Britain prizes diversity above talent, says ANDREW NEIL

Britain prizes diversity above talent, says ANDREW NEIL

The death of meritocracy: From the RAF to our elite universities, Britain is in the grip of a new dogma that prizes diversity above talent. And the result, says ANDREW NEIL, will leave Britain dangerously the weaker

Meritocracy is dead. Long live diversity. That’s the mantra that increasingly dominates this country’s most powerful public and private institutions, from the civil service to the military, the media to the NHS, the universities to major companies — and just about everything important in between.

The age-old idea that jobs, position and promotion are best allocated solely on merit and ability, regardless of background, is withering on the vine, replaced by a new religion — almost a fanaticism — that elevates diversity and inclusion above all else.

For the moment it’s an unstoppable, unchallengeable trend. But we will one day rue the decision to follow it.

No company or public body is currently immune from it, even traditional, well-established, well-regarded, culturally conservative institutions, such as our illustrious Royal Air Force, which now operates under a ‘Diversity and Inclusion Directive’.

It’s worth quoting one of its key lines: ‘The RAF is intent on increasing diversity across all minority groups, including race, religion and beliefs, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, socio-economic representation and neuro-diversity.’

The prescient reader will have noticed that nowhere in this box-ticking list is there mention of ability or the best person for the job. 

It is a bizarre omission, especially at a time when Britain faces greater military and security threats than it has for a generation.

Of course, the RAF, like every other institution in the land, should increasingly look like the diverse nation we’ve become. 

It should make an extra effort to reach out to those who have not previously thought the RAF was for them. That is only right — and essential if you are to recruit from all the talents.

Andrew Neil (pictured) said: ‘meritocracy is dead. Long live diversity. That’s the mantra that increasingly dominates this country’s most powerful public and private institutions’

But when it comes to appointing fighter pilots, drone operators and surveillance aircraft crews — people in whose hands we are placing the defence of the realm — surely ability and aptitude must trump all else.

The fundamental aim of the RAF is to be better than those they come up against — and I’m pretty certain the fighter pilots of the Russian and Chinese air forces are not chosen on the basis of spurious diversity quotas.

When the RAF was all that stood between us and a Nazi invasion in 1940, did anybody much care how diverse the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots were? 

Not just the freedom of Britain but the future of Western civilisation was at stake.

That they came largely from pretty privileged backgrounds was irrelevant. What mattered was that they saved us. And died in huge numbers to do so.

The head of RAF recruitment, a female group captain, has reportedly stepped down from her post in protest at what she regards as ‘impossible diversity targets’ (40 per cent women by 2030, 20 per cent from ethnic minority backgrounds). 

They can’t be met unless there is a de facto freeze on the recruitment of white males, no matter how well-qualified. I fail to see how that makes us any safer.

The group captain’s resignation was a rare act of defiance. Most people in positions of power just go with the flow when faced with the diversity brigade. 

As a result, public administration and private industry are now overrun with all manner of hucksters and snake-oil salesmen (better make that persons) calling themselves ‘diversity consultants’, ‘inclusion officers’ and ‘equity tsars’.

Even publishing, a sector that in any civilised society should be the last bastion of freedom of expression, has fallen to the woke warriors. 

The head of RAF recruitment, a female group captain, has reportedly stepped down from her post in protest at what she regards as ‘impossible diversity targets’

Only this week the Booker Prize-winning author Howard Jacobson complained that he would have trouble getting his first novel published today, although ‘there is hardly anything in it that is offensive’.

What all these diversity obsessives have in common is the zealotry of Marxist class warriors — with new enemies and a different nomenclature.

We still have oppressors and oppressed. But straight white males are the new bad guys, rather than the capitalist bourgeoisie. 

Women, ethnic minorities and LGBT+ folk make up the new oppressed proletariat.

Ideological commitment is tested by your enthusiasm for ‘unconscious bias training’. 

Instead of Marx’s Das Kapital, they brandish Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, a bible for the ‘diversity teams’ of human resources departments, which explains the mysteries of critical race theory and so-called white privilege.

Resistance to such matters is dismissed without debate. Even to talk of something like ‘merit’ is to be accused of micro-aggression.

Twelve years of Tory government has done nothing to resist this diversity theology, never mind reverse it. 

The Secretary of State for Defence is Ben Wallace, an old-fashioned, no-nonsense Tory with an Army background. But he’s been powerless to stop it taking root in the Armed Forces.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is seen as a Right-winger with no time for fashionable nostrums. 

But the Home Office is awash with diversity and inclusion strategies and targets, which seem to be more passionately pursued than more traditional Home Office concerns such as cracking down on crime and illegal immigration.

The tragedy is that meritocracy is in retreat long before it ever managed to triumph. 

The modern meritocrat movement can be traced to the Northcote Trevelyan civil service reforms of 1854, which introduced the novel idea that entry to government bureaucracy should be by competitive exam rather than well-placed connections.

