At a time of crisis we turn to the Royal Family

Orginal artilce published in the Eastern Eye on 6th April 2020

From a young age, when my late father would let me stay up late, I would watch the BBC end its broadcast by the playing of the national anthem. But staying up late also meant he would make me stand up for it, no matter how tired, out of respect for the Queen.

My father, an immigrant from Pakistan grew up at a time when the monarchy was the bedrock of stability of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. The stability the Queen provided from a her early years as monarch as the embodiment of the “Blitz spirit” that she took on during her undertaking of public duties during WW2, has been at the forefront of her subjects’ minds no matter what difficulties the country has faced since.

So her message “that the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country” in her special address to the nation on Sunday was the message we needed to hear from our greatest pillar of strength in our country.

Having had the privilege of interacting with Her Majesty, I’ve seen first-hand how her caring nature isn’t just reserved for our television sets, but it transitions to real life gatherings, with her putting guests at ease and comfort through her humour for example.

But the resolve of service is not something unique in the Royal family. Despite testing positive from Coronavirus HRH Prince of Wales has been working tirelessly to use the numerous charities he supports to protect the most vulnerable in the country while also preforming his public duties by virtually opening the new Nightingale Hospital.

He has also spent decades championing causes which have may been unfashionable at the time but proven to be now some of the more important issues facing our country and the world. From this consistent championing of the saving the environment since the 1980s, supporting Northern cities like Burnley since the 1990s, founding Mosaic after the 7/7 London bombing to promoting Muslim role models and highlight the contributions made by Muslim communities across the county to more recently revolutionise not just the awareness of mental health in the Asian Subcontinent but its treatment through his British Asain Trust.

The same hope the Queen has in the years to come that everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge, is the same hope I have that our current young and future generations will see the contribution our Royal Family play in our daily lives.

Their role has never been more important in our of crisis as well championing and raising some of the most pressing issues of our times. I am confident and that those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any other and we had a Monarch and Prince of Wales to match them.

Ramadan may be ‘cancelled’ but faiths will stay united

Original article published on 20th March in the Evening Standard https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/ramadan-may-be-cancelled-but-faiths-will-stay-united-a4393206.html

Since the first wave of Muslimimmigrants arrived in London, Friday prayers in mosques and the celebration of Ramadan and Eid have become a feature of life here. But with the Government confirming that places of worship should follow advice not to hold mass gatherings, could we see Ramadan being “cancelled” this year?

There are more than a million Muslims living and working in London. Every Friday lunchtime more than half attend prayers at their local mosque. Many mosques will not be hosting them this week for the first time in their history, and many have already advised elderly worshippers and those at risk to stay at home. The risk of coronavirus affecting Muslim communities severely is great as many Muslims live with elderly family members under one roof. The danger of young, healthy people attending prayers and bringing the virus home is too great to ignore.

In the past five years, faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Chief Rabbi, the Archbishop of Westminster and Imam Mohammed Mahmoud have joined Muslim communities in hosting their own interfaith youth iftars — the sunset breaking of the fast during Ramadan — venues including Lambeth Palace, Archbishop’s House, St John’s Wood Synagogue and, last year, at St Paul’s Cathedral. These events not only brought tens of thousands together, they worked to improve intercommunity relationships. This leadership by faith communities has been all the more important post-Brexit, when we have seen a rise in faith-hate crime, particularly directed towards Muslim women, and the rise of anti-Semitism. 

Interfaith iftars provide a unique way for people of all faiths and none to interact with Muslims and each other in a way that does not happen at any other time in the year. The loss of this moment of community spirit will be keenly felt by Muslims at a time when solidarity from other faith communities is sorely needed. Muslims will not be alone this year, however, with church services over Easter and Jewish Passover festivities being cancelled as well. This underlines the need for Muslims to do more to engage with other communities and their faith traditions throughout the year, much in the same way that Ramadan has been embraced by all Londoners.

And, once this global crisis is over, it is incumbent on all of us that we reconvene as faith communities. Gathering again, when it is safe to do so, to learn from and support each other after a period of time that will undoubtedly have seen many of us lose loved ones, and feel an overwhelming sense of isolation.

We are facing tough times ahead, but in the spirit of humanity and community we will rise to the challenge, and I am confident our faith leaders will pave the way to building a stronger and more connected London.

