Emily Carver: The individual no longer seems to count in our identity-obsessed society

10 Nov

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

New research from the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, has claimed that inequality among NHS staff members of different races and religions “is getting worse”. 

Its study Attracting, Supporting and Retaining a Diverse NHS Workforce, commissioned by NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation, highlights statistical disparities in the experiences and professional outcomes of staff by group, including along the lines of gender, religion, and ethnicity. 

According to data from last year’s NHS staff survey, Muslim staff are more than twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination than staff of no religion, and those who prefer to self-describe their gender are twice as likely to report experiencing discrimination as male or female staff. 

In terms of professional advancement, male nurses were found to be twice as likely to progress up two pay bands than female nurses; ethnic minority staff 27 per cent less likely than white staff to be “very senior managers”; and candidates with Bangladeshi ethnicity were found, on average, to be half as likely to be appointed from an NHS shortlist than a white British person. Where there has been an increase in representation of a minority group, this is described as an “improvement”.  

Of course, discrimination and bullying in the workplace should be seriously investigated, addressed, and dealt with swiftly. But what’s troubling is the implication that runs through the report that diversity is an end goal in and of itself, and that any discrepancy is likely a result of discrimination, bias or a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion. Its authors claim that “despite considerable effort and countless initiatives, inequality between NHS staff groups is persisting or even getting worse ­– and the health service does not have the tools to address this”.

In the same way that much of the analysis on gender pay gap reporting blames sexism for any discrepancies in earnings between men and women, the Nuffield Trust’s report assumes that any disparity between identity groups is down to discrimination – or at least provides little acknowledgement that there may be other factors at play. 

The reader is clearly meant to believe that any disparities between groups, be it in terms of progressing up pay bands, or gaining a position in senior management, must be due to discrimination.  

What’s concerning is how this translates into action. Commenting on the report, Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers said, “there’s an absolute commitment from our members to finally address the inequities in our workplaces”, and that the report “reminds us that far more urgency and impact is needed in every part of the NHS”. 

Pat Cullen, The Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive, responded by saying that the NHS leadership has “no alternative but to act on the findings” of the report, and that lack of inclusion and diversity can’t be pushed down the list of priorities any longer. This is ironic, considering the recent exposure of just how much we’re spending on NHS Diversity and Inclusion officers every year.

Mortimer says that we must address inequities. But what does this actually mean? What actions are they advocating to ensure there are no such inequities? Does this mean that unless there is parity between groups, that the NHS has failed? And why is this even desirable? Should equality of outcome among staff now be the priority, in an organisation that is creaking at the seams? Surely, the last thing we need is more of our money spent on diversity and inclusion managers. 

But judging by the proposals made by the Nuffield Trust, this is exactly what its authors want. The report recommends that NHS England regularly provides information to employers on their ‘relative and absolute performance’ on equality and diversity. This means continuous data gathering on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, as well as socioeconomic status, national origin and carer status. All to be supported by “continuous training” for NHS ‘diversity leads’.

Applying to jobs in the public sector and parts of the private sector has become a diversity and inclusion minefield. Demands to fill in your ethnicity, gender, even sexuality are commonplace, while in parts of the civil service they no longer want to see your academic background. Increasingly, it feels as though job ads may as well just put at the top of the job ad notice: “white, heterosexual, able-bodied men need not apply”. 

Diversity and inclusion may be dressed up in the language of equality, progress and advancement but it leads to quite the reverse. It’s lunacy that it has to be said but individuals should be judged as just that, individuals, not by their group identity or by their supposed ‘privileges’.

An institution like the NHS should focus on meritocracy, rather than engaging in pursuits that look suspiciously like social engineering. Come down hard on genuine accusations of discrimination, but whether a nurse is black or white should be of little consequence. 

Husain warns in his new book that British Muslims lead increasingly separate lives

26 Jun

Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain by Ed Husain

As your train pulls in to the station in a town you do not know well, you notice a new mosque, with minaret, standing in clear view of the tracks, and wonder what is going on inside, but reflect that you lack the knowledge of Islam, perhaps also the linguistic equipment, to make sense of what you would see and hear if you were to pay a visit.

And you reflect that you do not want to give offence. It is really much easier, and more tactful, to leave the worshippers at that mosque to their own devices, than to pester them with ignorant questions which might sound suspicious or even hostile.

