Chasing rainbows

Dissident civil servants have been risking their careers to fight a losing battle against burgeoning Whitehall wokery


This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Last week Britain’s “Minister for Common Sense” proudly announced banning civil servants from wearing rainbow lanyards. Esther McVey’s latest offensive in her party’s war on Whitehall wokery was dead within 24 hours. The day following McVey’s Colonel Blimp speech, the Cabinet Office refused to issue specific guidance on lanyards, and distanced itself from McVey’s announcement in briefings to newspapers.

The episode perfectly encompasses the Conservative Party’s reaction to the total capture of the administrative state by their ideological enemies. First, McVey’s target was ridiculous. LGBT lanyards are political; one conservative-minded civil servant I know wore a non-binary lanyard because he believed it would help his promotion prospects to show off how “diverse” he is to his colleagues. Most civil servants who wear these symbols do so as a virtue signal for their cause; it is a wink to their fellow LGBT activists that they are “allies”. However, these pieces of fabric are hardly the most pressing of issues when it comes to Whitehall’s politicisation.

Trans activists’ language on gender is embedded into official government guidance, training and signage. Critical Race Theory is taught by civil servants in diversity meetings; after the George Floyd riots, BLM was endorsed by senior and junior mandarins alike in official communications. Anti-white rhetoric is rife in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) modules and meetings, and gender-critical civil servants are hounded and bullied for expressing their beliefs. Unscientific and toxic training around unconscious bias is still being delivered (despite another ministerial “ban”). To focus on lanyards shows the Conservatives are not serious about reforming the state to remove woke ideas.

McVey’s immediate defeat by the Cabinet Office is not surprising. Her role was invented purely as a PR exercise by Downing Street when Suella Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary. Sunak had to throw some “red meat” to those on the right of the party, so why not Brexit-supporting McVey who can work on implementing “common sense” into government? McVey’s ministerial position is essentially akin to a glorified government communications officer: she has almost no power and exists to generate headlines in the Daily Express.

The Conservative Party has enabled the creation of an administrative state that persecutes internal dissidents if they fail to comply with woke views on gender and race.

When Liz Truss encouraged government departments to cut ties to the controversial LGBT campaign group Stonewall, one civil servant was put in a tricky situation. Seeing the news posted in a departmental online forum, they responded with a thumbs up emoji. This heinous act prompted a co-worker to lodge a complaint over this implicit support of Truss (who was then the Equalities Minister). An official investigation was launched.

Two Whitehall henchmen hauled the poor emoji offender into a room and presented their case: not only had the civil servant liked this news link, they said, but they had also commented on another blog post some months ago raising questions about Black Lives Matter. The civil servant was issued an official warning for inappropriate behaviour, and was told — unless they reined in their behaviour — more severe action would follow.

The civil servant is not alone in being punished for committing a thought crime. In January I reported on the case of a Department of Work and Pensions official who had the temerity to say there are two sides to the trans debate. A subsequent departmental investigation cited the comment as evidence of harassment, and the civil servant was given an official warning.

When civil servants complain of a “culture of fear” in Whitehall around speaking their mind on controversial topics, I take them at their word.

These ideas are enforced by a massive ideological bureaucracy. Whitehall’s DEI industrial complex takes its form in part via diversity networks, in which groups of civil servants meet, teach and lecture about their chosen identity, such as sex, religion or mental health (the Ministry of Defence has 93 such networks, including 14 groups focused on race alone). Then there are Diversity Champions, Advocates, Allies, Associates and Practitioners — all voluntary roles civil servants can sign up to on top of their day jobs to promote DEI. It’s likely their numbers are in the thousands and include some of Britain’s most senior mandarins.

A quiet resistance is being fought across Whitehall by civil servants of all ranks

Take Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary in the Home Office. As well as being responsible for the department overseeing Britain’s borders and police, he acts as a “Diversity Champion” for Race, Faith and Belief. Rycroft has helped to plan internal Home Office DEI policies on race, and he recently met a group of civil servants to discuss trans issues. Similarly, Antonia Romeo, chief official at the Ministry of Justice who is charged with dealing with our overcrowded prisons and buckling legal system, is a “Gender Champion”.

If civil servants cannot rely on their bosses or ministers to protect them, they must protect themselves.

A quiet resistance against the race and gender ideologies is being fought across Whitehall by civil servants of all ranks. Some civil servants have taken it upon themselves to stand up to senior mandarins, in some cases risking their careers, to fight for what they believe is right.

As we have seen, acts of resistance can lead to serious consequences for your career. At the very least, questioning DEI will do little for your promotion prospects. By contrast, the opposite is true: some civil servants’ work performance is judged based on their contribution to diversity (for example, one was told to attend an LGBT book club by his boss to help his career progression). At worst, resistance can lead to serious bullying (one gender critical official was compared to the Nazis in a meeting whilst senior civil servants refused to defend her) and even legal action.