Distinguished Alumni Award: 2020 winner Harris Bokhari

Harris has a simple aim in life: to make the world a fairer and better place. He does this through his charities – the Patchwork Foundation and the Naz Legacy Foundation – as well as his work as an advisor to senior figures in the British government.

Harris leads what some might consider a double life. “There’s a running joke in my house that, when I leave in the morning, my family asks if I’m going for my paid work or non-paid work,” he says with a smile.

His paid work is as an accountant, which is how he supports his family and philanthropic work. However, he devotes far more of his time to voluntary projects, which have earned him numerous awards including an OBE.

The wide variety of projects he’s involved in means that, more often than not, the answer to his family’s question is that he’s going to one of his voluntary projects.

Since leaving Imperial, where he studied Mathematics, Harris has established two charities: the Patchwork Foundation and the Naz Legacy Foundation, which was set up in memory of his late father.

He is also involved in many other projects, including Mosaic, the Prince of Wales’ mentoring charity, and as a voluntary member of the Community, Voluntary and Local Services Honours Committee.

Learning to listen

Mentoring is a cornerstone of the work he does. “Mentoring is key to making society a fairer place, whether that’s to raise aspirations or share learning experiences. I think for young people nowadays, it’s also about listening to them,” he asserts.

For Harris, mentoring isn’t a one-way street: “I know as a mentor that you always learn a lot more from the person you are mentoring than they get from you.”

When he was studying for his BSc in Mathematics with Management at Imperial, he had a mentor of his own. “I was fortunate to find a PhD student who decided to take me under their wing,” he says.

“They not only helped me in regards to lectures and my coursework, but they also encouraged me to get involved in a range of student societies. I’m happy to say that, since graduating, we’ve remained good friends.”

Harris talks very fondly of his time studying at Imperial, and especially about the friendships and relationships he formed there.

“I’m very lucky that a lot of the close friends I made at Imperial are the closest friends that I still have today. Imperial gave me a great opportunity to meet interesting people from across the world,” he says.

In fact, it was one of Imperial’s international alumni who inspired Harris to apply to the university: Abdus Salam.

“My father was born in Pakistan. When I was growing up, he would tell me about the achievements of Abdus Salam, who became the first Pakistani to be awarded the Nobel Prize in the sciences. He’d talk about how he was globally recognised for his work in Mathematics at Imperial,” he explains.

A positive early influence

Harris’ father and mother have been hugely influential in the path he’s taken, particularly in terms of fostering interfaith links and providing support to underrepresented groups, even though he admits he didn’t always realise it growing up.

Naz Bokhari OBE, Harris’ late father, has a legacy of his own. He was the first Muslim and Asian head teacher of a secondary school in the UK. He was not only a leading figure in the British Muslim community, but also in many interfaith organisations.

“As far as my sister and I were concerned, our father was just a great dad. Sadly, we didn’t realise the impact he made until he passed away, when we suddenly received letters from the former and current prime minister and a lot of different faith leaders. It was only at that point that we realised the impact he had made on the country,” he says.

Harris’ childhood is filled with memories of people and places associated with different faiths.

His parents were always introducing him and his sister to people of different faiths, encouraging them to visit various places of worship and read about faiths other than their own, and taking them to help at charitable causes on the weekends. Often this voluntary work centred on deprived minority communities. This “brainwashing”, as Harris affectionately calls it, is the foundation for everything he’s done since.

While he was at Imperial, Harris says it felt natural to provide support to foreign students from Muslim countries and help them make the most of college life while being observant to their faith.

Helping young people find their voice

After graduating, his passion for helping and supporting others grew, and in 2011 he founded the Patchwork Foundation.

This charity has helped over 40,000 young people from communities that are typically underrepresented in UK politics, raising their aspirations and equipping them with vital life skills. But it all started with Harris’ experience as a mentor.

“I’ve been very fortunate to mentor young people from underrepresented communities, and a lot of them felt locked out of the democratic process and society as a whole,” he explains. It was this realisation that led to Patchwork, which started with five young people who Harris had mentored through other organisations like the Prince’s Trust.

Many of the young people who have come through Patchwork – known as ‘Patchworkers’ – now have jobs in the civil service, working everywhere from Downing Street to City Hall, as well as at some of the leading firms in the UK.