For you, inhibited traveller, it would be a good idea to read Ed Husain’s book. For he has gone by train to nine towns and cities across the United Kingdom, and in each of these attended Friday prayers at the central mosque, entered many other mosques, Islamic schools and bookshops, questioned everyone from the imams and the faithful to chance passers-by in the streets, and created from these dialogues a portrait of some of the most unknown districts in Britain.

Husain is a Muslim who in his first book, The Islamist, described how he became, at the age of 16, a fundamentalist, and how he saw the error of his ways. His next work, The House of Islam: A Global History, reviewed on ConHome under the headline “How Islam and the West went wrong”,

“is animated by a burning sense of indignation at the way in which the Muslim faith has been narrowed and traduced by the rise of Salafi literalism, which as he says is ‘eerily similar’ to the puritanism which from the 16th century afflicted the Christian world.”

In his third book, he examines what has become of British Muslims, “the grandchildren of the British Empire”, in such centres as Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and London.

He has accumulated a mass of evidence, any one bit of which might be dismissed as inconsequential. But although his account is shot through with moments of hope, its general tendency is to warn that we have not being paying attention to a growing gulf within our own country.

In the “deeply divided” town of Blackburn, once represented in Parliament by Jack Straw, he finds:

“Much like Dewsbury, it is clear that a caliphist subculture thrives here, a separate world from the rest of British society.”

In Bradford, which has 103 mosques, he wonders how the city has become so segregated, and is appalled to find that the police are not allowed into mosques to speak to the congregants about not grooming white girls.

An imam tells him the groomers have nothing to do with Islam:

“There are two factors involved in those cases again and again: drugs and alcohol. Does Islam permit those things? Of course not. Yes, they have Muslim names and Pakistani backgrounds, but our mosques are not responsible for their criminality. These issues will be with us for a long time in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Keighley and other cities. But unless the police can prove it is not down to drugs and alcohol, we will not open the mosque doors to them…

“In 2010, they brought in laws to end corporal punishment. We as teachers in the mosque have no power over the children. They become teenagers and have no respect for us. The British limited us to the four walls of the mosque and then stopped our ability to control children.”

Husain argues for some time with this imam, but no meeting of minds takes place. He finds instead a closing of minds; a determination not to integrate:

“After travelling the length and breadth of Great Britain, meeting Muslims from every major denomination, it is clear to me that blind reliance on scripture and clerics is overwhelmingly strong within British Islam.”

But into what are British Muslims supposed to integrate? This is the question to which Husain works round at the end of his book. In his opinion,

“A fuzzy ‘integration’ whose success is judged by Muslims speaking English, baking cakes and playing cricket will not work. Caliphists are only successful in winning followers for their imagined utopia of an ‘Islamic State’ because the majority community is unable to tell a more compelling story of why Muslims should have a stake in maintaining Britain as a pluralistic, tolerant, secular democracy.”

Many at Westminster supposed that devolving power to Edinburgh would be a sufficient way to persuade the Scots to remain in the Union.

Only now is the realisation dawning that a positive idea of Britishness, as something more than the freedom to do one’s own thing, is required.

A similar misconception has underlain the failure of integration to which Husain draws attention.

The British idea of freedom includes a strong predisposition to respect other people’s privacy.

What one does in one’s own home is nobody else’s business. So too what one does in one’s church, temple, synagogue or mosque.

But this right to privacy does in fact have limits. It does not extend to the right in one’s own home to beat up one’s spouse, or in one’s place of worship to preach sedition.

Consider this passage from the Church of England’s Prayer Book:

“We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.”

Husain remarks:

“In Britain’s synagogues on Saturday mornings, as in many of its churches on Sundays, a prayer is always said for the good health of the Queen. Historically, Muslims too have always prayed for the head of state’s wellbeing, as a symbol of thanksgiving for the security and stability of the lands in which they live. This prayer is more important now than ever to connect young Muslims to their country, monarch and government.”

When asked at a mosque in Rochdale to address an assembly of 120 children who are attending its Quran class, Husain tells them:

“never forget that you are children of this soil. You were born here and you belong here. Let nobody tell you otherwise. Muslims serve in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and are present in every aspect of life here. Serve your country and your faith, and know that there is no contradiction between the two of them. Those who say we must choose between them, one or the other, are wrong. It’s like asking us to choose between our mum and our dad. Our religion tells us to serve our country, and our country gives us the freedom to be religious in a way that China or Russia does not.”

What a brave book this is. For as Husain says, for fear of giving offence, we often remain silent.

