London (CNN)"Two basic rules of government: Never look into anything you don't have to. And never set up an inquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be." The words are from "Yes Minister," a 1980s television satire about the dysfunction of British politics, but they could equally apply to the Westminster of today.
Culture wars give Boris Johnson and his government a quick and easy high. They're no substitute for governing
Sir Humphrey Appleby, the amoral civil servant who served his lazy minister in the long-running BBC series, might have allowed himself a wry smile this week on the release of a report on racial inequalities that, despite coming from an independent panel, had strong echos of the UK government's stated view of the issue. Like many of Sir Humphrey's fictional schemes though, this one risks inflaming the very problems that it purports to address.
The report, released on March 31 by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, was commissioned last fall in the aftermath of the pent-up frustrations of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and their supporters -- who demanded the government seriously consider and address the racial inequalities that still permeate British society.
The report's staggered release began with a summary of the findings that graced the nation's front pages on Wednesday morning. It stated the report found no evidence to support "the well-meaning 'idealism' of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist." In fact, the successes of some of the UK's ethnic minority population should be "regarded as a model for other white-majority countries."
The reaction to what has been described as a spin operation was furious. It was called "government-level gaslighting" by sections of the press and the public and the damage was done even before the report was officially released later that morning.
Once published, there was plenty more for the critics to get their teeth into. The report was accused of putting a positive spin on slavery and empire with its incendiary suggestion that children be taught about the "Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain."
Policy experts also noticed glaring holes in its analysis. Disparities -- such as why ethnic minorities were disproportionately dying of Covid-19 as well as labor market discrimination -- were explained away by other factors, such as geography, living conditions and social income, while ignoring the role race played in determining these factors.
"It was pretty universal from everyone credible in these areas, who all said this is a shoddy piece of work," said Jonathan Portes, a public policy professor at London's King's College and chief economist at the Cabinet Office between 2008 and 2011. "What they are trying to do is justify a particular rhetoric about racism in the UK," he told CNN.
The report was politicized from the outset to play down legitimate concerns about racism and how to address it, say campaigners. "The whole structure of this commission was to fit in that worldview they had right at the beginning of the report," said Simon Wolley, founding director of Operation Black Vote and chair of the government's race disparity advisory unit July last year.
"The way it has been spun is policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy," Wolley added.
While the commission is independent to the government, experts said the report's conclusions echoed the "war on woke" mindset by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration.
This included a December speech by Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss, who said tackling inequality should not be limited to "sex, race, and gender reassignment." She complained that too much time was spent in her school during the 1980s talking "about racism and sexism" rather than "making sure everyone could read and write." The following month, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick launched legislation to protect historic statues, promising to protect monuments from "militants and woke worthies," he wrote in the right-wing newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.
Only one statue -- long the source of controversy -- was toppled at the height of the BLM protests; those accused of perpetrating its downfall have been charged and will stand trial under existing legislation.
CNN has contacted Downing Street for comment.