Munira Mirza

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Munira Mirza speaking at the 2008 Battle of Ideas

Munira Mirza is the Advisor for Arts and Culture Policy of the Greater London Authority under the Conservative administration of Boris Johnson and is associated with the libertarian anti-environmental LM network.

According to her former employer, centre right think tank Policy Exchange, “Munira - author of the Policy Exchange pamphlet Culture Vultures - is not a card-carrying Tory member, but is one of a new generation of thinkers behind David Cameron's makeover of the party that is attracting money and fresh ideas.” [1]

Mirza is critical of the official promotion of multiculturalism, believing that the emphasis on difference deepens racial divisions. She set out her policy prescriptions in a 2004 Institute of Ideas paper, [2] these comprising: review of the ‘general statutory duty on race’ in the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000), and delete the specific duty to promote good relations; encourage all public bodies to review critically their diversity training schemes and policies; review how employment strategies and service provision are being conducted in public authorities and ensure that ‘race equality’ does not mean discriminatory treatment; resist calls to dilute the principle of equality of treatment under the law for ethnic or religious minorities; review existing exceptions under the law for minority groups such as Sikhs and Jews; conduct a critical and independent review of multicultural policies at the community level and encourage local authorities to dismantle programmes that foster division, particularly in the spheres of policing and education; particular attention should be given to the spheres of education and policing, where ethnic differences are strongly emphasised; recognise the limited significance of the BNP and not do play into its hands by attempting to silence it through legal means; abandon proposals to ban incitement to religious hatred; remove clauses creating specific legislation to deal with racially motivated crimes in the Crime and Disorder Act and Anti-Terrorism and Security Act 2001; review the efficacy of citizenship tests and citizenship education, and; resist all calls for further restrictions of free speech.

Early years

Munira Mirza was born in Oldham in 1978 of Pakistani parents and educated at Breeze Hill comprehensive. [3]

Student days

Munira studied English at Mansfield College, Oxford, graduating in 1999. She has lectured at the University of Kent and the University of East London. She completed a PHD [4]at the University of Kent in 2009 for the sociology department which Frank Furedi heads.[5]


In 2001 she worked as a fundraiser for the Royal Society of Arts. [6]In 2005 she presented ‘The Business of Race’, a two part series for BBC Radio Four on race and diversity. [7] In 2005, she was also conducting interviews for and was an editorial consultant of the University of East London’s Rising East initiative, [8] [9] which is run by Andrew Calcutt. In 2006 she was an arts consultant for the London East Research Institute. [10] She edited the report Culture Vultures: is UK arts policy damaging the arts? in February 2006 [11] and was the co-author of the report Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism in 2007, [12] both published by the Policy Exchange, of which she was an Associate Research Fellow and for whom she also worked as a fundraiser, having the title Development Director. [13] [14]The Policy Exchange has always shared offices with conservative think tank CChange (active 2001-2007), of which Dougie Smith, her now husband, was the co-ordinator, as their financial statements make clear. In 2007, she also presented a further BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Fighting Chance’ on professional Sikh fighter Akaash Bhatia. [15] In early 2008, she was working for Tate. [16] In June 2008, she became the Advisor for Arts and Culture Policy of the Greater London Authority under the Conservative administration of Boris Johnson.[17]

Cancellation of the Rise festival

The long running Rise Festival fell under the remit of Mirza on her appointment as cultural adviser. Shortly after the election of Boris Johnson and her appointment, significant changes were made to the festival. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) was told that its annual Big Cuba Fiesta stage was barred from this year's event. Mirza told the group in a letter that "it is no longer appropriate to have overtly political organisations involved in the programme or in the community area". [18] This resulted in the withdrawal of support for the festival of public sector union, Unite. [19]

An email sent by the mayor’s office set out the change of approach:

"Boris has made a commitment to go ahead with the Rise Festival this year but wants to emphasise its cultural and community dimensions. The idea is to promote it as a major festival that brings together Londoners from all backgrounds in a joyous celebration of music and culture. We are also working to bring in a number of grassroots ethnic and community organisations from across London that have not previously been involved. We hope that as a result, Rise will attract an even larger and more diverse” [20]

and in a separate communication, a recipient stated:

“We were contacted by the Greater London Authority last week and told anti-racism will no longer be the central message of the Rise festival. This is confirmed by initial publicity which drops the message "London united against racism" and all reference to opposing racism.” [21]

As a consequence, the unions withdrew their funding for the event. [22]

Mirza mounted a defence of the decision in the Guardian. [23]

LM associations

Mirza’s career is somewhat parallel to that of James Panton who also studied at Oxford, also co-founded the Manifesto Club and was also published by Policy Exchange.