On the Trans frontline, fighting has been ferocious. The compulsion of language around pronouns, the official promotion of trans activist charities Stonewall and Mermaids, and the adoption of gender-neutral toilets across many departments led to the formation of the Sex Equality and Equity Network (SEEN) in October 2022.

The Network, run by gender-critical civil servants who are fed up with what they see as a coordinated attack on women’s rights by trans colleagues, is the first of its kind in Whitehall.

Following Maya Forstater’s successful legal case, gender-critical beliefs are now protected against discrimination by law, enabling SEEN’s creation. In less than two years over 700 civil servants have signed up to the group. In October 2023 SEEN wrote to the Cabinet Secretary with a massive dossier of bullying and harassment against gender-critical officials.

The letter, which is more than 30 pages long, cited cases of pro-trans civil servants boasting about “frustrating ministers’ intentions”, engaging in “active obfuscation of facts to prevent ministers seeing the impact of trans-inclusive policies”, and leaking internal policy to partisan groups and providing advice to external organisations on how to get around ministerial guidance.

SEEN has also run surveys of their members showing widespread experiences of harassment for holding gender critical views, and the group’s senior representatives met with Matthew Rycroft earlier this year to discuss their complaints. Perhaps the greatest impact of SEEN, however, is that there is now finally a place where gender-critical civil servants can talk, advise and support each other.

And they need support. A recent email to its members revealed that two senior SEEN representatives are now defendants (along with DEFRA) in an employment tribunal in relation to gender-critical comments they made in the workplace, which a civil servant colleague claims amounted to harassment.

On the other side of the Whitehall gender wars are a series of pro-trans networks (there are six in the Ministry of Justice alone) which run training, events and produce guidance on pronouns and gender-neutral language. The main trans group in the civil service is A:Gender, which was criticised in SEEN’s letter to Simon Case for pushing gender ideology. An A:Gender training resource — the modern sequel to Mao’s Little Red Book — compared gender-critical people to the Ku Klux Klan and racist nationalists.

On race, George Floyd’s death in 2020 led to a sea change in Whitehall. Anti-white propaganda was pushed by senior mandarins through open and explicit support of BLM, a radical movement that sparked riots, lootings and even murders across America, and the adoption of their language around white privilege and systemic racism. Civil servants were told to read BLM’s foundational texts, including White Fragility and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. In July 2022 Home Office Director Nurjuhan Khutan gave an interview telling civil servants to “leverage” the death of George Floyd.

Esther McVey: defeated by lanyards

Whilst there are plenty of civil service networks promoting Critical Race Theory, there are none promoting the opposite view or standing up for white people against attacks on their identity. Perhaps their lack of organisation is due to their conservative nature, as opposed to their gender-critical counterparts who are generally old-school feminists, notorious for their political organisational skills; or it may be that there is not yet a similar protection in law for anti-CRT beliefs as there is for those resisting the Trans movement, making it harder to set up a former network under Cabinet Office rules.

Instead, the press has become the weapon of choice for conservative civil servants, plenty of whom have made the brave decision to become whistleblowers against their anti-white colleagues. Some of these civil servants know each other, though most of them act independently, willing to put their careers on the line to expose the adoption of the BLM ideology in Whitehall.

I have sat in cafes in central London listening to dozens of civil servants over the years, some of whom are too terrified to put anything on the record, though many more go on to send me internal communications, Zoom calls, resources and training materials in relation to race issues. Others just want to talk to someone, anyone, about how demoralising it is to be told they hold inherent advantages because of their race, or that only white people hold original sin and they must be ashamed of Britain’s evil past.

The fightback from SEEN and the independent conservatives has had some effect. It has caused mandarins to stop and think before discussing issues around race and gender. Recently my reporting on wokeness in the armed forces, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of nearly a dozen sources from across the MoD, forced Grant Shapps to launch a review into defence diversity initiatives. However, most ministers seem to be more interested in generating headlines than actually dealing with the politicisation of the civil service.

The main justifications for DEI initiatives are found in the law via the Equality Act and its Public Sector Equality Duty. This legislation obliges public bodies to foster good relations between people with different innate characteristics, and it protects people against discrimination based on nine categories. Until the Conservatives repeal or replace the act, all of their “anti-woke” plans will fail and should be regarded as noise, not signal.

In the absence of any such bravery from this Government, it is to the continuing courage of individuals in the civil service that we must look. If they feel they are fighting a losing battle under the Conservative government, a Labour one will range even greater forces against them.

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