|Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit|
|Assumed office |
24 July 2019
|Prime Minister||Boris Johnson|
|Preceded by||James Marshall|
|Born||May 1978 (age 43)|
|Education||Breeze Hill School|
Oldham Sixth Form College
|Alma mater||University of Oxford (BA)|
University of Kent (MA, PhD)
Munira Mirza (born May 1978) is a British political advisor who is the Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit during the Premiership of Boris Johnson. She previously worked under Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture when he was Mayor of London.
Mirza's family came to the United Kingdom from Pakistan; her father found work in a factory while her mother was a housewife and taught Urdu part-time. Mirza was born in Oldham, Greater Manchester, North West England and had two older brothers and an older sister. She went to Breeze Hill School until 16, then moved to Oldham Sixth Form College for her A-levels. She was the only pupil in her Sixth Form college to gain a place at Oxford University, studying English Literature at Mansfield College, graduating in 1999. She then completed an MA in Social Research in 2004 and a PhD in Sociology in 2009, both at the University of Kent.
Early on, Mirza was involved in revolutionary politics, including being a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a small group that dissolved in 1997. She contributed to its magazine, Living Marxism, which was dissolved after losing a libel case to ITN over the Bosnian genocide. The magazine was replaced by the Spiked website, for which she has written articles.
Many of Mirza's Revolutionary Communist Party colleagues became influential in Conservative Party Eurosceptic circles after the dissolution of their party, while remaining closely associated with each other's endeavours.
Mirza has said that "I became a bit of a 'museums junkie' in my early twenties. My first job in the arts sector was at the Royal Society of Arts, where I became especially interested in the politics of culture – why we value what we do, how to make the arts more accessible, and why public interest in the arts matters. From there, I started a PhD in Sociology, looking particularly at the politics of culture." She worked briefly at the Tate Gallery.
During 2005 to 2007, Mirza worked as Development Director for the conservative think-tank Policy Exchange. While she was there she edited a collection of essays, Culture Vultures: Is UK Arts Policy Damaging the Arts?, which challenged the government's efforts to promote socially inclusive arts. and wrote Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism.
In December 2009, she appeared in the BBC Radio 4 programme Great Lives, nominating the political philosopher Hannah Arendt.
From 2008 to 2016, Mirza worked for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, initially as Cultural Adviser, and Director of Arts, Culture and the Creative Industries. From 2012, she was one of six Deputy Mayors, being Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture. She advised the Mayor on priorities for culture and education and led the delivery of key programmes, including £40m education and youth investment in London. In 2014, Mirza said that she was not a Conservative.
Her book The Politics of Culture: The Case for Universalism was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012. In it she argued that consensus about the value of cultural diversity had bred ambivalence.
In 2016, Mirza was a vocal advocate of Brexit, a stance which, in cultural circles, she later described as "the new being gay". She said the referendum result was achieved through a process of democracy that, in some way, echoed Magna Carta.
In 2018, Mirza was mentioned by the New Statesman as a possible Conservative Party candidate for the 2020 London Mayoral election.
In January 2019, she joined King's College London as Executive Director of Culture, leading the institution's cultural strategy together with oversight of the Science Gallery London at Guy's Campus.
On 24 July 2019, following her former boss Johnson becoming Prime Minister, Mirza was appointed Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, replacing James Marshall. Mirza has drafted financial policy in this role.
In 2020, ITV political editor Robert Peston said in The Spectator that calls for the BBC's "cultural re-education", which many assumed came from Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings, actually came from Mirza and her husband.
Mirza is a member of Arts Council England, London Area Council; and the board of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Mirza has a record of advocating for public investment in the arts, but has also warned that organisations will need to become "more entrepreneurial and look for ways to stretch their resources", including through corporate sponsorship.
In 2006, Mirza was critical of the multiculturalism encouraged by New Labour, claiming that it accentuated differences between groups, encouraging conflict; she stated that treating people differently "fuels a sense of exclusion". Writing in The Spectator in 2017, Mirza described the anti-racism movement as a "bogus moral crusade" imported from the US, "...with its demented campus dramas and neuroses about 'safe spaces', 'micro-aggressions' and 'cultural appropriation'".
She has attracted criticism for saying that "it seems that a lot of people in politics think it's a good idea to exaggerate the problem of racism", noting that Theresa May's proposed racial disparities audit for public services set the scene for "another bout of political self-flagellation regarding the subject of race in Britain", whilst "accusations of institutional racism – and their official endorsement – have corroded BAME communities' trust in public services, thereby making things worse." As well as calling May's racial disparities audit a "phoney race war", Mirza also described The Lammy Review of 2017 into the treatment of BAME groups in the justice system as "wrongheaded" and "misleading".
On Johnson's column criticising Denmark for banning the burqa, in which he likened the garment's wearers to 'bank robbers' and 'letterboxes', she said "there are many people in this country who are uncomfortable about the burqa. When people argue we should use more sensitive language what they are really saying is let's not be critical at all, let's not offend, let's not criticise this practice because it upsets Muslims", further defending Johnson's comments as "reasoned, balanced and thoughtful".
Regarding the Windrush scandal, Mirza claimed that "the real lesson is not one of racism, as in the deliberate targeting of ethnic minority groups, rather it is that the process of immigration enforcement needs to be improved".
In June 2020, following the George Floyd protests, Mirza was asked to establish the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Her involvement attracted controversy, given her doubts about the existence of institutional racism and her criticism of previous reports on race relations.
Mirza is married to Dougie Smith, a former senior Conservative party aide and organiser of swinger parties. She had a son in 2013.
The head of the Policy Unit, Munira Mirza, is a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a Trotskyite groupuscule, and enthusiastic contributor to its house organ, Living Marxism.