When asked what he’s most proud of, Harris doesn’t hesitate: “Definitely the young people I’ve worked with, especially the ones who have had the greatest personal struggles.”

“When I see them turn around not only their lives, but also their families’ lives, and see them giving back to the same vulnerable young people they used to be two or three years ago, it motivates me. I’m proud of them, what they’ve taught me and what they’re still teaching me.”

Making an impact

Through his charity work, Harris has fostered interfaith links between communities across the UK. He has also had the opportunity to work with many MPs and permanent secretaries, as well as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Over the years, he has provided advice that, in some cases, has helped to shape government policy.

“Having a positive influence on policy and the actions of leaders through my charity work always motivates me and pushes me to want to do more,” he says. “But I think more importantly, it encourages the young people around you to see that they can make a difference.”

This isn’t without its challenges though. “I think the problem is that we live in a society where people demand instant results, so the hardest thing is to explain that positive things will happen, but you’ve got to be patient,” he adds.

One example of this is Harris’ work with the Community, Voluntary and Local Services Honours Committee. He’s been an independent member since 2017 and has been actively working to encourage better representation on the Honours list.

“The Honours system is a great way to recognise people who deserve recognition for their voluntary and charitable work, but we need to encourage better representation. We have to explain to the public that it’s an open process and that we need more people from underrepresented communities to be nominated if we’re going to see better representation in the future,” he explains.

Harris also takes great pride in seeing the impact that his Patchwork graduates are having on the country. “A lot of these young people are now either designing or implementing policy as civil servants, enriching the biggest firms in the City, or volunteering to support the most vulnerable people in their local communities,” he says with pride.

Growing the family

Family is a thread that runs strongly through Harris’ life. “I was very privileged to have two great parents. But you only realise how great your parents are when you meet young people who don’t have great parents or even any parents at all. We have the ethos within Patchwork and the Naz Legacy Foundation that we’re a family,” he says.

Harris reveals that there are Patchworkers in almost every government department, who provide support to those coming through a few years behind them. “This family, this network, continues beyond the programme,” he states.

It’s this idea that things will continue to improve without him that helps motivate him: “I’m very keen to make sure that, in all the charitable endeavours and voluntary work I’m involved in, when I leave the system is better and there are better people in place to take it further and improve it.”

Harris wants to spend more time with his family and always wants to make sure that the projects he engages with are sustainable and transferable. “I believe in being surplus to requirements,” he explains.

Harris Bokhari graduated from Imperial with a BSc in Mathematics with Management in 1999. He was a winner of the Distinguished Alumni Awards in 2020.

Honours show how migrant communities make Britain thrive

Article originally published on 2nd February 2020 in the Eastern Eye: https://www.easterneye.biz/honours-show-how-migrant-communities-make-britain-thrive/

Last month’s general election not only saw the most diverse parliament ever elected but also gave the Government the mandate to reform the immigration system for the first time in decades.

Despite this New Year’s honours list seeing another drop in the number of people from ethnic minorities awarded it does include many migrants to London who have made a transformative and positive contribution to our country.

Floella Benjamin, for instance, newly made a dame, is one of the most recognised BAME faces on television. But what isn’t as well known about her, is her immense charitable work over the last 40 years, including running ten consecutive London marathons for Barnrado’s. Her damehood is also symbolic on a deeper level; after the Windrush scandal and her recent chairing of The Windrush Commemoration Committee, the importance of recognising the great contributions made by members of the Windrush generation with the highest possible national honour is significant.

The role of positive immigration to the City has also been recognised with the awarding of a CBE to Saker Nusseibeh. Born in Palestine, Saker came to London in the sixties. Since his appointment as the CEO of Hermes in 2011 he turned the investment firm round from a loss of £26m, to a profit of £29m. But the values he brought from his historic family lineage has shown other city firms that you can drive up profits in a responsible way delivering on holistic returns for savers while enabling a positive environment and societal impact. This has been in stark contrast to the industry as a whole.

The number of inspirational young people on the honours list can be summarised by the awarding of a MBE to Mete Coban aged 27. Born in Northern Cyprus he came to London with his family at the age of two. From being of one the youngest elected London councillors, to a key strategist in engaging young people in Sadiq Khan’s successful London Mayoral campaign, Mete went on to found My Life My Say, a charity which has engaged tens of thousands of young people in the political process across the whole of Europe.

