Kishwer Falkner, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph this weekend that, on the surface, looked to be about migrants and integration, but, of course, things are never what they seem with this lot.

Integration in Britain has failed The former Lib Dem peer on the failures of multiculturalism and facing down an attempt to oust her from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Sunday Telegraph10 Mar 2024By Edward Malnick  When Baroness Falkner of Margravine faced down a concerted attempt to oust her as the country’s equalities chief last year, she appeared to buck a trend that has seen a series of political figures forced out of their roles by anonymous officials making bullying claims.  The 68-year-old chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) appeared stoic in the face of a campaign that began in May 2023 when a dossier of allegations against her, from a handful of EHRC officials, was leaked to Channel 4 News. It included allegations that she had presided over “a toxic culture”, with specific complaints including that she had “rolled her eyes at staff ” who expressed concerns about the approach of the watchdog’s board.  While full details of the claims were never released, Falkner later suggested that some other concerns centred on “performance management” issues, such as the standards required of staff drafting letters on behalf of the EHRC.  Last autumn, the formal investigation was dropped following a separate review, launched by Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, to examine how the EHRC handled the allegations against its chairman. Falkner received a “full apology” from the board.  Privately, though, the eight-month saga took a profound toll and Falkner now reveals she “contemplated walking away more than once”. While the ending of the investigation last year amounted to a vindication of Falkner’s denials of wrongdoing, behind the scenes the probe came at a heavy financial and emotional cost. Falkner’s legal bills amounted to £30,000.  While Falkner will not discuss the particular claims against her, it is clear throughout our interview in the EHRC’s Westminster boardroom that although she has an air of nervousness, the former Liberal Democrat peer does not mince her words. She was first notified of the claims against her in February last year, when Marcial Boo, the former EHRC chief executive and one of her deputies, told her that staff had lodged complaints. For “two or three months”, she says, she was then left in the dark about details of the complaints, unable to mount a defence, even in her own mind.  “That interregnum before you actually get the detail of the allegations is, I would say, the darkest period. Certainly it was for me.  “Once I got additional information, then I was able to go back, see what I’d said, find my evidence and the context in which certain things were said or done. And then I started feeling much more confident about still being here.”  Falkner says she was not the first chairman of the EHRC to be investigated and, in fact, was “the third out of four”, since the body was set up under New Labour’s 2006 Equality Act.  As we speak, Falkner chooses her words carefully when asked if she agrees with claims that the allegations against her were motivated by activism among some officials.  “The thought did cross my mind in terms of the chronology of events, that it might have had something to do with some of the decisions we as a board were taking. So I’m not going to deny that, but I don’t want to talk about it.”  Prior to Falkner’s appointment in 2020, the EHRC had been seen as in hock to Stonewall, the charity that has clashed with women’s groups over its campaigning for trans rights. Her predecessor was a former Stonewall chairman. Interviewed by The Telegraph in 2021, Falkner insisted that the EHRC would “demonstrate that we are the equality body for everyone”.  In 2022 the EHRC angered Stonewall by publishing guidance stating that trans women can be excluded from female-only changing rooms and lavatories. In May 2023 the claims against Falkner spilled into the public domain. She found herself on the front pages of newspapers for days, amid a barrage of allegations against her and a furious response from parliamentarians who feared that she was the victim of a politically motivated campaign.  It was not lost on Tory MPs that Dominic Raab and Priti Patel, two exacting senior Conservatives, had both lost their Cabinet jobs in the wake of bullying allegations by officials.  Ultimately, says Falkner, “in my mind, it became important to see this through because it is a valuable organisation. And if it has a problem that seems to be a recurrent problem, then it is for the incumbent who is going through it to see it through.”  She believes that the EHRC “is stronger now and moving forward with fresh determination”. At the time of the row over her leadership, “we were delivering this, a five-year study of the state of equality and human rights in Britain,” she says, holding aloft a hefty report published late last year. It was also bringing legal cases against companies and public bodies flouting the Equality Act.  Falkner’s matter-of-fact manner does, however, give way to offer a glimpse of the private pain she felt last year. At one point as she recounts her experience, tears roll down her face.  “I think the most difficult thing, in terms of family, was that my husband and I had long planned a sabbatical in Germany, because he had a year out to write a book. We rented the flat and I was going to go and spend some quality time with him there, continuing to work, of course. And I couldn’t go. So I was pretty alone.”  Her husband, Robert, a professor of international relations with whom Falkner has one daughter, would call his wife on Zoom each evening, “for half an hour, just to check in. I have the most wonderfully supportive family,” she says.  Falkner, a Muslim first-generation migrant who was born and brought up in Pakistan, says that she has generated “resilience” from her upbringing and experience of moving from country to country before settling in the UK, aged 21. She later studied international relations at the London School of Economics, followed by a masters at the University of Kent.  