‘Independent’ regulators and watchdogs are typically painted as standing above politics, acting as neutral arbiters. But filled with establishment stooges, they instead play the role of propping up the status quo. The EHRC is no exception.
In November 2018, a dossier was submitted to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate ‘institutional antisemitism’ in the Labour Party. The fact of the investigation in and of itself was presented by the establishment as evidence of how far Labour had fallen under Corbyn’s leadership.
The Labour right wing have cynically used the EHRC’s investigation and subsequent report for their own ends, to go on the offensive against the left. For this, they have been praised by the ruling class, painted as the voices of reason rebelling against Corbyn’s ‘regime’.
And yet, in all of this furore, the EHRC’s credibility has not once been called into question. This so-called ‘independent’ body is purported to stand above party politics. But the facts paint a very different picture.
Beginnings of the EHRC
The Commission was established in 2006 under Blair, subsuming three previous bodies that were in charge of anti-discrimination laws into one. The move was heavily criticised at the time. Activists pointed out that there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to inequality and discrimination.
The formation of a ‘holistic’ Commission was a classic case of New Labour spin over substance. It was understood at the time to be a step backward, and it was hardly a surprise when it came to be riddled with internal dissent and mired in sleaze from the get go.
Trevor Phillips’ appointment as the body’s first Chair led to six commissioners resigning in the space of two years. One of these described Phillips’ leadership as “better suited to a political organisation rather than a human rights one”. In fact, he was so close to theNew Labour top brass that Peter Mandelson was best man at his wedding.
After a spate of incendiary Islamaphopic comments – from describing British Muslims as “becoming a nation within a nation”, to asserting that Muslims “see the world differently from the rest of us” – Phillips himself was suspended from the Labour Party. He is now a senior fellow of the right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange.
Conflict of interest?
Since the Tories came to power in 2010, the EHRC has faced swingeing cuts to its budget – reduced from £63 million to £17 million. The former legal advisor to the Commission for Racial Equality commented that the EHRC “wasn’t given adequate resources”, and that it “tended to pick and choose issues to tackle which are not necessarily the most important ones”.
“Picking and choosing” is exactly how we might describe its recent conduct. The EHRC’s treatment of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for instance is a clear case of the body’s utter hypocrisy. Submitting its own dossier in May 2019, the MCB asked the EHRC to investigate the Tories for creating a hostile, discriminatory environment for Muslims.
“Unfortunately Islamophobia is a serious problem, it’s endemic, it’s institutional within the Conservative Party”
Muslim Council of Britain’s Miqdaad Versi says “no action has been taken” and the party has a “structural problem” #politicslive https://t.co/aiKOykxgWs pic.twitter.com/IDO87JIjRB
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 26, 2019
At first they didn’t respond. When pressed, they prevaricated on the question. The Board eventually declined the request, claiming it “would not be proportionate”, stating that the Tory Party was capable of investigating itself!
It was then revealed that Pavita Cooper, one of the EHRC commissioners, had not declared that she was a Tory donor and fundraiser before joining the Commission and later adjudicating on this matter.
He who pays the piper…
The Commission picked no fights with Tony Blair – an infamous war criminal. They have never picked a fight with the Tory Party. But why would they? David Isaac, the EHRC Chair when the MCB quite rightly raised serious concerns about Islamophobia, was in the Tories’ pocket.
Isaac continued to work for the legal firm Pinsent Masons whilst Chair, a firm that does significant work for the government. For this role, he is paid an exorbitant salary of £620,000. As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
The fact is that the EHRC is a public body that receives its funding from the state; and the state is tied by a thousand threads to big business.
But it is not fear of government cuts alone that mean the EHRC doesn’t rock the boat. Rather, like all supposedly ‘independent’ institutions under capitalism, the EHRC doesn’t possess a scrap of independence. The EHRC and other bodies are one small part of the whole ‘revolving door’ system that connects politics, big business, and the various arms of the capitalists state.