  • 1999
Conducted interview on behalf of Culture Wars[24]
  • 2001
Began regular articles for Culture Wars[25]
  • 2002
First article in Spiked [26]
Wrote for Pro-Choice Forum [27]
  • 2003
Began writing regularly for Spiked [28]
  • 2004
Conducted research on behalf of the Institute of Ideas, [29]
Spoke in the Institute of Ideas Teenage Kicks schools debating event
  • 2005
Convened the Culture strand of and chaired a debate at the first Battle of Ideas [30]
Spoke at the Institute of Ideas ‘The Right To Be Offensive’ event
Led a session of the Institute of Ideas Education Forum [31]
  • 2006
Sat on the organising committee of the 2006 Battle of Ideas
Spoke at the Institute of Ideas ‘The Battle for Diversity’ event
Co-founded the Manifesto Club with Brendan O'Neill, following which she sat on its steering committee until 2008 and of which she remains a member[32]
The report Mirza edited for the Policy Exchange, ‘Culture Vultures’ included contributions from Josie Appleton and James Heartfield.
  • 2007
The report Mirza co-authored for the Policy Exchange, ‘Living Apart together’ included references to work from Josie Appleton, Andrew Calcutt, Kenan Malik and Brendan O'Neill.
Edited Printed Project 08 artistic freedom – anxiety and aspiration, containing pieces by Josie Appleton, Andrew Calcutt, Dolan Cummings and Pauline Hadaway.
Spoke at the 2007 Battle of Ideas
Spoke at the Huddersfield Salon
  • 2008
Contributed a reading to the 2008 Battle of Ideas
  • 2009
Contributed a ‘Battles in Print’ article to the 2009 Battle of Ideas
Introduced a session of the Institute of Ideas Culture Forum
Led discussion on a WORLDbytes programme [33]
Interviewed by Kenan Malik for BBC Radio 4 episode ‘Are all Muslims the same?’, part of the ‘Islam, Mullahs and the Media’ series
  • 2010
Spoke at the 2010 Battle of Ideas
The GLA’s Story of London festival 2010, originated and fronted by Mirza and part of her Art and culture portfolio, while it referenced 100 events, highlighted its Future City series of debates on its website. [34]The name of the Future City strand is similar to the Future Cities Project while debates are a LM speciality. The debates provided a platform for Daniel Ben-Ami, James Heartfield, director of Audacity and author of its principal publication Let’s Build, Norman Lewis, Austin Williams, who runs the Future Cities Project and chaired one of the sessions, and James Woudhuysen, another director of Audacity.
Spoke at the launch of the Big Potatoes Manifesto [35]
Judged the ManTownHuman Winter School [36]
Reviewed ‘The Death of the Subject Explained’ by James Heartfield in the International Journal of Cultural Policy [37]
Was used as a resource by Debating Matters [38]
  • Undated
Became signatory no. 230 of the Academics for Academic Freedom Statement [39]
Registered as a tour guide trainer for WORLDwrite [40]
Reviewed Furedi’s Therapy Culture for The Great Debate.[41]
On BBC Radio Four’s Great Lives, Mirza’s selection as someone who has inspired her life was political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Arendt has been frequently cited by Frank Furedi as the inspiration for his academic theories.


Mirza is married to Dougie Smith, the ex-vice Chairman of the extreme Federation of Conservative Students, ex-co-ordinator of influential Tory think tank Conservatives for change CChange and ex-Cameron speechwriter. They live in Balham, South London.


Author, Response to Strength in Diversity, 2004, Institute of Ideas website, acc 9 Jan 2011
Editor, Culture Vultures:is UK arts policy damaging the arts?, 2006, Policy Exchange website, acc 9 Jan 2011
Editor, Printed Project 08 artistic freedom – anxiety and aspiration via Institute of Ideas website, acc 9 Jan 2011
Co-author, Living apart together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism, 2007, Policy Exchange website, acc 9 Jan 2011




GLA profile Munira Mirza ac 8th Jan 2011


  1. Thinkers behind fresh Tory politics move up in party hierarcy, Policy Exchange website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  2. Response to Strength in Diversity, Institute of Ideas website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  3. A blast of fresh air for London, The Telegraph, acc 8 Jan 2011
  4. Between universalism and diversity : contradictions of local cultural policy in Tower Hamlets and Oldham Main author: Mirza, Munira, University of Kent website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  5. Furedi CV, University of kent website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  6. A blast of fresh air for London, Telegraph website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  7. The Business of Race, BBC website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  8. A Rich Mix of ideas, Rising East website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  9. Rising East 5, Rising East website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  10. Profile, Guardian website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  11. Culture Vultures, Policy Exchange website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  12. Living Apart Together, Policy Exchange website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  13. News, Policy Exchange, acc 10 Jan 2011
  14. /Alumni Policy Exchange website, acc 10 Jan 2011
  15. Fighting Chance, BBC website, 10 Jan 2011
  16. Social impact of museums, National Museums Director's Conference, acc 10 Jan 2011
  17. Munira Mirza, GLA website, 10 Jan 2011
  18. "Mayor drops festival’s anti-racism message", Guardian website, 17 June 2008
  19. "Rise Festival – Unite pulls funding – RCP dances for Boris", Socialist Unity website, accessed 13 Jan 2011
  20. "Rise 2008: What the Mayor’s Office Says", davehill website, accessed 13 Jan 2011
  21. "About Rise 2008: Yes, the anti-racism message IS being expunged", davehill website, accessed 13 Jan 2011
  22. "Trade Unions sever all links with Rise Festival", CSC website, accessed 13 Jan 2011
  23. "Doing anti-racism for real", Guardian website, accessed 17 June 2008
  24. Interview with Oliver Grey, Illyria website, acc 9 Jan 2011-01-09
  25. Contributors, Culture Wars website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  26. The offended university Spiked website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  27. A Posthuman Future?, Pro-Choice Forum website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  28. Mirza - Articles, Spiked website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  29. Response to ‘Strength in Diversity’ Institute of Ideas, 2004acc 8 Jan 2011
  30. For arts sake…?, Battle of Ideas website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  31. Multiculturalism and the promotion of faith schools – steps backwards in education?, Institute of Ideas website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  32. Munira Mirza acc 8 Jan 2011
  33. Don’t shout at the telly: Hate speech, WORLDbytes website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  34. Story of London GLA website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  35. Event Big Potatoes website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  36. ManTownHuman Winter School Future Cities website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  37. Vol. 16, IFACCA website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  38. Resource, Debating matters website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  39. Third 100 AFAF website, acc 8 Jan 2011
  40. Trainer bios WORLDwrite website, acc 9 Jan 2011
  41. Furedi, The Great Debate website, acc 9 Jan 2011