Since then, meritocracy — and social mobility — has ebbed and flowed, sometimes making great strides, at times (as in the 1920s and 1930s) making glacial progress. 

Perhaps the greatest meritocrat advance came after World War II, when state-educated children really started to challenge public-school dominance of the country’s centres of power. 

The most visible symbol of this meritocrat revolution was at the highest centre of power of all: 10 Downing Street.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Britain had three consecutive Tory prime ministers — Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home — all of whom had gone to the same school (Eton, naturally).

But after Labour’s grammar school leader, Harold Wilson, won the 1964 general election, there wasn’t another public-school prime minister until Tony Blair (Fettes, the Scottish Eton) won by a landslide in 1997. 

For a time — those 33 years between 1964 and 1997 — it really seemed as if a new meritocratic age was dawning.

It even meant a wee lad from a Paisley council estate (me) could become editor of The Sunday Times, one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers. 

It wasn’t particularly unusual back then: the father of my legendary recent predecessor, Harry Evans, had been a train driver.

The abolition of grammar schools was a setback. Public schools enjoyed a resurgence. 

The Old Etonians (David Cameron, Boris Johnson) made a comeback. Even so, the growth of academies and free schools brought new standards to state schools (in England, at least), and new opportunities.

The percentage of state-school students at Oxbridge and other elite Russell Group universities started to rise. 

The expansion of universities meant more youngsters from ordinary backgrounds in higher education than ever.

Yet there was still so much more to do. The great citadels of power — the law, the media, politics, the City, medicine, academia, the upper echelons of the civil service — remained too impervious to meritocratic advance. 

More graduates from eight public schools made it to Oxbridge than from 3,000 state schools combined.

At a time when there was a crying need for a new meritocratic push, the diversity zealots have swept away any hope of further progress — even though we were steadily becoming more diverse without their obsessive concern.

When the RAF was all that stood between us and a Nazi invasion in 1940, did anybody much care how diverse the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots were?

Take a look at university admissions based on ethnicity.

More than 80 per cent of children with a Chinese heritage go to university, 40 per cent to a Russell Group university. 

Over 65 per cent of British-Asian youngsters go to university, 16 per cent to a Russell university. 

Almost half of all mixed-race children go to university. These figures show how greater diversity is already baked into this country: those who graduate from our best universities will naturally find the best jobs becoming available to them in the years to come.

True, ‘only’ 10.7 per cent of black youngsters go to a Russell university. But that’s higher than the 10.5 per cent of white kids who make it to an elite university. 

And among white children on free school meals — often used as a metric for poverty — only 14 per cent make it to any university. So much for white privilege.

Nearly all our major institutions have become more diverse these past 30 years, long before diversity zealots came to power — and will become even more diverse in the years ahead. 

The real problem is the continued lack of opportunities for poor kids of all ethnicities, with white working-class boys the worst performers of all. But that is an issue of meritocracy and social mobility, not diversity.

The crying need is for a radical improvement in education in our poorest communities. 

But that is not the priority in today’s Britain. Instead of raising school standards — which requires a lot of painstaking heavy lifting — universities are being encouraged to lower the entry thresholds for applicants from deprived backgrounds, which can be done at the stroke of a pen. It is not the meritocratic way.

The great U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King talked eloquently in the 1960s of the dream he had for his children — that one day they would thrive in a society in which the quality of their character would matter more than the colour of their skin.

Diversity tsars have turned that on its head. The obsession with targets and quotas has elevated skin colour above other considerations, including ability, aptitude and, yes, character. 

Thus has diversity become the enemy of meritocracy — and of a true colour-blind society which eschews all discrimination, positive or negative.

Such complaints are dismissed as the bleatings of straight white males who’ve had it their own way for too long.

But it’s not just privileged whites who risk being on the wrong side of the diversity mantra. 

Such is the reverence for family, hard work and education among America’s vast Asian-American community, they have flooded into the country’s most elite Ivy League universities in huge numbers.

Diversity in action, you might think. But no. It has attracted the ire of the diversity brigade because Asian-American numbers are so big, they are crowding out other ethnic groups. 

It is alleged quotas have been informally introduced to keep numbers down. Inevitably, this being America, it is the subject of multiple lawsuits, even involving Harvard.

It is what happens when you try to manipulate according to complex considerations of diversity rather than the simple, if hard-to-achieve, verities of ability and aptitude, regardless of background. It is also a surefire way to fail in an increasingly competitive global economy.

The modern predominance of Western economies was built on meritocracy, however imperfect. 

Other parts of the world simply didn’t place as much store on social mobility or promotion and advancement regardless of background. Nor did they value education as much. So they languished.

Those days are over. The rising economies of Asia are socially mobile, meritocratic and place greater emphasis on education than we do. 

That is why they are now a major challenge for the West.

If we allow our own enthusiasm for meritocracy to atrophy — replacing it with quota-driven diversity targets that sideline ability — then we will undermine our hard-won prosperity and condemn ourselves to second-class status as the 21st century progresses.

In other words, without meritocracy, we are doomed to decline.

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