Early on in her career she worked in Saudi Arabia, before rising through the Lib Dem ranks to become the director of policy in the 1990s, and, later, a senior researcher at the Commonwealth Secretariat.  “I experienced civil war in my own country growing up. I’ve experienced living in the Middle East, I worked across Africa a great deal.” Ultimately, she says, now ensconced in the UK, where she lives in a west London flat with her husband, she benefits from “a stable environment” which makes it easier to cope with “setbacks”.  “Staff getting up day in, day out and delivering for the country was what made me and the board resilient,” she says. “When you came in, and you saw that people… their focus was unaltered, then you have to look at yourself and say, I might have cried into my pillow last night [but] what my brain said to itself is, you have to get a grip and deliver. That’s what life is about. It’s behind me now. I see, actually, no purpose in dwelling on it.”  Though now Falkner is being repeatedly approached by “people in very senior positions… who find themselves in the same situation, asking if I have any advice [on] how to get through it.” One general problem, she suggests, is the speed at which grievances about someone’s behaviour escalate into full-blown workplace disputes, and she warns of a need for major changes to avoid “good people” being put off taking on senior public roles by experiences such as hers.  “It is a sad state of affairs that – and I’m not talking here at a personal level – escalation happens so fast.”  One common factor, she suggests, is age. “It is possible, if you’re a 70-year-old, or even a 50-year-old, to speak a little carelessly about somebody… a 22-year-old may well be described as a ‘snowflake’ because [they] are a little taken aback by a tone of voice that someone has. People grew up in certain hierarchical structures that no longer exist.”  Companies and public bodies must decide whether, in such scenarios, “you escalate instantly or you try to knock heads together to reach pragmatic compromises,” she says.  Falkner has not been reimbursed for a penny of her legal costs. On the other hand, the costs incurred by the EHRC while investigating her amounted to “rather more” than the £200,000 that was reported last year, although she will not confirm a figure. The case ended up involving four or five KCs.  She says: “The question must be asked as to why good people don’t stand up for public appointments in the numbers they used to before… I think it is fair for those people to say ‘I shouldn’t be asked to expend my own savings in defending myself should something happen in the course of my executing my professional duties’.”  She points to the directors’ insurance taken out by many private firms and says public bodies should be allowed to take out such policies for their chairmen and board members. “I will be writing to the Commissioner of Public Appointments to make that case.”  Those who have sought Falkner’s advice “never expected that they would be having to raid their family’s pension pot” or remortgaging in order to deal with professional battles.  Stonewall has been accused by a coalition of gender-critical groups of “harassing” Falkner personally, which it denies. It is part of a coalition of organisations that has reported the EHRC to the United Nations, partly over its stance on trans rights under her chairmanship. To any organisation demanding preferential treatment for one group or another, she says: “You’re not going to get that with me and my board, that’s for sure.”  Falkner is “extremely concerned” about the tone of public debate about trans and women’s rights and warns that “there should be no disrespect for sincerely-held beliefs”.  “But I also believe that we have a dangerous climate now, where the rights of trans people are not being upheld as well as they might be. It’s very distressing to see that there is such a rise in anti-trans hate crime.”  More broadly, Falkner believes the time has come for Parliament to update the Equality Act – which the EHRC is responsible for policing – to clarify the balance between trans and women’s rights. Currently the country is reliant on court rulings, sometimes by “activist judges”, to clarify (or in some cases, make), the law.  And in order to avoid “endless litigation”, such as a case in which the Supreme Court has been asked to rule on whether the Scottish government was right to include trans women in its official definition of women.  “There are easier ways to do things and I think sometimes Parliament does have to assert its own primacy in terms of the legislation that it has passed.”  One area in which Falkner believes that there are already sufficient laws is the policing of extremism. She was appointed to the Lords by Charles Kennedy in 2004 after an unsuccessful attempt to become an MP.  “I’ve sat through I cannot tell you how many counter-terrorism and extremist and public order laws in Parliament in my 20 years there. I don’t think it’s a matter of the laws being inadequate. I think it’s a matter of even-handedness in applying the law to all communities.”  On November 10, Falkner wrote to the Metropolitan Police to warn that pro-Palestinian protesters’ rights were “not absolute” and must be balanced against the rights of those – presumably Jews – to whom some behaviour seen on the streets might cause “anxiety”.  Reflecting on the events of the past five months, she says: “It’s been a sad period to witness this level of discord on Britain’s streets but, more seriously, to imagine that there are some communities in our country who don’t feel safe coming out and about.”  In September, Suella Braverman was pilloried for saying she believed that the state policy of multiculturalism had “failed” because it “makes no demands of the incomer to integrate”. Today Falkner, whose politics would seem far from Braverman’s, appears to have come to similar conclusions. “One of the things that’s come as a surprise to people like me, who have had quite a long history of speaking about multiculturalism and integration, is that we seem to be failing to integrate. And it’s one thing to be very proud of our diversity and our pluralism in our society. But I think we’ve missed a trick in the past 15 or 20 years.”  