Who is Tony Sewell? Everyone responsible for the government’s race report

Kate Plummer
Saturday 03 April 2021 08:22
Politics
(UK Government)

Britain is not an institutionally racist country; a government report has found.

According to the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities – which was formed last summer in response to the Black Lives Matter movement – achievements in areas such as education and employment make the United Kingdom “a model for other white-majority countries.”

But these claims have sparked criticism from race equality campaigners who have accused the government of “gaslighting” black Britons and ignoring their lived experiences.

Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of the race equality think-tank Runnymede Trust, for instance, questioned the suitability of two of those appointed to the commission.

But who are the people responsible for the report? indy100 looks at the figures involved, and those linked with the Conservative Party involved in the group.

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Dr Tony Sewell

Sewell acted as the chair of the commission. But his suitability for the position was called into question after controversial comments he wrote in the Voice newspaper were unearthed last year.

After former football Justin Fashanu disclosed he was gay in 1990, Sewell wrote: “We heteros are sick and tired of tortured queens playing hide and seek around their closets. Homosexuals are the greatest queer-bashers around. No other group of people are so preoccupied with making their own sexuality look dirty.”

Sewell later apologised for his comments but, writing in the Guardian last year, Darryl Telles, former chair of the LGBT Coalition Against Racism slammed Sewell’s appointment to the body. He said: “As a black man I am appalled that Tony Sewell has been appointed chair of the government’s commission on race and ethnic disparities. Sewell trawled the depths of the sewer as a columnist on the Voice by denying the presence of LGBT people within the black community.”

Meanwhile, Sewell has also been criticised for appearing to deny the concept of structural racism. In a 2010 piece for Prospect magazine, he said evidence of the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy”, adding: “What we now see in schools is children undermined by poor parenting, peer-group pressure and an inability to be responsible for their own behaviour. They are not subjects of institutional racism. They have failed their GCSEs because they did not do their homework”.

And in a 2017 column for the Sun, he said: “Too often we have statistics which are misused in a way which casts minorities as victims of racism and white privilege” and claimed the government did so to seem appealing.

Speaking of Mr Sewell’s role, as well as that of Ms Mirza (more on her later), Dr Begum previously said: “If both these individuals are from the outset denying the existence of institutional racism, then what hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner, if not follow whatever the Government mantra is?”

Downing Street defended the choice of Dr Sewell to lead the work when he was appointed last July,

Aftab Chugtai

Another commissioner was businessman Aftab Chugtai. His independence in the role has been questioned, given his links to the Conservative Party.

Chugtai founded campaign group Muslims for Britain, a group mobilising Muslims to back Brexit. A meeting of the group included Conservative guests such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Daniel Hannan and Saqib Bjatt.

He also worked as Senior Policy Adviser at the Alliance of Conservative and Reformists in Europe (ACRE), headed by Daniel Hannan.

Dr Dambisa Moyo

Economist and former banker Moyo published a book called Dead Aid in which she said foreign aid to Africa should be phased out, causing Bill Gates to say she was “promoting evil”.

Mercy Muroki

Muroki has a busy working life.

As well as serving on the commission, she writes regular columns for the Times and is a senior researcher at the Centre for Social Justice, a centre-right think tank co-founded by Iain Duncan Smith.

She was also a platform speaker at the 2019 Conservative conference, introducing the then chancellor, Sajid Javid, and has recently joined The Sun newspaper as a comment writer.

Writing in the Times, she said: “The left have, for too long, endorsed a systematic campaign of intimidation on ethnic-minority Tories.”

In another column she said: “Young Conservative have been mocked, maligned and marginalised for long enough.”

And in an interview with the Sun she explained why she supports Brexit and dislikes Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. She said: “I’ve never felt like I’m a victim and so when I’ve seen that narrative being imposed on me because I’m a certain colour or because I’m a woman, I just don’t agree.

“What has annoyed me recently is well-meaning white liberals having a condescending attitude because they think I’m oppressed and I’m saying, ‘No, I’m not.’

“I just don’t subscribe to woke, academic culture.”

Munira Mirza

Munira Mirza, head of the Downing Street policy unit set up the commission. Mirza has made multiple controversial comments about race in the past.

In 2018, for instance, she said Theresa May’s racial disparities audit “reinforces this idea that ethnic minorities are being systematically oppressed, that there’s a sort of institutional problem, when in fact what we’ve seen in the last 20 years is a liberalisation, an opening up for many people.”

When she was appointed, David Lammy said:

But at the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended her appointment and called her a “brilliant thinker”.

Dr Samir Shah

Shah is a former BBC journalist who now runs Juniper, an independent television and radio production company. He was also a former chair of The Runnymede Trust.

In 2009, he wrote an article for the Spectator with the headline “Race is not an issue in the UK anymore”.

Meanwhile, he told an audience at the Royal Television Society in 2007 that politically-correct broadcasters often “over compensated” by bombarding programmed with black and Asian faces,

“It’s almost impossible these days to find a television news programme that doesn’t have a black or Asian presenter as part of the team – even in areas of Britain where black and Asian faces are quite thin on the ground among the population as a whole,” he said.

And in an article for Standpoint Magazine, he defended the British Empire and said “victim status” was “one of the defining features of modern Britain”.

Other members of the commission were scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, former police officer Keith Fraser, Lord Ajay-Kakker, Naureen Khalid, Martyn Oliver and Kunle Olulode.

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