Every parliamentarian should undertake unconscious bias training if asked so they can be better at their jobs, according to a leading anti-racism campaigner who spoke out after it emerged up to 40 Tory MPs are expected to refuse to take part in classes.
Sir Simon Woolley, a crossbench peer who founded Operation Black Vote and formerly chaired the government race disparity unit’s advisory group, said he was “appalled” that any MP would say no to the training being piloted in the Commons.
It comes as some constituents in the seat of one of the Tory MP’s leading the backlash suggested he should undertake the training.
The Times reported on Monday that dozens of Conservative MPs are expected not to participate in the unconscious bias training in a push back against what some characterise as the “woke agenda”.
Among critics was the Tory MP for Mansfield, Ben Bradley, who said he would refuse to do the training and called on fellow MPs to do the same. In a Conservative Home piece, he wrote: “In my view we should be unabashed in our cultural conservatism, sticking up for free speech and the right to ‘make my own bloody mind up, thank you very much’, and stepping in to block this ‘unconscious bias’ nonsense.”
Woolley called on party leaders to make the training mandatory for their MPs, warning that politicians who pushed back on it were demonstrating their “inability to move to the 21st century”. He said: “For all parliamentarians, this is the lowest hanging fruit to understand our own inbuilt prejudices. I am appalled that so many MPs, from whatever party, would refuse to do this training. I expect all politicians to undertake the unconscious bias training, if asked, and hope they would view it as something which should enable them to better do their job.
“Particularly following the Black Lives Matter movement, we need all our parliamentarians to make an honest appraisal about our often inbuilt prejudices. It would help them be better politicians.
“So I’m really astonished why any MP would refuse to do this training. I would expect that party leadership, of any party, would say this training is not an option and thereby showing leadership. That some MPs should push back on this demonstrates their inability to move to the 21st century.”
Some residents in Bradley’s constituency suggested the MP should do the training. “I think it’s a little bit short-sighted, training can’t really hurt can it,” said Sue Burrell, 55, an account manager at a training provider, close to Mansfield’s sand-bricked town hall.
Alisha, a 16-year-old out shopping with her mum in the market town on Monday, said: “If [MPs] educate themselves then they can educate others. Not all racism is overt and I think lots of people in my generation get that. It wasn’t really a thing in Mansfield but I saw lots of people I know joining the protests in Nottingham in the summer.”
Jeff Rowland, a 70-year-old retiree, said he felt anti-racism awareness was particularly pertinent for the MP of a town with a small minority ethnic population. “If at least Mr Bradley does [the training] and gets some idea of how things can be systemic, he could actually take that and use it when people [make generalisations] in meetings with constituents,” he said.
However, self-professed Bradley fan Adrian Shorthouse, 66, said: “It’s his choice if he does the training or not.”
Bradley said he had received “over 150 supportive emails from constituents and zero negative ones”. He added that comments on his Facebook posts, which he claimed were largely constituents, were “overwhelmingly supportive of my stance”.
Referencing Bradley’s criticism of the unconscious bias training, Woolley said: “All my experience of companies and institutions who have engaged with this training is that they have come out the other side saying it was extremely helpful. I would promise him and anyone else that done honestly he’d have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
Responding to Woolley’s comments, Bradley said. “His insistence that it should be made mandatory and I should be forced against my will only serves to further evidence my point about the nature of the training.”
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has pledged to undertake unconscious bias training, which he said would be introduced for all staff. Starmer’s spokesman confirmed Labour MPs will also undertake the training.
The Conservatives did not comment specifically on the unconscious bias training, but a spokesperson said Tory MPs had been urged to do “valuing everyone” training, a separate course for MPs reportedly focusing on harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct and “all cabinet ministers have either completed the training or have made arrangements to do so”.
A Commons spokesman said: “We are committed to creating an inclusive workplace and, following requests from MPs, we have made unconscious bias training available to them on a small pilot basis, with positive feedback received. These are not mandatory, and the pilot is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.”