Ben Bradley is MP for Mansfield.
The evidence is growing that many of our institutions are dominated by a metropolitan “groupthink” that is intolerant to any diversity of views, whether it’s the BBC, the British Library or even government departments. The latest such evidence is the further rollout of unconscious bias training here in the Commons.
This particular idea, that we all need to be re-educated and taught to suppress our innate urge to be awful to each other all the time, is costing the taxpayer a bomb as it rolls through our various government agencies and quangos. Next it’s the turn of MPs to be told that all of our thoughts are offensive and should be corrected.
I found out recently that House of Commons staff have been forced to sit through this nonsense since 2016, but the course is being extended in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests – a subject on which my thoughts have been pretty well publicised – and MPs will be expected to sit through it too. Let me be clear right from the off; I will not be taking it.
Nobody doubts that racism exists and can make life more challenging for some people. Nor that sexism exists, ageism and discrimination across a whole spectrum. That much is true. What I doubt here is that these things are somehow buried deep in all of our subconscious, steering us at every turn, and that with the help of some genius “educator” I can be cured of my unseen evil. I’m yet to see the evidence of it achieving a great deal, apart from big profits for the training company.
It’s been reported this week that £7,000 of taxpayer’s cash will be spent designing a course featuring a blue “Cookie Monster-esque” puppet, who wants to tell me in its cute and furry way that I shouldn’t use “offensive” words like “pensioner” or “lady”. Apparently, the puppet also plans to tell me which version of history I must use and which bits I should delete from my memory – improving my “cultural competency” – which is going to cost us around £700,000 in total. Needless to say I’m not convinced that this is an appropriate use of taxpayer’s money.
In recent weeks I completed similar “Valuing Everyone” training, aimed at explaining how I should not be mean to my staff. I guess I blindly stumbled in to that one, not quite aware until I clicked on to the Zoom call exactly what it was I was doing. It was quite a jolly couple of hours in truth – a nice chat with colleagues, but as far as I can tell it will have achieved precisely nothing except for a sizeable bill (around £750,000).
I don’t doubt that there are more than a small number of MPs who are a nightmare to work for and who can behave inappropriately. I’m just not convinced that two hours of training will have made the blindest bit of difference, despite the huge cost. In truth, if you asked the staffers in this building they could tell you who those bad bosses and managers are in seconds – it’s not a secret – and you could deal with the actual problem rather than just “being seen to do something”.
There’s something deeply undemocratic about it too, in my view. I’m elected to this place to represent my constituents. To share their thoughts and views with the House. We’ve already seen through the Brexit debates how the views of Leave voters were characterised as racist and unacceptable, and now we’re to be “educated” about which views are appropriate for us to speak about.
Who gets to decide which issues or views are appropriate for me to raise on behalf of my constituents? I’ve been told that speaking about the challenges facing working class white boys in my community is racist or sexist more than once. If it causes offence to a handful should I keep quiet? The biggest issue filling my inbox is illegal immigration, something thousands of my constituents feel very strongly about, but it’s a bit controversial, isn’t it, so should I leave it alone? The thought police will be the death of open debate and stymie our democracy.
I’ve said it more than once, that the electoral shift in the demographics of the “average” Tory voter in 2019 are not something we can ignore. They elected Conservatives, with a clear conservative message in that election about law and order, taking back control, freedom and free speech that can give a voice to places like Mansfield that have been ignored for a long time… We need to stick to that message and those values.
It’s pretty well recognised now that this kind of imposition of one set of values on to others is wildly unpopular with what is now the “core” Conservative vote – the working class folks of Mansfield, of Bury and of Redcar. They abhor the antics of BLM, of Extinction Rebellion and the like telling them what they should think. They know their own minds. It’s that kind of conflict with the metropolitan bubble where our institutions largely exist that lead us to Brexit, too. Woke ideology seems pretty deeply embedded at this point.
In my view we should be unabashed in our cultural conservatism, sticking up for free speech and the right to “make my own bloody mind up, thank you very much”, and stepping in to block this “unconscious bias” nonsense. I, for one, will not be taking it, and I’d call on my colleagues to take the same stand. Maybe we can have a good go at some bigger reforms too. After all, this is a Conservative Government!