Munira Mirza's fierce intellect powered her rise — and strident rejection of Boris Johnson

Prime minister's long-term aide was born to Pakistan immigrant parents and her CV has an uncommon fusion of the far Left and nationalist Conservatism

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Munira Mirza, Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, who has resigned after the PM failed to apologise for using a "scurrilous" Jimmy Savile slur against Sir Keir Starmer. PA.
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Disciples of the iconoclastic British academic Frank Furedi are taught to despise the sin of denialism above all else.

Until Thursday, Mr Furedi’s most prominent protege in public life in the UK was Munira Mirza, head of the Downing Street policy unit. The manner of her departure was, in tone, fully fitting with the output of the professor’s school of writers over the decades.

Her resignation letter contained no florid passages about policy differences, as is typical.

Instead, Mirza opened both barrels on Boris Johnson about his deviation from a known truth, in this instance, his efforts to tag the opposition leader, a former state prosecutor, with official failures to stop the crimes of the child-abusing BBC presenter Jimmy Savile.

Ms Mirza studied under Mr Furedi, a founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party, for a doctorate in sociology. While at Oxford, she contributed to its magazine Living Marxism.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Munira Mirza in London. Ms Mirza quit after Mr Johnson made a widely debunked claim as he attacked the opposition leader. AFP

Since then, she has worked with Mr Johnson as a close aide off and on for 13 years, resulting in a CV with an uncommon fusion of the far Left and nationalist Conservatism. It should be noted that when he was editor of The Spectator, Mr Furedi’s contrarian views were regularly featured in Mr Johnson’s editions.

Ms Mirza was nothing if not strident in letter, which read like a missive on Spiked Online — another pillar of the controversialist collective.

“I believe it was wrong for you to imply this week that Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Jimmy Savile to escape justice,” she said.

“There was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion. This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse.

“You tried to clarify your position today but, despite my urging, you did not apologise for the misleading impression you gave.

“You are a better man than many of your detractors will ever understand, which is why it is so desperately sad that you let yourself down by making a scurrilous accusation against the leader of the opposition.”

The back story of Ms Mirza has nothing that points to her important role in modern Conservatism. She is the youngest daughter of Pakistani immigrants, her father a factory worker and her mother a homemaker and Urdu teacher.

Ms Mirza grew up in Oldham and attended state schools before winning a place at Mansfield College, Oxford.

While Ms Mizra’s role has been to act as Mr Johnson’s policy brain, there has been criticism that the government has failed to produce a pipeline of Conservative ideas. Right-wing MPs welcomed her demise on Thursday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons with Andrew Griffith, Munira Mirza's replacement, seated directly behind him, on Wednesday in London. PA

Married to Doug Smith, who has been a Downing St adviser since the days of David Cameron, Ms Mirza had every opportunity to put her stamp on Britain when the party won an 80-seat majority in late 2019. It has since been sideswiped by the coronavirus pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis.

Nikki da Costa, a former No 10 colleague, suggests that Ms Mirza had been marginalised over the past 12 months.

The policy unit moved out of the heart of the Downing St buildings into the Cabinet office. She blamed the new role of departing chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, who also quit on Thursday.

“There has been a culture in which if you aren’t somebody who says yes and falls into line, then you quickly find yourself marginalised, and if you deliver bad news then you feel marginalised,” Ms da Costa said.

Speculation on Friday surrounded the networks close to Ms Mirza that cluster around Mr Johnson’s increasingly rivalrous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.

Ms Mirza is reportedly a friend of The Spectator’s James Forsyth, who broke the story of her quitting. Mr Forsyth is married to Mr Johnson’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton, who resigned at the beginning of the “Partygate” saga.

Before moving to the prime minister’s team, Ms Stratton had been director of strategic communications for Mr Sunak. Mr Forsyth and the chancellor have been friends since attending the public school, Winchester College, and are godparents to each other’s children.

Lord Ashcroft, who wrote a biography of the chancellor, previously said Mr Forsyth helped Mr Sunak to enter politics by introducing him to Ms Mirza’s husband, Mr Smith.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Sunak described Ms Mirza as a “valued colleague” who he would miss at the heart of government. He then added a clear dig at the prime minister.

“Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it and I am glad that the prime minister clarified what he meant,” he said.

Updated: February 04, 2022, 2:44 PM

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