A new Parliamentary report, David Goodhart’s appointment and the exoneration of the BBC show that the EHRC is incapable of dealing with institutional discrimination
On Wednesday, the government appointed David Goodhart, head of the immigration unit at a right-wing think tank, as an EHRC commissioner. Goodhart is a self-professed ‘liberal’ proponent of strict ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies and his writings feature justifications for the Windrush scandal and concerns about ‘white self-interest’ and ‘majority rights’.
This is the latest development that has exposed the nature of the Equality and Human Rights Commission as a politically partisan organisation failing to deal with institutional discrimination.
Black lives don’t matter
On the same day that Goodhart was appointed, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report titled ‘Black people, racism and human rights’. The report finds that there has been an extensive failure by the government to secure and protect the human rights of black people and is damning of the EHRC.
Unsurprisingly, the report uncovers prevalent feelings of distrust among black people towards the state. Over 75% of black people do not believe that their human rights are protected equally compared to white people; 85% do not believe that they would be treated equally by the police, and over 60% do not believe that they would be equally protected by the NHS.
It also provides the statistics to back up these feelings, showing huge disparities in maternal mortality (black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women) and in the criminal justice system (in 2018-19, black people were 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched).
The EHRC in particular comes under fire for failing to “gain trust in tackling racial inequality in the protection and promotion of human rights” (p. 4). Since the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) was subsumed under the larger EHRC in 2007, Britain has lacked an institution dedicated to tackling racial inequality specifically.
Not an anti-racist organisation
Under David Cameron, an extensive effort was made to reform the body and remove ‘unnecessary red tape’ from the anti-discrimination legislation. In practice this led to a severe curtailing of its budget, powers and independence, paving the way for the Coalition government to implement its racist ‘hostile environment’ and Prevent policies without oversight. As noted by the report, the EHRC now has a budget of £17.1 million for all its work, compared to the CRE which had a budget of £90 million for race issues alone.
In addition to funding the EHRC, the government is also in charge of appointing its ten commissioners. The political nature and inappropriateness of these appointments are clear. A former chair of the EHRC, Trevor Phillips regularly spoke out about the ‘dangers of mass migration’, repeatedly made Islamophobic comments, and the firm he runs has produced software that helps the Metropolitan Police racially profile people.
The most recent former chair David Isaac, himself subject of a conflict-of-interest controversy, left his post in August after apparently diverging too much from the government line, and commissioners have lost their jobs for being ‘too vocal’ on race inequality.
This has obviously impacted on the ability of the commission to scrutinise the political establishment and raise controversial questions. While it investigated antisemitism within Labour without hesitation, it has so far declined to investigate the Conservative Party for Islamophobia, despite the Muslim Council of Britain’s appeal to investigate a dossier with over three hundred of allegations. David Goodhart simply denies that Islamophobia is a problem, a stance that is for the most part in keeping with the EHRC’s record.
The EHRC also came to the extraordinary conclusion on Thursday that there was no evidence of unequal pay for women at the BBC – despite several women winning legal battles over the issue in recent years.
Change from below
There is clearly a contradiction here between the government’s nominal wish to tackle racial disparities and its actual practice of institutional discrimination and sowing racial divisions. Government practice so far has been to commission report upon report proving the prevalence of racial discrimination in British society, and then ignoring the findings altogether, while it continues to unlawfully deport British citizens and spew hate against minorities.
As the report emphasises, we don’t need any more lip service. It should be clear by now that the EHRC is a political tool for the establishment and not an organisation committed to tackling racism. As Black Lives Matter has shown, meaningful change against racism and discrimination will only come from below, if we organise from the grassroots and fight for it.