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Louise Casey

What Briton has ever been called so many different kinds of Tsar? The press can’t decide, just now, whether to confer on Louise Casey the title of Equality Tsar or Integration Tsar.

Both titles have been used this week as this most unusual and outspoken civil servant presses ahead with David Cameron’s mission to end the segregation of British Muslims, and thereby, it is hoped, the propensity of some of them to join ISIS.

Casey is also Troubled Families Tsar, and under Tony Blair, served as Homelessness Tsar, Respect Tsar and ASBO Tsar. Like the Tsar of All the Russias, she doubtless possesses a number of subsidiary titles which are less often used.

When a Prime Minister finds himself faced with an intractable social problem, he sends for Casey. The exception to this rule was Gordon Brown, who at first declined to recognise her abilities. For as Casey told Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian:

“I was seen – and it isn’t true – as Blair’s girl. Blair and the Social Exclusion Unit was of its moment for me, and I had an awful lot of access and power. That wasn’t the same under Gordon, ‘cos I was seen as Blair’s girl. But that’s life, isn’t it?”

By the end of his time in office Brown saw the error of his ways, and made her Victims Commissioner. But this week it is her work with Muslims which is attracting attention. The Sun was so impressed by her remarks on Monday evening, at the launch of Policy Exchange’s Demography, Immigration and Integration Unit, that on Wednesday it printed extracts from them:

“We need to talk about the elephant in the room. We need to talk about equality. I am not happy that women growing up in this country are not treated as equals by ANYBODY

“They can be a Muslim imam, they can be a bloke they just met on the bus – I don’t really care. I am a woman in the 21st century and I am equal to any man. That is the message we need to have. 

“And if there is a particular religion or party that isn’t prepared to sign up to that, why does that trump what we fought so hard for here in this country – to make sure every woman has a vote? 

“For me, this isn’t a Muslim issue. This is an equality issue. 

“I spent an hour yesterday with one of the leading experts on forced marriages. These are happening and it is appalling. 

“Yet we let some of it happen because we are so politically correct in wanting our multicultural Britain that we forgot to talk about equality. We forgot to talk about women’s rights. 

“We forgot to talk about the fact girls should not, from the age of eight, be promised to somebody else. I don’t care if it is only five girls. That is five too many. 

“This is not just about particular communities needing to integrate. It is about people on the other side who have been hand-wringing and I will come at that with some force in our review. 

“I am not going to ignore the fact there are evil people – paedophiles, internet groomers, IS – who go for our children. We need to talk about that.”

This is a characteristic intervention by Casey. We find here her crudity of tone; her spontaneous and good-hearted emotional engagement, prompting her to say what others would only think; her indignation with “hand-wringing” liberals who have let down vulnerable people; and her ruthless clarity about the way to integrate Muslim communities, which entails deploying one liberal value (equality) against another (multiculturalism).

She has simplified an almost impossibly complex problem, and cut through the inhibitions which would immobilise a more polite, gentle and sophisticated person.

As a man of conservative instincts, I cannot help feeling a twinge of sympathy for the conservative-minded British Muslim leaders against whom Casey, with her vulgar but inconveniently perceptive and fashionable insights, has now been deployed.

She meets them with the full backing of the Prime Minister. They decline to shake her hand. She inquires, in the course of their conversation, why they have refused to shake her hand. Is it that they regard women as inferior? Is that why she was shown in round the back, via a flight of exterior steps?

They know they cannot reply that they regard women as inferior. They do not even know how to explain that they regard women as different. And they do not have a sufficiently confident knowledge of English society to throw the question back at Cameron.

He went to a school which to this day only admits boys. Oxford and Cambridge only admitted, for about seven centuries, men, and have only in the last few decades opened their ancient colleges to women. The Church of England has only just discovered that women can be priests, and the Church of Rome has yet to take that view.

Not, these conservative-minded Muslims might argue, that English society can be regarded as in any serious way religious. Look at the depravity with which so many young people behave! Surely young Muslims, whether male or female, need to be protected against that?

None of this can the Muslim elders express, especially as they find themselves in the humiliating position of not being in full control of their own young people. Instead they are exposed to the blow-torch of Casey’s self-righteous feminist liberalism.