The amazing story of Mohammad Sarwar shows how Sturgeon can be defeated

22 Jan

Global Britain need not wait to be conjured up by Boris Johnson. It already exists.

Mohammad Sarwar is not among its most fashionable manifestations. The British press, which has difficulty in attending to more than one thing at a time, does not hang on his every word.

Sarwar is described by one who knows him as “a very affable person”, but has never given a memorable speech. He lacks charisma and passed through the House of Commons without making his name.

And yet he has achieved something astounding. After spending 13 years as an MP, he went off and became Governor of Punjab, and now enjoys in the middle of Lahore, surrounded by 80 acres of gardens, an official residence which is said to make Buckingham Palace look like “a suburban villa”.

We have become accustomed to Cabinet ministers such as Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng whose parents moved to the United Kingdom from various parts of the Commonwealth, but in 2013 Sarwar travelled in the opposite direction, and became a senior figure in Pakistani politics.

The two-way traffic between the UK and the former British Empire, so routine in other fields that it attracts no notice, is being re-established in politics, or perhaps had never gone away, but just slipped from view.

In Sardar’s case, as perhaps in most others, he has not forsaken the UK. His younger son, Anas Sardar, is frontrunner to become the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Here is a development which will rejoice the hearts of those of us who regard the hereditary principle not merely as inevitable  but as beneficial.

No need to distinguish between nature and nurture. If parents pass on their abilities to their children, society is enriched.

In 2010 Mohammad Sarwar passed on his parliamentary seat, Glasgow Central, to his younger son, Anas Sarwar, who could now be about to save the Scottish Labour Party from extinction.

No less a figure than Alan Cochrane, doyen of Unionist journalists, testifies to ConHome that Anas Sarwar is “very good”.

Here at last is a Scottish Labour politician who knows how to carry the fight to Nicola Sturgeon by exposing the grievous damage inflicted on Scotland by incompetent SNP ministers at Holyrood.

Egalitarians who protest at the flying start in Labour politics which young Sarwar got from old Sarwar might pause to consider not only the son’s ability, but the father’s courage.

He was born in 1952 in a village near Lyallpur, now known as Faisalabad, in the Pakistani province of Punjab. His parents had fled in 1947 from what became India. His grandparents and his eldest sister, who was a baby, died on that flight.

When Mohammad was four years old, his father left in search of a better life in Scotland, where he sold goods door to door. Mohammed followed 20 years later and himself became at first a travelling salesman, after which, in order to be considered fit to marry his cousin Perveen, like him a Pakistani Muslim, he took a shop on Maryhill Road, in Glasgow.

With his brother, Mohammad in due course set up a cash and carry business which prospered:

“People who come from Pakistan and from working-class families in other countries know what it means to be poor, and when they come here their priority is to earn some money and send back some to look after their families. They often work seven days a week to start up. Then you make money, and the money you make starts to make money. It is difficult to make the first million, but then the first million makes more.”

In 1984 Sarwar joined the Labour Party and in 1987 he was asked whether he would like to stand for Glasgow City Council in the hopeless ward of Pollokshields East. He ran, cut the Conservative majority from 700 to 70, and five years later won the seat.

While a councillor, he was told of two Glaswegian Asian girls who had been abducted while visiting Pakistan and subjected to forced marriages. A timid man might have reckoned this was a family matter in which it would be safer not to interfere. Sarwar went to Pakistan and secured the girls’ release.

In 1997, he fought the bitter Labour selection battle for the parliamentary seat of Glasgow Govan, with accusations of electoral malpractice flying to and fro.

Sarwar emerged victorious, and was later cleared of all the charges against him, but some observers thought the bloodletting had done such damage that Labour would lose the seat at the general election, especially as Sarwar, who suffered racist abuse and was somewhat wooden in manner, faced a personable young Scottish Nationalist candidate called Nicola Sturgeon.

He beat her by 2,914 votes, becoming the first Muslim MP at Westminster and the first to take the oath on the Koran. He upheld Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir, and the rights of Palestinians, but proved himself “very sound on the extremism issue”, as a Conservative observes.

When a white, 15-year-old boy was murdered in Glasgow by a Pakistani gang, Sarwar went to Pakistan and with great difficulty arranged the extradition of three of the culprits who had fled there.

While still a student in Faisalabad he had met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1973 until overthrown in 1977 in a military coup. Sarwar’s first political campaign in Scotland, a vain one, was for Bhutto to be spared the death penalty, carried out in 1979.

