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Minister for common sense is lacking common sense

So-called minister for common sense says she wants to ban wearing of rainbow lanyards among other measures

Esther McVey, the “minister for common sense”, has said she will crack down on diversity initiatives in the civil service, including banning the wearing of rainbow lanyards.

McVey, who was appointed to Rishi Sunak’s cabinet as a minister without portfolio, said civil servants should be leaving their political views “at the building entrance” and that there should not be a “random pick and mix” of causes on security lanyards.

“They should be a standard design reflecting that we are all members of the government delivering for the citizens of the UK,” she said in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies. “We need to stop the inappropriate back-door politicisation of the civil service, which diverts time and resources from that focus on the public.

“We have too often seen them distracted by fashionable hobbyhorses. Especially when it comes to issues like equality and diversity. People want the public servants to be getting on with the job of making their lives better, not engaging in endless internal discussions about ideology, and I’m not prepared to see pointless job creation schemes for the politically correct.”

McVey said the government would no longer offer contracts for external diversity spending unless they were signed off by a government minister, including those with current contracts, such as Stonewall.

The minister said she aimed to abolish civil service networks for staff, such as those for Muslim staff or LGBTQ+ civil servants. The Civil Service Muslim Network has been suspended after reports that speakers at its events had encouraged officials to lobby ministers over the Gaza conflict.

“Managing these networks cannot become a full-time job,” she said. “Many may have started with good intentions, but some have moved to a place of political and religious activism … Civil servants should not be distracted by issues unrelated to their ultimate role.”

McVey said the changes were aimed at delivering value for the taxpayer. Last year the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, launched a review of spending on EDI initiatives, which is being examined by the Cabinet Office.

She said: “At the heart of these changes are value for money for the taxpayer and better customer service for the public.”

Any equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) roles would be moved into human resources and focused exclusively on statutory requirements, she said, adding that there were the equivalent of about 400 full-time employees working on EDI across the civil service.

In her speech, McVey praised Sunak for changing the government’s approach on a variety of culture war issues, including trans rights, immigration, the climate crisis and welfare.

The shadow Cabinet Office minister, Pat McFadden, said: “With over seven million people on NHS waiting lists and homeowners still paying the price for the Tories crashing the economy, no amount of blaming civil servants for the Tories’ lack of delivery will wash. They should focus on the day job, rather than looking for other people to blame.”

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