EHRC board member under scrutiny over social media use
A board member of the government’s equality watchdog has ‘liked’ or retweeted social media posts criticising Black Lives Matters protesters and describing the words misogynist and homophobe as “highly ideological propaganda terms” in the latest controversy to beset the EHRC, the Guardian can reveal.
Alasdair Henderson, who led the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into Labour party antisemitism this year, also liked a tweet decrying “offence-taking zealots” who accused Roger Scruton of antisemitism, Islamophobia and homophobia, and one by Douglas Murray, who once called for Muslim immigration to Europe to be banned.
The EHRC report he led, published last month, stated: “The Labour party failed to investigate antisemitism complaints based on likes, retweets and shares on social media.”
After being contacted by the Guardian, the commission said it would look into Henderson’s use of social media. He is one of nine EHRC commissioners and has been on the watchdog board since 2018.
While commissioners are political appointments, the watchdog is an independent body set up “to encourage equality and diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and protect and promote the human rights of everyone in Britain”.
On 3 September, Henderson liked a tweet which read: “It’s amazing to me that Tory ministers still flounder and flub when some media moron incants the magic words ‘misogynist’ and ‘homophobe’, as if those are empirical statements about reality, not highly ideological propaganda terms.”
On 1 July, he retweeted a comment which said: “All the anti-fascists in Europe protesting against America, an actually free country, are too cowardly to do the same for Hong Kong, which is virtually a dictatorship now.”
Henderson is the latest commissioner whose views have come under scrutiny after the announcement that David Goodhart and Jessica Butcher would be appointed to the board by Liz Truss, the equalities minister.
Goodhart has praised the government’s “hostile environment” policy while Butcher urged women who have been discriminated against at work not to “go cry to someone” but to “take the onus to circumvent the situation”.
Lord Woolley, a former commissioner, said: “What has been the process to vet people coming into the commission for equality? There’s a procedure that’s supposed to look at these people and vet them and yet this guy [Henderson] is doing this on Twitter? What was the procedure when David Goodhart went through, with the litany of comments that he has said which are deeply troubling?”
Woolley, director and co-founder of Operation Black Vote, said that while the EHRC still produced good work, such as its recent Windrush report, he feared it has become “deeply politicised”, highlighting its refusal to conduct an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party.
“We need now more than ever an EHRC that is fiercely independent, diverse and ready to confront the big inequalities of the day,” he said.
Scruton, the philosopher and writer who died in January, was accused of antisemitism, when, after being appointed as the government’s housing adviser in November 2018, it emerged he had previously described Jews in Budapest as forming part of a “Soros empire”, claimed Islamophobia and homophobia were “invented” and that homosexuality was not “normal”.
As the story broke, Henderson liked a tweet which said: “If Roger Scruton, one of our most esteemed thinkers and writers is drummed out of public life by the offence-taking zealots, we may as well pack up and go home.”
On 24 June, Henderson liked a tweet by Douglas Murray in which, responding to a statement by Cambridge University defending the right of academic staff to hold personal and controversial views, Murray said: “Nope. Nobody believes that. We remember the cases of Noah Carl and Jordan Peterson. Your institution dropped them in 2 secs once the mob came for them. But it’s interesting you’re standing up for someone who actually is a race-baiter this time.”
In 2006, Murray made a speech in the Dutch parliament, saying “all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop” and “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”. Noah Carl was sacked from a Cambridge University college after a panel found he had collaborated with far-right extremists in his writings linking intelligence to race.
Carl has defended his work on race and genetics, arguing that “stifling debate around taboo topics can itself do active harm”. Peterson, the self-styled “professor against political correctness”, has said identity politics are “equally dangerous” on the left and right and that he champions individual responsibility. Murray later said his speech in the Netherlands “does not reflect my opinions” he but continues to warn about the “societal questions” posed by Islam.
In June the outgoing EHRC chair, David Isaac, said: “The Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter campaigns have sharpened society’s awareness of inequality, and the need for human rights.”
But in the same month Henderson liked a tweet thread that included: “The Met are clearly treating the (illegal under the Covid regs) BLM protests much more indulgently than they have treated other protests and gatherings. This is poison to an open society, but no-one seems to care.”
The appointment of Goodhart and Butcher to the EHRC from 1 December was announced the same day parliament’s joint committee on human rights published a report concluding that the EHRC had failed “to provide leadership and gain trust in tackling racial equality”. The report called for the recreation of a body similar to the Commission for Racial Equality, which was disbanded and folded into the EHRC.
Goodhart said the Windrush scandal “was not the so-called ‘hostile environment’ working, it was an egregious error. The real question is how we make status-checking fair”. He said he was committed to “a fair and transparent system”. Butcher has declined to answer questions about her views but said she would work “to advance equality issues in the UK”.
A spokesperson from the EHRC said: “We will be looking into this use of social media and the issues raised.” Henderson declined to comment.