Nick Cohen

The left wants diversity but not when it comes to views

Labour is forever seeking ‘minority’ candidates but the first thing they look out for isn’t their sex, ethnicity or religion

July 13, 2023 11:04

Nowhere is the gargantuan ignorance of the British ruling class more evident than in its determination to assign the title of “tsar” to random functionaries.

The actual tsars persecuted Jews. Many JC readers will be the descendants of Jewish refugees who fled the tsarist pogroms of the 1880s and early 1900s. Nevertheless, the Conservative government still thought it a good idea to describe John Mann as its “antisemitism tsar”.

The tsars ran their empire by instructing secret policemen to repress dissent. They upheld Russian chauvinism by subjugating Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish minorities.

The historical record did not stop our government appointing a “free speech tsar”. Nor did it stop Labour from announcing that it now needs a “diversity tsar” to promote candidates from, er, minorities.

Perhaps it would bang some historical knowledge into their impoverished minds if Labour and Conservative politicians learned that Putin sees himself as a new tsar and compares himself to Peter the Great.

Would Labour then appoint a “diversity Putin”? I shouldn’t ask. It probably would, not least because it would welcome the autocratic connotations.

For diversity is at once a liberatory and a repressive concept. The trouble for many on the left is that they invest too much faith in it. The liberation comes when societies remove obstacles that stop women taking senior jobs or people from ethnic minorities encountering racism.

For all the comic efforts to hire someone — anyone will do! — from an ethnic minority after the murder of George Floyd, the result has been an advance in justice for individuals. If prejudice denies you the opportunity, then the removal of prejudice can be the most important event in your life. I do not want to underestimate its importance.

But I do not want to overestimate it either. The politics of diversity changes the composition of elites but it does not alter the power structure.

Typically, it allows the replacement of upper-middle-class, privately educated white men with upper-middle-class, privately educated women and people of colour.

An undoubted change, but a change that leaves an unequal society intact.

The refusal to think about class is not diversity’s only flaw. I have little time for the anti-woke right, but it is correct on one point: liberals want diversity in everything, except diversity of thought. When managers call for diversity, what they mean is: “let’s hire women and minority applicants who agree with me.”

By hoping for radical change, the centre-left is guilty of falling for what Bertrand Russell called “the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed”. The belief that suffering ennobles people, Russell said, leads to the bizarre conclusion that the more suffering there is, the better for society.

We can see the fallacy’s failings in our own time. The notion that women are inherently kinder and more amenable to compromise than men has not survived the mass promotion of previously oppressed women to positions of power for a reason that ought to have been obvious.

Most women, like most men, never get near the top of hierarchies. The women who do are far more aggressive and ambitious than the average woman (or indeed the average man). The cast changes. The play remains the same.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said it was necessary to appoint a diversity Putin because the “lived experience” of women and minorities “brings its own expertise”.
Maybe she will be proved right in a few areas of policy. But she must know that power will remain with the Labour leadership.

The fastest-growing group in British Jewry are Charedi Jews, for example. I guarantee that Labour’s diversity tsarists will not seek out and promote Charedi candidates, for the same reason they won’t look for conservative Muslims and black African Christians: their attitudes towards homosexuality and women’s rights are wholly opposed to those of the party.

Rayner says she wants more working-class and female candidates. I can also guarantee Labour won’t talent-spot Unite shop stewards who hanker after Jeremy Corbyn — or gender-critical feminists. The first thing the party will look at is not sex, ethnicity or religion but loyalty to the leadership.

“I will preserve the principle of autocracy as firmly and unflinchingly as my late father,” said Tsar Nicholas II when he took the Russian throne. In all but a handful of cases, modern diversity allows the preservation of corporate and political autocracies but with a new cast of supporting characters.

The 2022 Truss administration ought to have destroyed faith in the transformative power of diversity. It was one hell of a lesson in the limitations of diversity politics. Not one of the Great Offices of State went to that stock villain of contemporary culture: a white, middle-class male. Liz Truss was a woman, of course. Her home secretary, Suella Braverman, was a daughter of the Indian diaspora.

The chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, was the son of Ghanaians. Meanwhile, the mother of the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, came from Sierra Leone.

As it turned out — and contrary to progressive pieties — the most significant characteristic of Truss and her ministers was not their sex or ethnicity but their batty ideology, which crashed the British economy just for fun. Diversity did not stop them from being a calamity.

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July 13, 2023 11:04

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