And behind her stands Cameron the muscular liberal, who declared with implacable self-righteousness in his New Year’s message:

“When our national security is threatened by a seething hatred of the West, one that turns people against their own country and can even turn them into murderous extremists, I want us to be very clear: you will not defeat us…

We will take on the underlying poisonous narrative of grievance and resentment…

And we will have greater confidence in, indeed we will revel in, our way of life. Because if you walk in our streets, learn in our schools, benefit from our society, you sign up to our values: Freedom. Tolerance. Responsibility. Loyalty.”

In an earlier period, one would have called Cameron a muscular Christian. His active Anglican faith gives him the confidence to speak with such marked asperity and conviction: that and his even more important knowledge, inherited from a long line of Mounts (his mother’s family), of what constitutes good behaviour, and how outrageous it is to have the sheer bad manners, the ingratitude, to try to blow us all up.

Casey is the perfect instrument for Blair and Cameron to attempt (in a way that they half hide even from themselves) to remoralise English society (I leave Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland out of this, for despite their Scottish connections, Blair and Cameron are essentially English figures).

She cannot be dismissed as a priggish, over-privileged public schoolboy who is preaching at the rest of us. There is nothing in the slightest bit priggish about her: in her way, she is a bit of a roaring girl, foul-mouthed and irrepressible and generous.

She grew up in Portsmouth, started out in life as a benefits administrator, made her name as deputy director of Shelter, and in 1999 became head of the Rough Sleepers’ Unit: the Blair government’s instrument for getting homeless people off the streets.

Casey declared that giving money to beggars was “misplaced goodwill”, since 86 per cent of them were on drugs. Nor was there any point in giving them soup and sleeping bags, so they could live a little more comfortably on the streets: that just perpetuated the problem. Her brilliant career as a provider of tough love to the disadvantaged had begun.

In 2005, she nearly sank herself by giving an ill-advised after-dinner speech to some police officers. Casey amused them by insisting that government ministers make better decisions when pissed: “doing things sober is no way to get things done”.

She went on: “If Number Ten says bloody evidence-based policy to me one more time I’m going to deck them one and probably get unemployed.”

A recording of this speech became public and there were demands that she be sacked. But Blair stood by her and her reputation for saying out loud what others would only think became unassailable.

A Conservative who has had much to do with her over the last few years told ConHome:

“She may be the best single civil servant I’ve ever met. What’s so brilliant about her is she’s actually completely unlike a civil servant. She doesn’t care about structures and processes and hierarchies. She believes in getting things done.

“And she’s quite critical of the over-socially-conservative elements that are holding those Muslim communities back – how victim culture, blame culture, isn’t good enough, and we need to start being brave enough to say when things aren’t acceptable, aren’t right.”

Some more orthodox civil servants detest her. They regard Casey’s ability to charm people as no compensation for her brutishness. They complain that she ingratiates herself with influential women by taking them out to breakfast and becoming best buddies with them.

And they regard her as quite unsuited to investigating the delicate and complicated question of what relationship there is, if any, between the social conservatism, and the isolation, of some Muslim communities, and the recruitment of terrorists.

But Casey, who is now 50, would not still be around if she were useless to the powers that be. Last July, Cameron gave a speech in Birmingham about how to defeat Islamist extremism, in the course of which he said:

“I can announce today I have charged Louise Casey to carry out a review of how to boost opportunity and integration in these communities and bring Britain together as one nation. She will look at issues like how we can ensure people learn English; how we boost employment outcomes, especially for women; how state agencies can work with these communities to properly promote integration and opportunity but also learning lessons from past mistakes – when funding was simply handed over to self-appointed ‘community leaders’ who sometimes used the money in a divisive way.

“Louise will provide an interim report early next year. And we will use this report to inform our plans for funding a new wider Cohesive Communities Programme next year, focusing resources on improving integration and extending opportunity in those communities that most need it.”

The language is liberal, but the intention is to build one nation: as in the 19th century, liberalism and nationalism are regarded as allies, each of which strengthens rather than contradicts the other. Cameron is much more serious about this than some of us have realised, and so is Casey.

26 comments for: Profile: Louise Casey, the Tsar for all seasons – now preparing at Cameron’s behest to take on conservative Islam

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