Esther McVey announces civil service rainbow lanyard ban in new Tory culture war

Rishi Sunak’s common sense minister Esther McVey has announced a new “war on woke” in the civil service

David Maddox
Political editor
Wednesday 15 May 2024 06:27
Esther McVey announces ban on 'activist lanyards' in the civil service

Esther McVey has announced a ban on rainbow-coloured and other “random” lanyards in the civil service as part of a new series of measures for a Tory “war on woke”.

Rishi Sunak’s common sense minister has indicated a new set of measures related to the so-called “culture wars”, including ending contracts with organisations like Stonewall.

While she did not specifically mention rainbow lanyards, the preferred colourway used by those supporting LGBT+ issues or the NHS has annoyed many Tory MPs and become symbolic of “left-wing bias” in the civil service.

Ms McVey told an audience with the Tory Centre for Policy Studies (CPS): “I want a very simple but visible change to occur to the lanyards we use to carry our security passes [which] shouldn’t be a random pick and mix. They should be a standard design reflecting that we are all members of the government delivering for the citizens of the UK.

“Working in the civil service is all about leaving your political views at the building entrance. Trying to introduce them by the back door via lanyards should not happen. The focus should be on a happy and inclusive working environment and increased productivity.”

In a speech, Ms McVey made it clear that the government is going to war with “backdoor politicisation”.

She told her audience: “Given the crucial role [civil servants] play in delivering the services, we need to stop the inappropriate backdoor politicisation of the civil service which diverts time and resources from that focus on the public.

Esther McVey: ‘I’m not prepared to see pointless job creation schemes for the politically correct’ (PA)

“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.”

In a specific attack on LGBT+ charity Stonewall, which has been providing advice on inclusivity to Whitehall departments, she insisted that “there will be no more contracts for external diversity spending from this as soon as this guidance is made live unless signed off by a government minister”.

The minister added: “That includes any agencies with current contracts, including Stonewall. To make sure that does not inadvertently lead to an increase in internal EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) activity, secretaries of state and permanent secretaries will take responsibility for that. Within the departments, there will be new impartiality guidance to ensure that civil service focuses on delivering for the public.”

Ms McVey also wants to dismantle civil service networks based on religion and other ideologically related activities.

Rishi Sunak is gearing up for the upcoming election (Getty)

She said: “We will also be taking aim at staff networks too. My colleague [paymaster general] John Glen has been clear that managing these networks cannot become a full-time job for civil servants, especially given the fact there has been rapid growth in both the numbers and types of these staff networks.

“Many may have started with good intentions, but some have moved to a place of political and religious activism and such networks have no place in the civil service and will be closed down.

“In March, the deputy prime minister (Oliver Dowden) ordered an immediate suspension of the civil service for Muslim networks after alarms were raised. The individuals involved are subject to a disciplinary investigation.

“Civil servants should not be distracted by issues unrelated to their ultimate role, delivering excellent results for the taxpayer. Networks that were meant to be about inclusivity too often, in fact, brought division and upset into the working environment. There is no place for unprofessional behaviour in the workplace like harassment or bullying.”

The boss of civil servants’ union the PCS, Fran Heathcote, said: “Time and again, evidence shows an equal and diverse workforce is a more productive workforce.

“Esther McVey is playing politics with our members’ livelihoods and well-being. She would be better spending her time, and her department’s money, on improving our members’ pay and working conditions.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in