These immigrant heroes have not just improved the lives of migrant communities in London but added richness to the fabric of our country, as we can only be seen as a healthy society when we lift up all of our most under-represented communities.

The honours system has more to do to represent our society as a whole. But, by highlighting the positive contribution immigration has made to our country we may be able highlight the need for a progressive immigration system in a post Brexit Britain.

Floella, Saker and Mete’s sincerity and commitment to improve society in the fields of arts, charity, economy and in our democracy, is an inspiration for us all. If you are inspired by their actions, as well as by many of our other diverse migrant communities, help make the honours system more representative and nominate someone today at http://www.gov.uk/honours

To gain trust of minorities, parties must look to policy

Article originally published on 29th November 2019 in the Evening Standard

Anyone from a Jewish or Muslim background will be finding this election very difficult. With both Labour and the Conservatives mired in racism crises, it is clear that more needs to be done to win back the trust of both these communities, as well as the trust of other black and ethnic minority groups across the country — and a start to this is to have a Parliament that reflects the society we live in.

Within the Tory Party it is well known that more needs to be done to engage with minority communities. During his time as party chairman, Lord Feldman was seen at nearly every BAME dinner there was. He was not only aiming to pick up support, but, in his own words, “increasing his waist size” along the way.  

Despite great strides, the steps forward turned into steps back under Theresa May’s leadership, resulting in diverse communities punishing the Tories at the polling stations in the 2017 election.

In his first act as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson appointed the most diverse Cabinet in British political history, to match the most diverse Parliament that has ever been elected. 

True to his commitment to make the Conservative Party reflect modern Britain, Johnson, with the support of party chairman James Cleverly, is fielding a record 74 BAME prospective parliamentary candidates — a 68 per cent increase from 2017. 

More importantly, out of these, three candidates from immigrant working-class backgrounds will be competing in “safe seats”.

The last general election saw Labour end up the party with the most BAME MPs — 12 per cent of their intake. They are looking to increase this again: 42 per cent of their last round of candidates selected since the party’s conference have been from BAME backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are fielding a record 54 BAME candidates, with at least one competing in a “safe seat”.

These are welcome commitments, but they are nowhere near enough. Whatever changes the parties are making in Parliament, outside Westminster  minorities are feeling more and more excluded from party politics.

Parties will not gain the trust of these voters just by boosting the diversity of their membership and MPs, but by devising truly reformist policies and making a serious pledge  to root out any and all forms of discrimination within their own ranks. All parties are having to grapple with these issues, and all, therefore, have a chance to show leadership with sincere and direct action.

The question is: will Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, if either is elected prime minister on December 12, continue to bring about positive change in our politics — change that can help bring our communities together — following the most diverse list of candidates ever assembled, by implementing a reforming policy agenda to match?

We must fight all forms of hate to defeat Islamophobia

Harris Bokhari

Article originally published on 30th September 2019 in the Evening Standard

Having “f***ing terrorists, we voted Leave so leave our country” shouted at my six-year-old nephew after Eid prayers. Members of my family being abused for wearing the headscarf. A neighbour opposite my house putting a Tommy Robinson poster in their front window on the anniversary of the terror attack near Finsbury Park mosque. These are just a few examples of the abuse my family has faced over the past four years. How much of this is just pure racism, and how much is directed at my family and me because we visibly “look Muslim” is debatable.  

When Sajid Javid talked about the racism his family faced, describing his mother “time and time again scrubbing the P-word off from the front of our shop”, can we see similar examples of the Islamophobia he faced? Was his exclusion from the Trump state banquet because of his Muslim background? What is clear is the Islamophobic abuse and death threats our Muslim politicians face every hour online. The comments posted under tweets by Sadiq Khan show the extent of the problems today.

Analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows the ethnic pay gap is still at worrying levels. Workers from ethnic minority communities, particularly from Muslim communities, are paid less on average than their British colleagues from other faiths and none.  Previous social mobility reports have shown one in five Muslim adults is in full-time work compared with 35 per cent of the overall population. Muslim women wearing headscarves can face particular discrimination in the workplace, and a BBC test showed job seekers were three times more likely to be offered an interview if they did not have a Muslim-sounding name.

