The RAF’s woke discrimination

Even the armed forces have fallen to divisive identitarian dogma.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Identity Politics UK

Of all the institutions to fall to wokeness, the UK’s Royal Air Force might seem an unlikely candidate. You might have thought that the divisive campaign across elite institutions to introduce racially aware policies, to provide leg-ups to supposedly ‘vulnerable’ women and minorities, all allegedly in the name of righting past wrongs, would have run aground with the armed forces. Only the most committed bigot could care about the skin pigmentation, or (ahem) undercarriage equipment, of the person charged with protecting their homeland, so long as he or she is committed and competent. Surely, the RAF has more pressing concerns than the precise ethnic and sexual makeup of its recruits?

You’d be wrong. Because over the past year the RAF has found itself embroiled in a scandal about woke recruiting policies that is almost hard to believe. Last summer, it was accused of pausing job offers to white male candidates in order to meet ‘impossible’ diversity targets. Group Captain Elizabeth Nicholl, then head of RAF recruitment, resigned in protest, refusing to implement what she called an ‘unlawful order’ to discriminate against white men, as part of an effort to boost the numbers of female and ethnic-minority recruits. The RAF has issued a series of obfuscating statements, but the evidence has kept on mounting. Tobias Ellwood MP, chairman of the defence select committee, says Nicholl identified 160 cases of white male recruits who were discriminated against before she resigned. Now Sky News reports that 31 white men, adversely affected by the targets, are to receive £5,000 each in compensation. Uncovered emails also reveal RAF bigwigs disparagingly talking about selection boards overly composed of ‘useless white male pilots’.

This discrimination drive (sorry, diversity drive) started in late 2020, the year of Black Lives Matter, when basically every Western institution was overrun by racial hysteria. From then until early 2021, RAF top brass reportedly piled huge pressure on recruiters to ‘lift the ratio of recruits to 20 per cent ethnic minorities and 40 per cent females by 2030’. When all this began to be uncovered, following backlash and incredulity among lower ranks, the RAF issued a series of non-denial denials. RAF chief Mike Wigston told MPs earlier this year that no discrimination had taken place and insisted ‘there was no compromise of entry standards’. But this now seems to have been contradicted by the latest Sky News report. A Sky source also alleges that efforts were made to offer women and ethnic minorities places prior to taking a fitness test, allowing them a clear advantage over their white male counterparts.

The charge the RAF has to answer is two-fold. First, did it discriminate against white men in a way that is unlawful under the Equality Act? Here, some rather heroic hair-splitting comes into play. In Britain, you see, you cannot practise positive discrimination – ie, hiring or promoting people on the basis of race and sex and boosting representation alone – but you can practise ‘positive action’, which to a large extent is a distinction in search of a difference. Employers can have ethnic- or sex-based targets, but not quotas. And while they can choose one candidate over another on the basis of race or sex if the two are equally qualified, they cannot do so if the paler and maler option is better qualified.

The second charge is whether, in pursuit of this racial and sexual beancounting, the RAF compromised on merit, which is rather important when you’re recruiting people to fly jets and fire on enemy positions. Of course, no one is suggesting that women and ethnic minorities are inherently less qualified than white men to serve in the military, but the fact of them being women or ethnic minorities surely cannot bypass the required levels of competence, physical condition and skill. This is particularly important in the armed forces, but also across the workforce. If nothing else, woke hiring practices burnish the patronising notion that women and minorities need help in order to succeed. Meanwhile, they racialise, divide and all but encourage tensions between groups of people who should, first and foremost, be colleagues, comrades or workmates.

Racial thinking has re-conquered British life. Since 2020, almost no institution has proven itself impervious to the influence of a new and divisive identity politics, dolled up in progressive garb. The establishment – even its nominally conservative, corporate and military wings – are so desperate to appear virtuous, so keen to recover some kind of moral authority, that they will happily throw out merit, commonsense and basic decency in pursuit of the glow of ‘diversity’. But, if nothing else, the RAF discrimination scandal reveals that there is nothing progressive about this ideology. Until about five minutes ago, progressivism did not mean discriminating against people on the basis of the colour of their skin or the contents of their underpants. Quite the opposite. The faster we remember that, the faster the spell will be broken.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

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Topics Identity Politics UK


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