I was on my feet and holding forth when Sajid Javid walked it. It was at Ed Vaizey’s 2nd Diversity Roundtable on 7 July 2014. To get two ministers in a room, like this, at the same time is very rare. From insiders I knew Javid’s appearance had been encouraged by David Cameron, then Prime Minister.
Ed Vaizey’s Diversity Roundtables were unprecedented. This was his second. Every six months or so Ed Vaizey would bring together broadcasters with power, to face diversity activists with something to tell them. In 25 years of dealing with ministers, I had never known anything like it. Among the two hundred people in the room were Oona King, Lenny Henry, the TV Collective’s Simone Pennant, the Jamaican-heritage composer and music Professor Shirley Thompson, Marcus Ryder and Lib Dem Peer Baroness Bonham Carter. There were many more I should but can’t remember.
Someone had suggested that measuring diversity would lead to progress. As Javid walked in, I was saying. “Just because you have a tape measure, it doesn’t mean you are going to lose weight.” At over seventeen stone, at the time, I could speak with authority. I have now lost almost two stone thanks to positive action.
Time has proved me right. Despite better measurement, the BBC’s diversity has advanced at a snail’s pace because it has failed to take effective positive action.
Five days before the Vaizey meeting, in Bristol on 2 June, for his first speech as Secretary of State DCMS, Javid had chosen diversity and said:
“According to National Statistics, adults from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are significantly less engaged with the arts than their white counterparts.
BME taxpayers help support culture in just the same way as white taxpayers, but they’re much less likely to attend a performance or visit a gallery.
And while 14 per cent of the UK’s population is non-white, BME applicants were awarded just 5.5 per cent of Grants for the Arts awards last year.
Why is this?
Are BME people simply less artistic, less talented?
Of course not.
If there’s a lack of BME artists applying for funding we have to ask ourselves why.
Are there enough visible role models?
Are we developing talent in the right way?
Are cultural institutions making enough of an effort to reach out to ethnic minority communities and say “This is for you, too”? ”
A good start from the new Secretary of State.
Javid might have been robust on diversity anyway, but he knew he had the full support of the Prime Minister.
Experienced political operators had warned me that as a very junior minister (Parliamentary Under Secretary), Ed Vaizey would have little influence and that his enthusiasm for promoting diversity would have little impact. If that was true in early 2014, by the end of the year Vaizey had been promoted to Minister of State and would have enormous impact. Ed Vaizey was responsible for getting tougher diversity obligations into the new BBC Charter and for ensuring the Ofcom would regulate all the broadcasters on diversity.
Since 2014, the TV Collective’s Simone Pennant and Marcus Ryder have been honoured with an MBE, Shirley Thompson with an OBE and Lenny Henry with a kingthood. Ed Vaizey has become a Lord.
This year Lord Vaizey was one of the well qualified candidates recommended by the DCMS appointments committee for the post of Chair of Ofcom. Oliver Dowden (see more below) wouldn’t appoint any of them and demanded that the recruitment process should be run again.
Sir Lenny and Marcus Ryder have now established the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity.
The Centre says it “believes that accurate representation of all sections of society in all layers of the UK media is vital for the health of the industry. We also believe it’s crucial in ensuring a functioning democracy and enabling critical human rights issues, such as freedom of expression, to be truly implemented.
The Centre aims to critically analyse policies in the media industry with a view to increasing diversity and inclusion, improving policy decisions and spreading best practice.”
So far so good – but now we live in different times.
After David Cameron and Theresa May who were positive about diversity, we now have a Prime Minister who The Sunday Times says has “weaponised woke”.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-the-tories-weaponised-woke-jlmwh0p36
Tim Shipman, the respected political editor, writes that the most powerful man in Britain and in Downing Street is Douglas Smith, “best known for running high-end swingers’ sex parties in the 1990s” and who is now driving the Tory culture wars for political gain. Shipman reports:
“Dougie has (DCMS Secretary of State Oliver) Dowden on a string,” said a senior political source. “Dougie is always calling up cabinet ministers and saying: ‘This is what Boris wants.’ Hardly anyone questions it. He has his own agenda.”
Now Sajid Javid has returned to the Cabinet. Javid, who has served as both Chancellor and Home Secretary, is a rare political heavyweight who refused to bow to Dominic Cummings. Sajid Javid is unlikely to dance like a Douglas Smith puppet on a string.
It is said that Javid’s speech as Culture Secretary to the Union of Jewish Students Annual Conference in 2014 about the importance of diversity and free expression in the world of culture was hailed by The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman as “one of the finest speeches from a government minister I have ever read”.
Sajid Javid may be the one person who can refocus the Tory government on the importance of diversity and end the divisive culture wars stoked by the Downing Street, eminence grise Douglas Smith.
Perhaps can live in hope.