The Home Office reports that religious hate crimes rose by 40 per cent — with 52 per cent of such offences aimed at Muslims. When we look at the murder of Mohammed Saleem by a Neo-Nazi in Birmingham, and Finsbury Park being the only terrorist attack in recent history on a place of worship in the UK that resulted in a death, it begs the question why we as a society are not doing more to address this.  

Finsbury Park attack: The scene at Seven Sisters Road near the attack near the mosque (Jeremy Selwyn)

However, we can only tackle one form of hate by tacking all forms of hate. That means that within our own faith and wider communities we have a responsibility to call out hate wherever we see it — and that includes Muslims who shout hate at Pride marchers, promote anti-Semitic myths online or peddle hatred against religious minority sects such as the Ahmadiyya community. We all have a responsibility to fight back against hate and prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious. 

So, while the establishment debates the definition of Islamophobia, the question British Muslims facing discrimination every day are asking is: what more needs to happen to British Muslim communities before this issue is taken seriously and addressed once and for all?

How to tackle teacher stress? Voluntary groups

Educational voluntary groups can teach pupils vital lessons that teachers no longer have time for, says Harris Bokhari

Article originally published on 19th August 2019

Voluntary groups are essential in order to reduce teachers’ stress levels.

For a number of years, teachers have been facing an increasing level of job-related stress. Early this year, a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 20 per cent of teachers felt tense about their jobs most or all of the time, compared with 13 per cent of those in similar occupations.

With funding cuts, rising pupil numbers and an increasing proportion of teachers leaving the profession, schools have never needed to have more support in and out of the classroom. These levels of stress only increase in schools in the most deprived areas, many serving communities with large numbers of ethnic-minority pupils, and in teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Protecting teacher wellbeing

With more time taken up with in-class planning, because of higher scrutiny and requirements, and many classroom assistants taking more of a teaching role, there is less time for teachers to organise trips and sessions to raise the aspirations of their students, or to expose them to things that may be outside the curriculum but of immense personal value to them. Having the support of voluntary educational groups, therefore, has never been more important. 

These groups work to take the load from our already over-burdened teachers by providing valuable contact time with children from various backgrounds. Either through dance or music classes, or with extra help in core subjects, voluntary groups provide a supplement to children’s education that many simply cannot do without. 

These groups also intrinsically impart lessons about the important role of charity and the ethos of giving back to society. The excellent work these volunteer groups do outside the classroom cannot be underestimated, and is often cited by teachers as a reason for children’s progress in the classroom.

One such group is the inspirational Soroptimist International of Bournemouth. Founded 80 years ago, this women’s volunteer-led group supports schools in the classroom through its Stem Challenge, inspiring hundreds of girls to take up science, technology, engineering and mathssubjects. It helps them to think about future careers in these industries, as well as educate them on issues and challenges internationally, with the emphasis on advancing the cause of women across the globe. 

Swansea-based group Egypt Centre Volunteers demonstrates the important role that voluntary groups play to enhance the educational needs of our students outside the classroom. Through its Saturday workshops, targeted at socially and economically disadvantaged local children, it has helped to improve literacy and numeracy, raise confidence and foster a love of learning.

The impact of voluntary groups

Both these groups have previously been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which sits within the honours system, recognising volunteer groups and their exceptional service to local communities. The recognition of such groups is no more than they deserve.

There are hundreds of other – equally vital – educational voluntary groups across the country, which should also rightly be lauded for their work. Yet, in 2019, there was not a single educational voluntary group among the awardees. Considering the role these groups play in providing support to increasingly stressed and overstretched teachers, this has to change in 2020. 

Three of the seven biggest causes of teacher stress, as noted in this very publication, are workload, behaviour management and league tables. Supplementary voluntary groups add value by helping teachers manage their workload by covering topics that teachers simply cannot get round to during class time, in a more relaxed setting. They also help teachers to manage behaviour in class, by providing an outlet outside the classroom for children who struggle within it. And they provide support to those kids who need that extra help to get the grades they want. 

Educational voluntary groups do a great deal to directly and indirectly reduce teacher stress.

Harris Bokhari is a national board member of Mosaic – The Prince’s Trust mentoring programme, and founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation

A diverse cabinet is great, but can Boris Johnson’s team actually deliver policies which reflect our diversity?