At the top, the EHRC is composed of individuals who drift seamlessly in and out of public and private posts, and who share the same fundamental class outlook as the bosses.
The commissioners of every so-called ‘independent’ body share the same interest in maintaining the status quo – defending the property, power, and privileges of themselves as well as their ilk.
No authority at all
What is the EHRC’s own track record on racism? Not a jot better than that of the Tories. Two former commissioners – the only black and Muslim workers on the Board – have revealed that they were not reappointed to their posts for being “too loud and vocal” on questions of racism. The Commission has also recently appointed David Goodhart, who has defended the Tories’ racist ‘hostile environment’ policy.
The day of Goodhart’s appointment coincided with a report by Parliament’s human rights committee, which criticised the EHRC for failure to promote and protect black people’s rights.
The irony is palpable and it doesn’t end there. Alasdair Henderson, the board member who led the inquiry into Labour, criticised the party for not investigating antisemitism complaints “based on likes, retweets and shares on social media”. The same commissioner was later called out for liking posts on social media describing the words “misogyny” and “homophobe” as “highly ideological propaganda terms” and for retweeting threads describing BLM protests as a “poison to open society”!
All this shows that the EHRC isn’t in any way concerned with equality and fighting discrimination. It is not a genuine ‘watchdog’, but a loyal and vicious attack dog for the ruling class.
An isolated case?
The EHRC is one among a host of such ‘independent’ public bodies that are anything but independent. Back in 2016, a report was released showing that of more than 70 UK regulatory bodies under review, fewer than one-third had any policy on staff taking up jobs with firms they were regulating.
Take the example of Ofcom as a case in point. On paper, this communications regulator is supposed to ‘make the UK the safest place in the world to be online’. Yet just this year, Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards who was in charge of writing up the rules for tech giants, has been poached by Facebook, the social network notorious for the role it played in the Cambridge Analytica scandal!
Meanwhile, Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail, was personally asked by Boris Johnson to head Ofcom. The suggestion that a renowned right-winger be placed in charge of protecting the communications industries from ‘bad practices’ is as laughable as it is transparent.
Nevertheless, we are told not to be too fastidious about the revolving door by the apologists of capitalism. We are told it is not only natural, but desirable, for these bodies to stack their boards with ex-businessmen, politicians etc. Their past experience only makes them ‘experts in their field’, and therefore the best picks to regulate their old industries.
It is a marvellous logic. Who is better to spot institutional racism than right-wingers who have spent their whole lives heading up racist institutions?
The ministerial jobs ‘watchdog’ ACOBA is universally understood to be toothless. Having no statutory power, with the whole process of appointments purposefully opaque, it remains unclear even to liberal pundits what this body actually does.
It nevertheless plays a certain role, as do all such ‘independent’ regulatory bodies. They provide a cover of respectability and impartiality to the corruption and collusion of the bosses and the state. Doing very little – in some cases just giving off the pretence of doing something – is often all that is needed.
Corbyn’s Labour on trial
Both New Labour and the Tories do not threaten the status quo, since they are part of it. They were and continue to be obedient servants to the City of London.
Never mind ‘equality and human rights’: the ruling class are experts in sowing division along lines of ethnicity, nationality, disability, etc. in order to pit workers against one another. Indeed their privileges depend upon keeping these divisions alive and kicking.
But in their eyes, Corbyn did threaten the status quo. A life-long anti-racist campaigner, Jeremy Corbyn defiantly told bankers on his campaign trail that they should fear him, promising to take on the establishment and kick out the profiteers.
Is it therefore any surprise that the ears of these ladies and gentlemen on the EHRC pricked up when an opportunity presented itself to tar this left-wing maverick, in a protracted and humiliating fashion?
The fact is we cannot trust our class enemies to adjudicate on matters of discrimination and equality. It is the very system they prop up which ensures discrimination and intensifies inequality in times of crisis.