Munira Mirza (born 1978) is Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, a post to which she was appointed by incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 24 July 2019. She previously worked under Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture when he was Mayor of London.
Early life and education
Mirza's family came to the UK from Pakistan. Her father worked in a factory and her mother was a housewife, did some part-time Urdu teaching and voluntary work and was very active in the community. They prized education above all else.
Mirza was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a small Trotskyist group that dissolved in 1997. She contributed to its magazine, Living Marxism, which was dissolved after losing a libel case to ITN over the Bosnian genocide. The magazine was replaced by the Spiked website, for which she has written articles. Many of Mirza's Revolutionary Communist Party colleagues became influential in Conservative Party Eurosceptic circles after the dissolution of their party, while remaining closely associated with each other's endeavours.
Mirza has said that "I became a bit of a 'museums junkie' in my early twenties. My first job in the arts sector was at the Royal Society of Arts, where I became especially interested in the politics of culture - why we value what we do, how to make the arts more accessible, and why public interest in the arts matters. From there, I started a PhD in Sociology, looking particularly at the politics of culture." She has said "I take Culture in its very broad sense, not just in the tradition of fine arts but, the creative and cultural industries: film, photography, design, architecture. In all these areas, London excels." She worked briefly at the Tate Museum.
Mirza worked as Development Director for the conservative think-tank Policy Exchange. While she was there she edited a collection of essays, Culture Vultures: Is UK Arts Policy Damaging the Arts?, which challenged the government's efforts to promote socially inclusive arts. and wrote Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism.
From 2008-2016 Mirza worked for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, initially as Cultural Adviser, and Director of Arts, Culture and the Creative Industries. From 2012 she was one of six Deputy Mayors, being Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture. She advised the Mayor on priorities for culture and education and led the delivery of key programmes, including £40m Education and Youth investment in London. In 2014 Mirza said that she was not a Conservative.
Her book The Politics of Culture: The Case for Universalism was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012. In it she argued that consensus about the value of cultural diversity had bred ambivalence.
In 2016 Mirza was a vocal advocate of Brexit, a stance which, in cultural circles, she later described as "the new being gay". She emphasised the democratic referendum result.
Mirza is a member of Arts Council England, London Area Council; the Royal College of Music Council; and the board of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Mirza has a record of advocating for public investment in the arts, but has also warned that organisations will need to become "more entrepreneurial and look for ways to stretch their resources", including through corporate sponsorship.
Mirza has argued that "it seems that a lot of people in politics think it's a good idea to exaggerate the problem of racism", that Theresa May's proposed racial disparities audit for public services set the scene for "another bout of political self-flagellation regarding the subject of race in Britain", and that "accusations of institutional racism -- and their official endorsement -- have corroded BAME communities' trust in public services, thereby making things worse." On Johnson's comment likening women in burqas to letterboxes, she said "There are many people in this country who are uncomfortable about the burqa. When people argue we should use more sensitive language what they are really saying is let's not be critical at all, let's not offend, let's not criticise this practice because it upsets Muslims."
Mirza is married to Dougie Smith, who was a former No. 10 colleague and speechwriter for David Cameron. She had a son in 2013.