In 2019 it should be a given, not only for our government but also for the opposition and other political parties, that they seek to build a leadership that represents all of us.

Original article published on 3rd August 2019

Boris Johnson has brought together the most diverse cabinet in our political history, to match the most diverse parliament that has ever been elected, but the big question is whether his new top team can actually tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing our diverse communities.

There have only previously been 12 bearers of the great offices of state – prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary – who have been a woman, or from an ethnic minority, in our history. Nine of them have been members forming part of Conservative cabinets.

From watching his mother scrubbing the “P-word” off the front of his parents’ shop, to becoming the new chancellor, Sajid Javid’s appointment makes history as the first occupant of No11 from an Asian-Muslim heritage. This is not the first time Javid has broken new ground. At every department he led – culture, business, communities and the Home Office – he has made history. 

Priti Patel’s appointment as Home Secretary means she has become the first ethnic minority woman to hold one of the great offices of state. Her parents fled from Uganda and established a chain of newsagents. 

The impact of this cannot be underestimated. My work with the Prince’s Trust charity Mosaic has shown me that having role models for young people, who look like them and come from the same background can be transformative – developing an “if they can do it, so can we” attitude. 

The appointment of Munira Mirza as one of Boris’s top advisers also puts into sharp focus the absence of any meaningful diversity in Theresa May’s senior advisory team. While initiatives such as the Race Disparity Audit are important steps towards publicising racial inequalities across the public sector, without diversity in representation among the people who actually have the power to make policy decisions, the changes we need to see happen won’t be forthcoming. 

In 2019 we shouldn’t simply be hoping for a diverse cabinet – it should be a given, not only for our government, but also for the opposition and the other political parties that seek to represent us. At a time when our country is more divided than ever, the need for our political leaders to unite our different patchwork of communities has never been more important. Our politics and policy-making can only be as good as the diverse range of voices within it.

Analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows the ethnic pay gap is still at worrying levels. Our workers from ethnic minority communities are paid less on average than their white British colleagues and, for the first time, there more ethnic minority youths in young offender institutions than white British youngsters.

Will our new prime minister appoint the most diverse Cabinet to match the most diverse parliament that has ever been elected?

Original article published on 19th July 2019

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt (Photo by Louis Wood – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

By Harris Bokhari

With only days before our country ushers in a new prime minister, the question many of our diverse communities are asking is: how representative will the future Cabinet be?

Despite Theresa May being the second female prime minister in our history, the fact that we still have never had a gender equal Cabinet is shocking. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau when asked, four years ago, why he had gender parity in his Cabinet, said, “Because it’s 2015.”

Theresa May is only the UK’s second ever female prime minister

In 2019, our government’s lack of gender balance was put into sharp focus with the absence of any meaningful diversity in May’s top team of special advisors.

While initiatives like the Race Disparity Audit are important steps towards publicising racial inequalities across the public sector, without diversity in representation among the people who actually have the power to make policy decisions, the changes we need to see happen won’t be forthcoming.

This is 2019, we shouldn’t be hoping for a diverse cabinet – it should be a given. And this should not only be a given for government, but also for the official opposition and the other political parties that seek to represent us.

At a time when our country is more divided than ever, the need for our political leaders to unite our different patchwork of communities has never been more important.

Our politics and policymaking can only be as good as the diverse range of voices within it, voices that need not to be reflected only in our elected officials, but also in the civil service. The role of civil servants at this moment of political upheaval is as crucial as that of ministers they work for.

Looking at the permanent secretaries who sit across Whitehall; we can see that we have made great strides in the fight for gender equality.

Under Sir Mark Sedwill’s leadership, more female permanent secretaries have continued to be appointed. The current cadre of permanent secretaries is the most gender diverse, yet there is much still to do on a wider breadth of diversity. The fact there has not been any ethnic minority heading one of our Government departments since Sharon White left the Treasury in 2015 shows the civil service, while being one of our better equality employers, needs to urgently move the dial faster on representation of ethnic minorities at senior levels.

