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Dozens of Tory MPs point-blank refuse to take part in training to combat homophobia, racism and sexism

Emma Powys Maurice September 22, 2020
Dozens of Tory MPs refuse training to help tackle homophobia and racism

Boris Johnson and his government are being urged to act on HIV. (Christopher Furlong/WPA Pool /Getty)

As many as 40 Tory MPs are refusing to take part in unconscious bias training to root out racist, homophobic and sexist attitudes in parliament.

The progressive workshop, which addresses prejudices people may have absorbed without knowing, was first offered to parliamentary staff in 2016 and recently piloted to MPs.

It was promptly snubbed by dozens of Tory politicians, including most members of the Conservative Party’s European Research Group and ‘Common Sense Group’, who accused the House of Commons of “pandering to the woke agenda”.

“I would really rather gouge my eyes out with a blunt stick than sit through that Marxist, snake oil crap,” one anonymous MP told The Times.

“Let me be clear right from the off; I will not be taking it,” added Tory MP for Mansfield, Ben Bradley, in a piece for Conservative Home.

“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.”

The sensitivity training would perpetuate “the kind of nonsense language that we keep hearing around things like the Black Lives Matter agenda”, he warned.

He also scoffed at separate sexual harassment training, telling Matt Chorley’s Times Radio show: “It was two hours of jolly conversation with some colleagues that I liked very much. But to be honest, it was a total waste of all of our time.”

Ben Bradley accompanied by Boris Johnson on a General Election campaign trail stop in November 2019 ( Frank Augstein-WPA Pool/Getty)

The problematic parliamentary culture has been highlighted by many, including the lesbian MP Mhairi Black, who previously likened the government to a “boys’ club that masquerades as a parliament”.

“The sense of entitlement, the sense of, ‘I’m untouchable and this is my turf and I’m in charge here’, it’s inescapable at some points,” she said in an interview with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

Both anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment training became compulsory last year after an independent inquiry raised concerns around misconduct. The unconscious bias training was subsequently launched on a pilot basis following requests from some MPs.

But Simon Woolley, a leading anti-racism campaigner and cross bench peer, said it is “astonishing” that any MP would refuse the training and called on party leaders to make it mandatory.

“For all parliamentarians, this is the lowest hanging fruit to understand our own inbuilt prejudices,” he told the Guardian.

“I am appalled that so many MPs, from whatever party, would refuse to do this training. I expect all politicians to undertake the unconscious bias training, if asked, and hope they would view it as something which should enable them to better do their job.”

He continued: “I’m really astonished why any MP would refuse to do this training. I would expect that party leadership, of any party, would say this training is not an option and thereby showing leadership. That some MPs should push back on this demonstrates their inability to move to the 21st century.”

A House of Commons spokesperson told Metro that they are committed to creating an inclusive workplace, but there are currently no plans to roll out the pilot more widely.

More: Ben Bradley, Conservative Party, European Research Group, Homophobia, House of Commons, parliament, racism, Tory, Unconscious bias

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