James Roberts is political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance
With all the talk of post-Brexit state aid rules and subsidies for cutting-edge tech, other sectors propped up by the taxpayer are often overlooked. That includes our super-subsidised social justice sector.
The wave of woke has brought with it an entire industry. It has all the hallmarks of a successful sector: thousands of employees; quarterly results in the form of constant corporate releases on diversity; legions of lawyers; and incomprehensible industry jargon, repeated ad infinitum in its trade press, the BBC. It enjoys the backing of its own (captured) regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and it parasitically preys on millions of pounds of public money.
You would have thought the social justice sector was big enough to look after itself. In 2003, an American professor noted that companies were spending an estimated $8 billion a year on diversity efforts. Today, business is booming.
Diversity demagogues have successfully roped gullible civil servants into their agenda. Annual reports from every government body are filled with endless initiatives (the Civil Service Commission’s “diversity forum” and Network Rail’s “Race Matters” programme, to name but two).
In 2018, we estimated that the Equality Act alone (which spawned a great deal of this diversity doctrine) would cost the taxpayer £49 million annually by 2020. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are government jobs a plenty for these cultural commissars: everything from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Specialists at UK Research and Innovation (£49,708pa) to Head of Inclusion at Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (£47,544 – £53,459pa).
Nowhere is this clearer than with the EHRC. The body once headed by Trevor Philips has become the engine for social activism.
It starts with subsidies. We identified £40 million of taxpayers’ money being given to a sample of organisations last year which campaign and lobby for political causes. EHRC was one of the main suppliers. Lucky recipients of EHRC grants included £10,169 for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, £18,000 handed to think tank Bright Blue for “event costs”, and £19,000 to Diverse Cymru, having been commissioned to create films highlighting refugees’ issues in Wales.
Even this year, with a global pandemic, the right-on racket continued. Self-proclaimed “specialist in Gender and LGBT Equality” Julie Scanlon received £8,305 in April from EHRC for “research”. Topics from her blog include “Has your organisation ever celebrated Lesbian Visibility Day” and (somewhat ironically for taxpayers) “Is your privilege losing you money?”.
Then we have TS4SE, a provider of “refugee and migrant awareness training”. The EHRC gave it a grant of £9,191. Justice Studio Ltd were paid a total of £65,560 between April 2019 and July 2020. Before the final payment had even been made, the founder and managing director felt it appropriate to condone the desecration of Winston Churchill’s statue, claiming he “had it coming”, as well as pronouncing extensively on the existence of white privilege.
These campaigners, openly and aggressively pursuing a political agenda, should not be receiving taxpayers’ money. For the record, we pursue an agenda. So does Greenpeace. But neither of us takes a penny from the state.
With political activism in full swing, woke warriors have been looking for other ways to influence policy-making at the taxpayers’ expense. Once again, EHRC has obliged. The EHRC panel of counsel is a list of preferred providers of external legal services for the quango, including representation and advice. The panel is the linchpin of a network of activist lawyers, pursuing contentious political causes with no regard for the effective cross-subsidy coming their way from taxpayers, via the EHRC.
Unlike the attorney activism of the past, this doesn’t need a penny of legal aid money. EHRC panel lawyers are able to claim and continue campaigning as they please. Catherine Meredith, of Doughty Street Chambers, enjoyed payments totalling £3,264 in January and February of 2019, before claiming Britain requires “radical institutional and social change” following the death of George Floyd.
Lawyers from Matrix Chambers have received almost £600,000 since 2017. Yet one represented the organisation that blocked a recent Jamaica deportation flight. He got £86,900. Another, Emma Foubister, defended Extinction Rebellion activists after their eco-antics. Her EHRC bill came to £55,934. Helen Mountfield QC, who represented “The People’s Challenge” in the Gina Miller Brexit case, herself pocketed £190,688.
The persistent campaigning of the publicly-funded progressives has been a remarkable vehicle for influencing public policy. With a few notable (and noble) exceptions, like Ben Bradley and Neil O’Brien, now MPs themselves have been bounced into (taxpayer-funded) lectures on woke ideology via “unconscious bias” training.
For all the talk of fighting for the values of “forgotten man”, remarkably few figures in this “People’s Government” have joined the battle. Priti Patel put her head above the parapet in battle against activist lawyers, and became a hate figure in return. One Matrix lawyer publicly mocked Patel as “not smart” or “deliberately misleading”. Last year an organisation called Race on the Agenda happily took almost £20,000 from EHRC, but had no qualms about signing an open letter to the Home Secretary accusing her of a “regressive and counterproductive policing policy and cheap political point scoring”.
Ministers need to wake up. The social justice super-blob will never stop campaigning, attacking any government policy they can, driven on by professional zealotry and perks of public funding. Popular policies (from any party) will always be targets. For the activism industry, the world truly is black and white.
So what can be done? First, defund the committed crusaders. Organisations that campaign and lobby for political objectives shouldn’t receive taxpayers’ money. The EHRC, which began recruiting a new chair and board members in June, should cut them off. The new leadership would do well to remember, as Trevor Philips himself has found out, that the activism industry inevitably turns on its own supporters. It’s better to starve the beast. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidise this agenda any longer.