The ‘do nothing’ dilemma: bias and ‘othering’ in the Conservative Party

The disturbing claims from Nusrat Ghani that she was sacked from her ministerial position because of her ‘Muslimness’ are as chilling as they are unsurprising. We have become accustomed to the ugly reality of a ruthless far-right party machine that keeps this government in power. Jim Funnell examines the government’s record on inclusion.

Johnson’s government has become all too ready to dispatch its Whips to ensure his dirty work is done – from shoring up support for Owen Paterson to stopping its rebel MPs from delivering their letters of no confidence. Edging out those who ‘don’t fit’ because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation has become a natural resting position for this extreme group.

What seems to have happened in Nusrat’s case would mirror Boris Johnson’s playbook, his governmental approach to complaints and issues. First, ignore them, try and make them go away, and then, when media pressure and attention gets too hot, declare the urgent need for investigation.

For two years Ms Ghani had apparently been trying to get her complaint resolved, but it has taken the phenomenal focus on Johnson’s crumbling corrupt regime to get him finally (and clearly reluctantly – if time is an indicator) to call an investigation, despite Johnson knowing about the issue from the outset. It’s a familiar and depressing pattern, with one constant: Boris Johnson is always bang centre of the frame.

And Nusrat’s claims illustrate perfectly how the establishment works – I term it the ‘Do Nothing Dilemma’ and it’s a dilemma that runs through Johnson’s government like a four letter word through a stick of rock. The dilemma is: ‘How long can we ignore something until we are forced to do something about it?’ It’s the dilemma on which the ‘status quo’ is built.

Of course, it’s not really a dilemma in the normal sense. To regular citizens the choices would be easily made, unencumbered by the poisonous will for power. School children are taught to stand up to racism and call it out. Every business in the land has a policy around discrimination and the Equality Act has existed since 2010. Indeed, both the Conservative Party and the parliamentary code of conduct make significant statements around supporting equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion.

But the problem over ‘what to do’ about an issue such as ‘Muslimness’ only becomes a dilemma if your one focus is on staying in power, whatever the cost. The human carnage, the lives that are trashed, the unlawfulness, the spinelessness – that’s all just collateral.

The Do Nothing Dilemma’s default position is, of course, to do the bare minimum. Some kind of action is only reached, reluctantly, when the media get hold of the story, or it becomes so large and potentially embarrassing the status quo can no longer be achieved and ‘something must be done’. Usually this is an enquiry or investigation that, helpfully, also delays, achieves a ‘Sue Gray’ time freeze and diffuses the situation without ever fixing it.

And what makes Nusrat’s case all the more horrific is that, according to Baroness Warsi, this complaint was an open secret in Westminster all along. So Truss, Johnson and all the others proclaiming loudly that suddenly they believe an investigation is warranted is little more than posturing.

And even worse than that, after two years of allegedly having her complaint kicked into the long grass by predominantly white, privileged males of the ruling elite, is the fact it will finally be investigated by predominantly white privileged males from the ruling elite. That’s the magic of institutional racism.

Anthony Mangnall, MP for South Devon and Totnes, hit Twitter this past weekend and sent out a telling tweet that sums up the dark heart of this very issue, although he, of course, being a privileged white male of the ruling elite, would be oblivious to it. He tweeted:

“I have gone against against Government on quite a lot of matters.

I have NEVER been threatened or blackmailed by a Minister, Whip or SPAD.

It wouldn’t work woth [sic] me and not sure it would with any other colleague.”

Of course Mangnall has never been in that position! His face fits. He holds no ‘foreign’ baggage in terms of skin colour, religion, creed or even difficult opinions that differ radically from those expected of a public-school-educated, privileged white male born on the ladder of the establishment itself. Mangnall is part of the institution that does this to people, he is a cog in the machine, so he is left well alone. Institutional racism is something that is allowed to happen when you have a ruling elite dominated by white privileged males from public schools whose paradigm is the privileged background of colonialism. It is their continued dominance within the political sphere that is the issue.

The Ethnic Diversity in Politics and Public Life report (15 November 2021) contains some stark figures:

Of the 65 ethnic minority members elected to parliament in 2019, 41 (63 per cent) are Labour and 22 (34 per cent) are Conservatives. So, despite the Conservatives having an 80 seat majority, the governing party has half the number of ethnic minority members that the opposition has.

So at what point should someone step in and challenge racism head on? Most of us would like to think we would step in straight away, to do the right thing if others didn’t.

In November last year, Anthony Mangnall MP appeared on Nigel Farage’s risible cheap TV gimmick ‘Farage at Large.’ I wrote at the time how disgusted I was to witness my MP sitting there whilst Farage disparaged and demeaned whistle-blower Azeem Rafiq. In the process of his hate-filled tirade Farage trotted out all the classic racist tropes about racism being little more than banter.

I challenged Anthony Mangnall over this event and received the following response:

“I was not asked my opinion on the issues which I understand have caused concern among some constituents. Had I been given the opportunity to respond to remarks about Azeem Rafiq, I would of course have reiterated the point that racism in all its forms is abhorrent and is not acceptable in our society.”

Notwithstanding the ridiculous assertion that somehow he could only be expected to challenge Farage’s comments if Farage had actually stopped to ask him about them, I thought the language Mangnall used was both interesting and concerning. “I understand” he wrote, as if the content were not blatantly discriminatory or dubious enough and had to be called to his attention for him to even notice it.

The phrase ‘concern amongst some constituents’ seemed to indicate that the subject is somehow open to debate as it is only some who found the comments to be offensive. It’s a disturbing line, giving the impression that a minority of constituents are somehow ‘over woke’ when it comes to racism.

MPs such as Mangnall need to make some rapid choices instead of hedging their bets with vague language that allows oxygen to fuel the fire of discrimination. We have no control over where we are born, but we do have some control over what we do with our lives after that.

It is depressing to note that this institutional acceptance of, and in some cases, complicity with, racism and espousers of racist tropes, is openly tolerated in the Conservative Party. But, in an organisation dominated by the ‘Do Nothing Dilemma’ of the establishment, it is simply not surprising.

After all, many of the ruling elite have actually had to ‘do nothing’ in their lives to get where they are today – it was already done for them.

Welcome to the establishment – if your face fits.