Ian Acheson

David Goodhart’s fatal mistake in the eyes of his EHRC critics

David Goodhart's fatal mistake in the eyes of his EHRC critics
David Goodhart
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What is the Equality and Human Rights Commission for? It’s definitely not for the likes of David Goodhart, according to plenty of progressive types reacting to the news of Goodhart's appointment as one of the EHRC's commissioners. 'Appointing the spectacularly ill-suited Goodhart to the EHRC is an awful move from the government,' says the journalist Rachel Shabi. 'The EHRC’s credibility plummets further,' says Corbynista David Rosenberg.

Goodhart, it seems, has made the fatal mistake of being out of step with a long-established orthodoxy that has stacked the governance of our public institutions with left-leaning facsimiles. His views on the impact of mass immigration on established communities and the deleterious effects on social solidarity are particular grievances for his critics. 

His 2017 bestseller, ‘The Road to Somewhere’, drew a sharp dividing line between footloose metropolitan ‘anywheres’ and their antithesis, geographically and socially rooted ‘somewheres.’ His detractors howled ‘racism!’ They haven’t stopped howling since.

Goodhart is clearly a man who won’t ‘shut his mouth for the good of diversity’. So what is he doing at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the regulator for the Equality Act and the country’s national human rights institution? 

I was chief operating officer at the Commission from 2012 to 2015, brought in with a specific remit to restore credibility to an organisation that was beset with infighting, facing huge funding cuts and largely ignored by central government. It was described to me as ‘the worst job in the public sector.’ The battle for equality was as nothing compared with the internal civil war as activist staff vied daily with besieged management.

The Commission has changed dramatically since then, in no small part due to the stealthy introduction of commissioners who don't regard a Conservative government as a travesty. Goodhart represents a continuation of this bridgehead. We’ve had psychiatrists, bankers, sportsmen and small business owners before him that have sharpened the Commission’s reputation as a legal regulator with teeth, a good custodian of public money and, lately, as an enforcement agency with the courage to take on the political party that founded it and call it to account for anti-Semitism.

Yet the deranged reaction to Goodhart’s appointment is something to behold. The Institute of Race Relations said this news presented the ‘real danger of an end to a progressive equalities agenda in this country.’ Cage's research director Asim Qureshi said ‘we’re actively being trolled by the Tories. They have so much contempt for us they are not even bothering to hide it.’ The former director of the Runnymede Trust Zubaida Haque cites his appointment as more evidence that the ‘culture war by the right continues.’

But what Goodhart's detractors don't realise is this: the EHRC is a legal regulator. It is not now, as it arguably was when I arrived at it, an ignored anti-government activist movement fighting like cats in a bag. It has grown up. In order to protect its vital role in standing up for people without power who are discriminated against, it needs people in it who will be listened to. Goodhart is being crucified online by people who venerate all forms of difference except that of viewpoint. That’s not a protected characteristic, perhaps it should be.

Goodhart can bring a valuable perspective that is only now gaining ground in public discourse. Social mobility for young white working-class males is at crisis point. Educational underperformance means that the kids of the ‘people from somewhere’ cannot get on. The reasons for this are contested – is it class or race or both? – but the outcome should concern us all. 

If white working-class people aren’t being spoken to or about, except with the sneering condescension that pushed Brexit over the line, where do they go? The potential for this inequality is clear in terms of the seduction of extreme right-wing ideologies and the violent extremism that follows. It is happening already.

So as the original fox in the EHRC henhouse, I welcome Goodhart’s appointment. He’s joining a maturing organisation that’s now brilliantly well led and not afraid to speak truth to power. There are many people out there in the real world, routinely denied their rights, who won’t be troubled by the petulant frenzy witnessed in reaction to news of Goodhart's appointment. If Goodhart speaks for them, he will do very well. After all, diversity is strength.