Sir Mark Sedwill

This is made all the more relevant as the UK Civil Service was assessed to be at the top of a worldwide ranking comparing “Civil Service Effectiveness” against their international counterparts. Bearing in mind the current demands on the public sector this is a great feat, not least for Sir Mark as Cabinet Secretary. There has also, more recently, been a push from the upper echelons of the civil service to not only engage on inclusion issues internally, but to bring about a civil service that is reflective of society as a whole and the communities it serves. This is being done through a range of initiatives and efforts: from the “fast stream” diverse recruitment drive; reverse mentoring; and dedicated talent schemes to name a few.

However, diversity for the sake of diversity is not good for our politics, and we have seen how those from minority backgrounds who have been poorly supported, and been promoted despite clearly not being suitable, have had a damaging impact on the generation to follow. But today, we know we have enough quality women and ethnic minorities not only to serve in a new cabinet, but also with external diverse recruitment, to serve at the most senior levels of the civil service.

The question is: will our next prime minister institute positive change in our politics – change that can bring our communities together – by appointing the most diverse Cabinet to match the most diverse Parliament that has ever been elected?

Harris Bokhari attends Countering extremism speech: Politicians part of the problem, says Javid

Home secretary Sajid Javid

Original article published on 19th July 2019

HOME secretary Sajid Javid this morning (19) announced his department would start work on a new Counter Extremism Strategy as he admitted that politicians were part of the problem of rising extremist views.

Javid, who was shunned from the state dinner during US president Donald Trump’ visit to the UK last month, also condemned the American leader’s “go back home” remarks, targeted at four non-white Congresswomen, while stopping short of calling those statements racist.

“I will call out extremism wherever I see it,” Javid said in a speech in south London. “We all have a role to play in stopping any normalisation or legitimisation of these views.”

Britain’s first Asian to hold one of the great offices of state, Javid is the son of immigrant Pakistanis. He recalled changing his school route in order to avoid name calling by National Front members and said his mother frequently scrubbed away the P word scribbled on the exterior walls of their family shop.

“I was told to go back to where I came from” as a child, the home secretary said in his speech on countering extremism.

Politicians, too, were part of the problem, he added.

“Around the world populism, prejudice – and even open racism – have catapulted extremists into power,” he said. “I’m proud to say this has not happened in mainstream politics here.

“Thankfully, our politics has not gone down the same road as much of Europe and the US.

“But we must act now, to avoid sliding into the barely masked racism of nationalism.”

Sajid Javid condemned Donald Trump’s “go back home” remarks.

Noting that everyone was at risk of extremism, the home secretary urged a national conversation about it, and added that “cultural sensitivities must not stop us calling out extremism”.

New findings by the Commission for Countering Extremism have shown that more than half (52 per cent) of respondents surveyed have witnessed extremism. Of these almost half (45 per cent) said they’d seen it online and two-fifths (39 per cent) said they’d seen it in their local area.

Javid also announced amended guidance for companies or organisations that sponsor migrant workers.

“This will allow us to refuse or revoke a sponsor licence where an organisation behaves in a way that is inconsistent with British values, or that’s detrimental to the public good,” he said.

The home secretary stressed the need for a more integrated society and added that he would seek more funds to help those who do not speak English learn the language.

And moving away from the more hardline stance of some in his party, especially that of prime minister Theresa May when she was home secretary, Javid said: “I understand there are some concerns about immigration. Some worry that new arrivals will take over their communities – that our national identity will be diluted. I firmly reject that.

“I’ve seen how immigration can enrich our country and I welcome it.

“But if people from different backgrounds are living separate lives in modern ghettos then it’s no good for anyone.

“We must confront the myths about immigration that extremists use to drive divisions.

“We know that they use immigration as a proxy for race. Sweeping plans to cut immigration as if it’s automatically bad can add to the stigma.”

He added: “Only by talking about this can we show how much integration enriches our communities.

“An integrated society is a strong one.

“This multi-layered approach will help us tackle extremism.

“This is not just a job for the Government alone. But we will lead from the front.

“It takes the whole of society to challenge these vile views.”

Javid, who is supporting Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister has previously said politicians must be more responsible in their choice of language – referring to the Tory frontrunner’s comments likening women in full face veils to letterboxes.

This morning he said: “I have known Boris to be a passionate anti-racist.”

Harris Bokhari, a grassroots expert in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), welcomed Javid’s speech. He said: “It is important the home secretary highlighted the growth of far-right extremism and how this fuels other forms of hate in our society, only working together, each playing our part, can we root out hate from our communities.”