Two decades later, Sarwar got to know Nawaz Sharif, a former and future Prime Minister of Pakistan, and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif:

Sarwar got to know the Sharifs while they were living in exile in London after the 1999 coup in which they lost power. He is said to have won their gratitude by lobbying for them to remain in the UK.

“Yes, they had some problems when they were first on British soil, but they deserved to stay on merit, and I think they got it on merit,” he says. “I don’t think they are in debt to me, or I got this job because of that reason.”

The job to which he refers is the Governorship of Punjab, a grand ceremonial role which at moments of crisis can become of great political importance.

A previous Governor, Salman Taseer, was in 2011 assassinated by his own bodyguard for denouncing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Sarwar, who had to renounce his British citizenship in order to enter Pakistani politics, held the post of Governor of Punjab from 2013-15, when he fell out with the Sharifs and transferred his allegiance to Imran Khan.

In 2018 Khan became Prime Minister and Sarwar was reinstated as Governor.

Anas Sarwar had meanwhile lost his Westminster seat in the SNP landslide of 2015, had entered the Scottish Parliament in 2016, and in 2017 had failed to become leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Various atrocious crimes were attributed to him. His parents had sent him to Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow, an independent school whose alumni include John Buchan and Derry Irvine.

And although Anas had read dentistry at Glasgow University, and had afterwards practised as a dentist for a few years, he was known, thanks to his father’s business career, to be a man of independent means, which was reckoned to be incompatible with being a socialist.

So Labour chose instead the Momentum candidate, the hapless English-sounding Richard Leonard, under whom its fortunes in Scotland continued to decline, with socialist Scots flocking instead to support the SNP.

Anas will not have long to get those voters back before the elections in May. But he is at once more local than Leonard, and more international than Sturgeon.

He will never be able to enter Pakistani politics, for unlike his father he has not spent the first 24 years of his life there. But he might just be able to make Sturgeon, with her desire to rejoin the European Union, look a bit limited, a bit parochial.

Desmond Swayne: Nigeria is independent, but it still needs Britain’s help

1 Oct

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

Today, Thursday October 1, is the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from British rule. Celebrating Independence Day is important for any nation and it is no less the case for Nigeria which, having moved on from the days of British rule, has become one of the continent’s most prosperous, most populous and fastest growing nations. It is estimated that Nigeria will have a larger population than the United States by 2050 and it is already the largest economy in Africa.

This diamond jubilee of independence is of great national significance as it celebrates Nigeria’s past ties and collaborations, as well as future opportunities to build stronger connections and trading relationships in this post-Brexit new world. There will be many socially distanced celebrations to commemorate this occasion – the International Organisation for Peace and Social Justice will be holding an online thanksgiving prayer event for example.

However, beyond the joy of Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations, this prayer event has another purpose, a more sombre purpose – and that is to highlight, mourn and campaign for further positive progress in the ongoing battle against the Boko Haram insurgents and other militia groups threatening the peace of the nation and the region. Since the year 2000, it is estimated that there have been almost 100,000 deaths in Nigeria caused by internationally recognised Islamist extremist groups who have been targeting both Christians and Muslims alike. This existential threat could well have wider global implications if we do not pray and act against it in a timely manner.

This continuing tragedy is underrepresented in the UK media and the scale of the crisis is sadly not fully recognised by all. I commend the hard work of organisations such as OpenDoors, HART, PSJ UK, CSW and others working to raise awareness of the situation in Nigeria.

There has also been some good news recently in this respect from the UK government. I fully support Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that he is considering diverting billions of pounds of foreign aid to bolster security. This would be a welcome early benefit from the new FCO and DFID merger and a step forward for many of us, who have been looking for an official recognition of the links between aid, security and development.

It is my hope that the UK government will move forward with this and use the aid that we give to Nigeria – almost £300m in 2018 – to ensure that Nigeria does more to safeguard human rights and protect lives. This strategy to help the millions of innocent citizens in Nigeria, trapped between some of the deadliest terrorist organisations, Islamic State West Africa and Boko Haram, as well as unidentified militias and bandits has broad public support. For example, a recent ComRes poll showed that requiring foreign aid to Nigeria be targeted on measures that safeguard human rights received over 50 per cent approval and rose to almost 60 per cent support for sanctions on individuals found responsible for these human rights abuses.

