Munira Mirza is the head of the No 10 policy unit. Photograph: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
When Boris Johnson was asked by Grazia magazine earlier this year which five women had most inspired him, one of those he cited – alongside Boudicca, Malala Yousafzai, Kate Bush and his own grandmother – was Munira Mirza.
While she doesn’t have the public profile of the iconoclastic Dominic Cummings, Mirza is an integral part of Johnson’s Downing Street operation, as head of the No 10 policy unit.
He said she was “capable of being hip, cool, groovy and generally on trend” – but also that she was a “powerful nonsense detector” who would help him deliver on his agenda in government.
One of the things she regards as nonsense – judging by her output as a commentator over the years – is the claim that the challenges faced by black and minority ethnic people in the UK result from structural racism.
In 2018, she accused the then universities minister, Sam Gyimah, of “a cynical game of hot potato” after he criticised Oxbridge for failing to admit more black students rather than investigating the deeper causes of the disparity.
And she repeatedly criticised the Labour MP David Lammy’s report on the justice system, which was commissioned by Theresa May. Framing the issue in terms of institutional racism “only clouds the reality of what is happening and in the end could lead to worse outcomes for ethnic minorities”, Mirza claimed in an article for the contrarian website Spiked.
Refusal to bow to received wisdom is a quality highly prized by the prime minister. Johnson worked with Mirza, a former academic and thinktanker, at City Hall throughout his eight-year tenure as mayor of London. She began as an adviser on the arts and became his deputy mayor for education and culture.
As the prime minister’s biographer Andrew Gimson wrote in a profile of her on the Conservative Home website last month, “one of the many reasons some commentators find Johnson incomprehensible is that he resists ideological definition”.