Charlie Peters

Tory MPs are right to complain about the Runnymede Trust

Tory MPs are right to complain about the Runnymede Trust
The Runnymede Trust's Halima Begum
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What's the problem with the Runnymede Trust? More than a dozen Tory MPs have written to the Charity Commission demanding an investigation into the charity. They claim that the self-described 'UK's leading independent race equality think tank' criticised the recent Downing Street-backed report into race relations 'in bad faith'. The MPs, including Edward Leigh, Sally-Ann Hart and Imran Ahmad Khan, claim that the Trust was 'pursuing a political agenda'.

Runnymede has hit back hard. 'The Trust regrets the recent trend for politicians to forsake dialogue and simply file complaints against charities whose efforts to address and challenge racism they contest,' the charity said in a statement. 'Beloved British institutions including the National Trust and Barnardo’s have also fallen foul of this worrying trend'.

Yet while the Trust's response was furious, it's hard not to see that the MPs have a point. Even before the Sewell report was published, the charity wasted little time in rubbishing it. More than a week before Tony Sewell’s findings were unveiled, the charity said the report was expected to 'downplay the role of structural and institutional racism'. The Times also reported that the charity solicited a critical response from supporters before the report was released.

The race equality charity has done some good work during the pandemic, not least in the reports it has produced on the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities. But its Covid-19 work also extended to joining legal action by the Good Law Project against the government over the appointment of key figures in the pandemic response, including highly effective vaccine taskforce chief Kate Bingham. 

Is this really something the Runnymede Trust should be doing? After all, it's worth asking what effect race-related issues play in government appointments for vaccines? None at all. But that matters little to political campaigners who will bash their opponents at every opportunity.

So is the Runnymede Trust a partisan outfit? A brief review of one of its key figures might lead you to draw that conclusion. Its director Halima Begum stood as a prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour at the 2019 election but failed to make the cut. In that same year, she protested outside Downing Street. Slanting the Prime Minister several times by name, she even appeared to agree with a heckler who shouted 'f**k the Tories'. Begum has also branded Boris Johnson an 'entitled Bullingdon Club brat'. And last month, she claimed that the presence of female police officers in protecting the Churchill statue from protestors was an 'apartheid' tactic. 

Is Begum really the right person to run a non-partisan race equality charity?

In the battle against the blob, Conservatives are on the backfoot, so it's good to see Tory MPs fighting back. The Sewell report is a promising start: the commission was at least prepared to make a point you won't hear made by activists: that Britain is a broadly welcoming place in which the colour of a person's skin is no barrier to success. Many Brits from ethnic minorities agree with this assessment, but is the Runnymede Trust prepared to make such a point? It's reaction to the Sewell report suggests not. 

While the MPs' letter to the Charity Commission may have sparked fury, it's hard not to sympathise with concerns that think tanks like the Runnymede Trust are partisan and don't speak for all of those they claim to represent. Those politicians are right to speak out.

Written byCharlie Peters

Charlie Peters is a writer, journalist, and philosophy graduate from London

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