Falkner, who was a member of Tony Blair’s task force on Muslim extremism in the wake of the July 7 2005 bombings, is anxious that warnings she first recalls being raised in a 2001 report highlighting segregation in Bradford schools appear to have gone largely unheeded.  “You can’t have segregated, parallel lives from school upwards. More than 20 years ago, Gordon Brown spoke a great deal about British values, and somehow we haven’t managed to deliver a society that actually coheres around a broad understanding of what British values are.  ‘Why don’t good people stand up for public appointments in the numbers they used to?’  ‘I might have cried into my pillow, but you have to get a grip and deliver’  “Democracy and respect for minorities go hand in hand. I am so concerned about it that I’m meeting the Community Security Trust this afternoon. And I’ve also asked to meet the Muslim Council of Britain to hear their concerns and to urge both of them to put their best foot forward in urging that the rights that are exercised are done so in a responsible way.”  She adds, however: “I think the majority of Muslims in our country have absolutely no dispute about Israel’s right to exist, have absolutely no truck with organisations like Hamas, and actually regret the fact that the events of October 7 have led to the great catastrophe for fellow Muslims.”  Falkner grew up in a liberal household in Pakistan, raised alongside four sisters and a brother. Her mother was a journalist and her father set up the intelligence training division of the Pakistan military in Murree, a garrison town in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she was educated at a privately run convent. She was taught civics from the age of 12 and was bemused to find no such provision in this country.  Better education is needed in schools on human rights and how they are qualified, she says.  “Everyone jumps up and down and says it is my right to do this, it’s my right to do that. And they don’t pause to think about the fact that most rights are contextually based… they are not absolute rights.”  She continues: “I was once a first-generation migrant. New arrivals in this country have to be absolutely clear that if they choose to come here they must live by our norms, they must live by our values. They must hold in their hands this wonderful delicate thing called democracy, which is like a Ming vase. And I think we’re at the stage now where I am worried about the state of democracy.”  She is concerned about “complacency” among politicians over the consequences of a major increase in immigration. A government focus on extremism following the July 7 attacks was no longer “at the forefront of people’s minds” after “things calmed down”.  “But one of the big factoids of the past decade is that we have significantly increased immigration. And while we, of course, welcome the fact that we are an inclusive and accommodating country… We also have to recognise that large numbers of first-generation migrants haven’t had the background of growing up in a rights-respecting country.  “What I would love to see would be a concerted programme of integration. Our citizenship test was a good innovation, but I think we need to do more than that. We need to require people to take courses in integration.  “The complacency is what worries me,” she says, “and that’s why I thought the Prime Minister’s speech last week was important, but I only wish it had come a month earlier.”  In the coming months, Badenoch will decide whether to extend Falkner’s contract to a second term. If an election is called before then, the decision could fall to Labour.  She has been lobbying for a “tiny”, 0.5 per cent increase in the EHRC’s budget, which has remained at £17.1 million since 2012, despite a flow of new laws and rulings bolstering the watchdog’s responsibilities.  “You can’t keep imposing new asks on an organisation without increasing the funding,” she says.  If the steeliness with which she has dealt with her travails so far is anything to go by, it is difficult to imagine Falkner not winning this battle too.  Article Name:Integration in Britain has failed Publication:The Sunday Telegraph Author:By Edward Malnick Start Page:22 End Page:22
Sunday Telegraph, 10 March 2023

When you actually read the article, you find that almost half of it is dedicated to the allegations against Falkner, the process of the investigation, and her personal and financial strain.

Woe is her.

About a third of the article actually discusses what the headline threatens, while the remainder is about….yep, you guessed it, trans people!

“Prior to Falkner’s appointment in 2020, the EHRC had been seen as in hock to Stonewall, the charity that has clashed with women’s groups over its campaigning for trans rights,” The Telegraph write.

“In 2022 the EHRC angered Stonewall by publishing guidance stating that trans women can be excluded from female-only changing rooms and lavatories.” Not just Stonewall, all trans people, our allies and anyone who actually knows the law.

At one point, Falkner actually says, “But I also believe that we have a dangerous climate now, where the rights of trans people are not being upheld as well as they might be. It’s very distressing to see that there is such a rise in anti-trans hate crime.” This is immediately followed by a call “to clarify the balance between trans and women’s rights” while having a dig at ‘activist judges’.

The EHRC is supposed to be an independent body but it is widely believed to dance to whatever tune Kemi Badenoch is playing [see The Trans Agenda #1 for more].

The investigation into Falkner was “dropped following a separate review, launched by Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, to examine how the EHRC handled the allegations against its chairman. Falkner received a “full apology” from the board.”