Conservative Party deletes 'unconscious bias' training course after claims it is 'divisive nonsense'

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The Conservative Party has deleted an online training course on "unconscious bias", which was available for political candidates, after a group of MPs warned that the training amounted to "divisive nonsense", ITV News can reveal. Members of the Common Sense group, including the Chair Sir John Hayes, requested a meeting at the party's HQ after it was reported that MP-hopefuls were being offered lessons that included warning how "white resentment" was a significant problem for ethnic minorities. Ministers had previously branded a similar course for civil servants as "woke" and banned it - but it emerged this week that the training was still available for candidates hoping to become Conservative MPs. The lessons also covered avoiding microaggressions, such as casual references to a colleague's hair or skin colour. The meeting - which was attended by Sir John, his vice chair, Tom Hunt, as well as Craig Mackinlay and James Sunderland - was with Tory chair Nadhim Zahawi- who is under intense pressure over his tax affairs.

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Afterwards, Mr Zahawi, who is remaining in his role while the PM's ethics adviser interrogates what was known about a repayment of tax to HMRC, wrote to the MPs to say the course had now been deleted. "This ‘training’ was provided by a private contractor as an optional extra to our candidates. It was not commissioned or endorsed by the Party and once I found out about it I have ensured it has been removed," he wrote.

"I don’t believe anyone should be ashamed of who they are or their background and this ‘training’ has no place in the Conservative Party." Mr Hunt told ITV News that he and colleagues were worried after reading reports about this course.

“We were pleased that the chairman shared our concerns and the decision has been made to delete the unconscious bias training course with immediate effect. There is no place for such divisive nonsense within our Party." Unconscious bias training is used in a number of workplaces to try to raise awareness of people's own discrimination. But in late 2020 the government said it would phase out such courses for civil servants after criticism including some claiming that it unfairly branded all white people as discriminatory.

In a written ministerial statement, the minister Julia Lopez cited evidence suggesting the training failed to change behaviour or improve workplace equality, and warned of unintended consequences. "Unconscious bias training does not achieve its intended aims. It will therefore be phased out in the civil service," she wrote. "We encourage other public sector employers to do likewise." But at the time some critics argued the decision would worsen diversity, and argued something needed to replace it. Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said then that the government "mustn't backtrack on anti-racism training". She argued that off-the-shelf training wasn't always the most effective option but argued that something was needed.

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