Of course, our foreign aid can do great work in countries like Nigeria, building schools, revamping hospitals and updating agricultural equipment. However, we must also continue to ensure that this funding does indeed go to those in need and does not disappear into a labyrinth of wasteful bureaucratic machines. Moreover, without support for persecuted and targeted groups much of our aid projects could simply be destroyed or rendered useless by attacks.

If the UK government embraces this bolder approach to foreign aid we will be able to genuinely use our position on the world stage to make life better for those in need all around the globe.

With the world still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, today’s series of celebratory events in Nigeria and in the UK will be slightly muted with its citizens looking to governments in both nations to do more and follow through on its verbal commitments. Governments have a responsibility to protect their people and I hope to be raising more celebratory glasses to toast when this is fully achieved in Nigeria.

Garvan Walshe: Erdogan has failed his country – and turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque won’t put food back on Turkey’s tables

16 Jul

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

Built by the Roman emperor Justinian as a church, the Hagia Sophia, like the Catsel Sant’Angelo in Rome, is a sort of architectural missing link. Larger than classical structures, and enclosed, the visitor’s first impression is of the sheer quantity of stone, its bulk needed to support what was then the largest dome in Christendom. The graceful minarets are, of course, a later Ottoman addition.

When the Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople for the Ottomans he had it turned into a mosque, and Attaturk later made it a secular museum. But if Justinian built it at the Byzantine empire’s height, five years after Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina, and Attaturk as his secular regime established himself, Erdogan has reestablished it as a mosque as his regime begins to decline.

Erdogan is no stranger to culture war. He built his power on a rising class of conservative Muslims who felt ill-served by the secular governing classes of Attaturk’s republic. They moved to Turkey’s cities as the economy modernised during the 1980s and 90s, and gave him his first taste of national office in Istanbul, where he was mayor between 1994 and 1998, Attaturk’s secularised Hagia Sofia looming over his city.

Battles over women being allowed to cover their heads on public property, alcohol taxes, and against an “interest rate lobby” blamed for repeated falls in the value of the Turkish Lira, have characterised his time in office, despite it also featuring major terrorist campaigns, a bloody war in Syria, the hosting of two million refugees who escaped it, large-scale counter-insurgency against Kurdish rebels and an almost successful military coup against him.

His governing style has evolved since he first became Prime Minister in 2003, and not only because he’s become an executive president. His first battles were with the military, when he pretended to be a democrat and gave his supporters pride in having their voice heard, and in economic progress.

But he turned on his former allies on anti-militarist left and in the Gülen movement, and constructed a far more grandiose and personal presidency. He built an enormous palace to live in, dressed up his bodyguards like Ottoman janissaries and radically changed foreign policy.

He abandoned Turkey’s historic friendship with Israel, opting instead to support Hamas, and the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. He financed Islamist rebels in Syria, and invaded the Kurdish areas of the country after, apparently, convincing Donald Trump to withdraw US protection for them.

He has even chosen to intervene in the Libyan civil war against the Russia and Egypt-backed General Haftar. He seems to see no contradiction between this anti-Russian intervention and ordering an S-400 air defence system from Moscow, or at least no greater contradiction than exists between that order and Turkey’s continued membership of NATO.

Domestically, he has been seduced by huge public works, from a new airport in Istanbul, to his now-presidential palace, the attempted paving over of Gezi Park (which provoked serious protests in 2013) and the enormous GAP dam project in southeastern Anatolia.

All these, and corruption allegations that swirl around them have begun to damage his reputation and, together with his increasing authoritarian style, cost his AK Party the mayoralties of Ankara and Istanbul. Voters weren’t impressed by his leaning on the Supreme Electoral Commission to rerun the Istanbul race after a narrow loss, and returned opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu decisively when the vote was held a second time.

More serious is the emergence of two new parties led by Erdogan’s former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively. Erdogan has managed only narrow victories in recent years, and relies on the ultra-nationalist MHP for its majority in parliament. A referendum confirming the switch to presidential rule was only narrowly carried.

Turkey’s government has come under criticism for mismanaging the economic fallout of the Covid-19 epidemic. The weak currency, a victim of Erdogan’s crusade against that “interest rate lobby” has been unable to support the huge borrowing to which other governments have resorted, with private initiatives organised by opposition mayors of Ankara and Istanbul taking much of the strain.

Reconsecrating the Hagia Sophia may give some cheer to his more committed supporters, but won’t put food on increasingly bare Turkish tables. A more humble man would treat it as part of his legacy and begin looking for a successor.