement has also declared its wish to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”, abolish UK prisons, and abolish UK police. All this was in the public domain while the civil service was still proclaiming support for BLM in June.
Also in the public domain was the violent disorder whipped in the US by cadres supporting BLM’s revolutionary, anti-police rhetoric. Within a week of George Floyd’s death on 25 May, protests against police brutality in hundreds of US cities had descended into arson, looting, the declaration of police-free zones, and violence against citizens of all colours defending their property and businesses. Scores of Americans were killed or wounded in the riots, including David Dorn, a 77-year-old retired black police officer in St. Louis who defended his friend’s shop from looters and was shot dead for his trouble. Although the BBC gave scant attention to such victims, the lethal consequences of the BLM-fuelled mayhem were easy to find by early June (here, here, and here, for example) for any civil servant who cared to look.
No less partisan than the BLM movement itself are the ideological presumptions of Critical Race Theory that underpin it: i.e. that all disparities in outcome between racial groups are caused by a ghost in the machine called “systemic racism”; that apparently “colour-blind” practices are actually a facade for hiding and enabling systemic racism; and that racism can only be fought by heightening everyone’s consciousness of race and tipping institutional scales against whites (or, technically, “whites”). Such ideas have long been opposed by many prominent black academics and commentators, including Coleman Hughes, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, Wilfred Reilly, Jason Riley, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams. BLM’s ideological presumptions also received scrutiny in the Times, Telegraph and Spectator throughout June. By this point, no civil servant who read beyond the left-wing press could claim not to have known that accusations of “systemic racism” or “white privilege” were politically contentious.
Civil service platforms were used to promote BLM long after its radicalism was widely known
The extent and timing of civil servants’ support for BLM shows it was not just a temporary mistake by naive mandarins in response to George Floyd’s death. Civil service platforms and resources were used to promote BLM well into July, by which point its radicalism was widely known. The true cause is much more worrying: a long march by activists establishing official networks, projects and roles to institutionalise Critical Race Theory throughout the civil service. This has happened on the watch of Tory ministers and, thus far, they have done nothing to alter this.
Leading the long march has been civil servant Rob Neil OBE, the first elected Chair of the Civil Service Race Forum and instigator of a spin-off organisation called Project Race, which operates in the MoJ, DfE, DEFRA, BIEA, FCO, and NHS. As Neil and his colleague David Bartlett explained in this recorded talk in 2018, Project Race was born in an event for senior civil servants in 2015 involving an academic at Goldsmiths (a bastion of intolerant leftism) called Dr Nicola Rollock. Rollock specialises in Critical Race Theory, edits books unmasking “white supremacy” in education, and recently tested the “unconscious biases” of schoolchildren for Channel 4 (she has also, of course, tweeted her support for BLM). A talk by Rollock on “microaggressions” apparently converted the MoJ’s Permanent Secretary, who then set up Project Race with the mission of “normalising the conversation about race” by having “facilitated discussions about white privilege, about white fragility”, and “the origins of bias”. The wider aim, according to Neil and Bartlett, is to “win hearts and minds” over to top-down Diversity & Inclusion directives by changing the culture of Civil Service from the ground up, from one in which people don’t talk about race very much, to one in which they can talk about it all the time.
Project Race’s main tool for heightening race-consciousness is its new network of Race Ambassadors. These (according to Bartlett in the 2018 talk) are civil servants trained to operate on the “ground level” and “get those conversations happening, to hold people to account”. By 2018 there were over 50 Race Ambassadors at the MoJ but since then they have been recruited on a rolling basis, established in DEFRA and other departments, and sent out to facilitate regional Project Race events across the country. Other Project Race tools include away days in which they teach Senior Civil Servants about the “genesis of bias”, “white privilege” and “white fragility”, and BAME “reverse mentors” for white senior civil servants, a scheme which Jeremy Hunt triumphantly launched in the Foreign Office in 2018.
The Race Ambassadors are a particularly ominous development for free thought (such as it is) in the civil service. The fact that Project Race is explicitly premised on the race-baiting terms of Critical Race Theory – “white privilege”, “white fragility”, “microaggressions” etc. – suggests that the “conversations” the Race Ambassadors are supposed to instigate won’t leave much room for bipartisan debate. As a result, conformity will be the order of the day: anyone who thinks it won’t be knows very little about the ethos and culture of the permanent bureaucracy. Imagine you are a white civil servant who cares about your future career, and your department’s friendly Race Ambassador says, “Hey, let’s talk about race!” Do you think it will be easier for you to (i) respectfully criticise their ideas about your “white privilege”, or (ii) just perjure yourself and agree with them? Remember also that you may not be able to say nothing: “silence is violence”, as BLM activists say. Some might be foolish enough to select the former option, but I doubt many will.
Even more disturbingly, in an interview last year Rob Neil described the Race Ambassadors Network as Project Race’s “intelligence on the ground” (my emphasis). This echoes the woke Stasi that Sheffield University has recently created by paying students to go around campus to “initiate healthy conversations” about race and “tackle micro-aggressions” (examples of which include “stop making everything a race issue”). We don’t know exactly how the Civil Service Race Ambassadors will, in Bartlett’s words, “hold people to account” after getting them to talk about race. But the fact that born-again managers have recruited them to convert lower-ranking staff to diversity initiatives strongly suggests that displeasing a Race Ambassador might entail displeasing one’s superiors.
Indeed, senior civil servants have already shown an impulse to police thoughts on race. In mid-June the MoD Permanent Secretary Stephen Lovegrove (who by this point had already declared his support for BLM and the idea of systemic racism in UK Defence) hosted an all-staff video call on race and discrimination. During this call, some staff anonymously posted remarks that Lovegrove described as “harmful”, “deeply offensive” and “discriminatory” (as reported in the Sunday Times and Sun). According to Lovegrove, these heinous comments included, “conflating ‘indigenous’ with white Britons, claims that any focus on diversity was at odds with fairness and comments insisting that there was no prejudice at the MoD”. Now, while these particular statements might be contentious, none but the most jaundiced interpreter could call them prima facie malicious or discriminatory. Yet Lovegrove said those who commented “had no place at the MoD”, implied that their desire to comment anonymously was suspicious, and vowed to investigate their identities. Lovegrove does not seem to have considered that his staff might have commented anonymously for fear that openly disagreeing with their boss’s BLM-aligned statements could have professional repercussions. If this was their reason, their boss’s reaction has clearly proven them right.
Our supposedly impartial civil service is institutionalising far-left identity politics. It has fallen prey to networks of entryist activists like Project Race who, like BLM, are adept at disguising neo-Marxist ideas as kind-hearted truisms. The influence that senior civil servants have granted these activists stops junior civil servants speaking against them, which in turn allows senior civil servants to broadcast patently absurd or partisan views with total impunity. One junior civil servant has described to me a non-stop, daily bombardment of “anti-racist” activism at work since the BLM protests began. Because no-one questions it openly, the woke browbeating continues as if it were no more controversial than a stationery audit. The evidence above is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s already wedged deep into the ship’s hull. It remains a mystery why Captain Boris, First Officer Gove and that strange blob watchman in the crow’s nest haven’t sounded a vigorous alarm about any of this.
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