Who is Munira Mirza? The No 10 adviser setting up race inequality commission - and why she’s a controversial choice

Munira Mirza has proved a controversial choice as the appointed head of the newly announced Race Equality Commission due to her previous statements about institutional racism, calling it a “myth”
Everything you need to know about Munira Mirza (Photo: Mary Turner/Getty Images)Everything you need to know about Munira Mirza (Photo: Mary Turner/Getty Images)
Everything you need to know about Munira Mirza (Photo: Mary Turner/Getty Images)

Munira Mirza has been appointed as the head of a new race inequality commission, announced by Boris Johnson following the Black Lives Matter protests.

The commission will investigate racial and ethnic disparities in Britain, however Mirza’s appointment has proven controversial. Here’s what you need to know.

Who is Munira Mirza?

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Munira Mirza was born in Oldham, Greater Manchester and attended Mansfield College, Oxford, studying English.

Between 2008 and 2016, Mirza worked for Boris Johnson, who was the Mayor of London at that point, and held the role of Cultural Adviser, and Director of Arts, Culture and the Creative industries.

From 2012, she was one of six Deputy Mayors, working as the Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture.

In January 2019, Mirza joined King’s College London as the Executive Director of Culture, but in July of the same year, she was appointed by Johnson as the Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit.

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She has most recently been announced as the head of the new Racial Equality Commission.

Mirza is married to Dougie Smith, who currently holds the position as a strategist and opposition researcher in Boris Johnson's most senior political office, internal documents seen by the Mirror reveal.

Smith had previously worked for Conservative HQ as a strategist and opposition researcher under David Cameron, but in 2003 it was revealed that he was the co-founder of Fever Parties, an agency which reportedly organised sex parties for people in the townhouses of Mayfair, Chelsea and Kensington.

It’s understood that Smith reports to Johnson’s top aides, Dominic Cummings and Eddie Lister, and was also involved in the ‘reorganisation’ of cabinet special advisers which resulted in multiple high ranking aides being sacked.

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The decision to appoint Smith has raised questions about the vetting process for candidates for the role.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty said: “This revelation raises yet more questions about the hiring and vetting process at the heart of government. The cabinet secretary has yet to answer my questions about the previous hiring decisions of Dominic Cummings.

“We now need urgent answers about the hiring of Dougie Smith, the vetting he was subjected to and how he was appointed to the role.”

Why is the choice of Mirza being criticised?

Munira Mirza’s appointment as head of the Racial Equality Commission has been called into question by MPs and equality activists.

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She has previously criticised past inquiries into the issue of institutional racism, arguing that “it seems that a lot of people in politics think it’s a good idea to exaggerate the problem of racism”.

Writing for the website Spiked, an online magazine, she published a piece titled “Lammy review: the myth of institutional racism” which refers to David Lammy’s 2017 report on racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

In an article for The Spectator, Mirza argued that, in some ways, people from BAME (black and minority ethnicities) backgrounds got “more favourable treatment compared with whites”.

David Lammy, Labour MP and Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, took to Twitter to express his concerns.

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Quote tweeting an article regarding Mirza’s role as the head of the commission, he wrote: “This further undermines @BorisJohnson’s race commission. My review was welcomed by all parties: Corbyn, Camera and May. But Munira Mirza went out of her way to attack it.

“Johnson isn’t listening to #BlackLivesMatter. He’s trying to wage a culture war.”

A spokesperson for the Institute of Race Relations think tank said: “Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors. Munira Mirza’s previous comments describe a ‘grievance culture’ within the anti-racist field and she has previously argued that institutional racism is ‘a perception more than a reality’.

“It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities.”

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Labour MP Diane Abbott, a former shadow home secretary, also said: “A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival. She has never believed in institutional racism.”

Why has a new commission been created?

The Commission was created in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that have been gaining momentum around the world, including the UK.

The protests were sparked following the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after white police officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Writing in the Monday 15 June edition of The Telegraph, Johnson said that “no-one who cares about this country” could ignore the anti-racist protests that have been taking place in the UK.

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He wrote: “There is much more that we need to do; and we will. It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality - in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”

The news of the commission has garnered backlash as well, with critics saying that action is needed, not another review.

Lammy tweeted: “We don’t need yet another Review, we need action.

“The PM should take inspiration from another Johnson, Lyndon B - who signed the 1964 act to dismantle segregation, the 1965 act to prohibit racist voting laws, and the 1968 act to outlaw housing discrimination. This is leadership.”

He added: “Boris Johnson needs to stop the dither and the delay. #BlackLivesMatter

“Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, the country is crying out for action.”