Put race equality back on the political agenda

Discrimination Equality

In December 2015 I was approached by Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Green, then the shadow minister for women and equalities, to chair a review with an advisory group made up of academics, policy experts, elected representatives and grass roots organisations to make recommendation on a future race equality strategy. On the eve of the anniversary of the 1965 race Relation Act, Jeremy Corbyn stated: “Fifty years ago today (December 8) the Labour government of Harold Wilson introduced the first Race Relations Act – outlawing discrimination based on ethnicity. Labour has a strong track record. As recently as 2010 we passed the Equality Act.”

Two events in December 2015 and February 2016 started the 18 month process of collecting evidence and having dialogue with a range of stakeholders inside and outside the party.  The race equality advisory group was established in February 2016 to lead a consultation and make recommendations to Jeremy and the shadow team on key issues for Labour to consideration around policy development. In addition, as part of the review of the party’s governance structures, Shabana Mahmood and Kate Osamor were also conducting a review around BAME representation for the national executive committee.

However, the shadow cabinet resignations and the leadership race had a major impact on the review. Also the party focus was around the issue of anti-Semitism, which led to the Shami Chakrabarti report. The timescale for the review has been scaled down further especially if there is an early election as a result of the fallout of Brexit.

There is now a greater degree of urgency to respond to this consultation. The feedback will help shape Diverse Communities Manifesto which is being led by Dawn Butler, shadow minster for diverse communities. We are looking for written submissions by January with plans to prepare a report early in the new year.

The timing of this review is important as race is now slowly back on the political agenda as a result of the reports in August 2016 by UN Committee on race (CERD) which, every five years, reviews Britain’s record on race equality. There has also been a rise in hate crime since Brexit, rather depressingly.  In response to these reports Theresa May is now conducting a government wide public audit on race equality. Elsewhere David Lammy is continuing his review of the criminal justice system and impact of BAME communities.

It is clear that structural racism and social mobility are major issues in Britain which the coalition and the Conservative government not only failed to address but, in many ways, exacerbated with an austerity programme and failure to implement the Equality Act 2010. Too often the government and the media have spent excessive time debating migration of Eastern Europeans from the EU and the experiences of refugees caught in war and conflict. By doing this, we miss the real debate about the increasing wealth, income and power of exclusivity and privilege  taking us back to Victorian Britain. Today working class, women, disabled, LGBTI and BAME communities are further disfranchised and marginalised economically and socially.

As a result of the EU referendum there has been a fivefold increase in hate crime and uncertainty for millions of people from migrant and BAME backgrounds about their future status in this country. Global campaigns and the domestic launch of Black Lives Matter highlight racism faced by Black British people who are racially profiled and on occasion have died in police custody or a secure environment. The Prevent strategy, which aimed to tackle fundamentalism with the Muslim community, actually increased Islamophobia. We have now reached a crossroads in Britain where there is growing racial, social and class divide. We must call in to question how tolerant are we society in 2016.

Despite individual BAME achievement and success in politics, medicine, science, public services, media, sports, the arts and business, these communities still face discrimination. It has led to a growing gap between survival and aspiration which risks holding back third and fourth generation young BAME people despite their qualifications and abilities.

In many ways it feels we are going backwards as a society to the time just after the second world war with the arrival of the SS Windrush ship in June 1948 where the colour bar and infamous slogan used many landlords, and indirectly by employers, was “No blacks, No Irish and No dogs”. It was a fact of life regardless of the fact many of the migrants from former colonies now part of the Commonwealth served in the war and their parents made a similar contribution between 1914 and 1918.

Sixty years on and, despite race equality legislation which successive Labour government introduced, structural and interpersonal racism is getting worse, much like inequality. The Olympics in London was one of the most successful games built around the vision of diversity and inclusion but it feels like a dream and illusion after the toxic campaign during the EU referendum.

That is why Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary and shadow minister for women and equalities, and I launched a race equality consultation in August 2016 around the time of the EHRC and United Nations CERD.

Jeremy Corbyn also has recently reaffirmed his commitment in placing race equality as part of his future vision for Britain at a recent Black History Month reception.

We are still seeking the following responses to the key questions below as part of the consultation:

  • What would you identify as the key issues and themes around race equality that need to be addressed over the next five to ten years?
  • What are the top three policy measures/actions you would like to see to promote race equality?
  • What is the best way to ensure race equality is given full consideration in the policy and manifesto development process of the Labour Party?
  • What action should be taken to help eliminate race discrimination in Britain?
  • What action should be taken to protect race equality legislation now that the UK has decided to leave the European Union?

See the consultation document here and submit your response to  raceequality2020@gmail.com by 13 January 2017.

Finally, although we have the best race equality legalisation and practice in Europe, there is still a lot of work to done to tackle structural issues affecting BAME communities in relation to health and social care, housing, education, stop and search, business, employment, the arts, and civic and public life.

It important to acknowledge the achievements and aspirations of our multicultural and faith society in working towards a fair and just Britain for all – that is why Brexit negotiations and parliament must accept this.

First published by LabourList