Cameron must address reparations in Jamaica today

david-cameron-UN-speechDavid Cameron is due to arrive in Jamaica today for a three-day visit amid pressure from JA’s politicians and academics to address the issue of reparations for enslavement.

As The Guardian reports today, Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the CARICOM reparations commission, has pointed out that the British prime minister is himself a beneficiary of the brutality of the plantations that enriched the enslavers.

With Cameron due to address Kingston’s House of Representatives and Senate one MP, Mike Henry, is calling for Jamaica’s politicians to turn their backs on him if he fails to move on the issue.

Meanwhile reports suggest that Britain is so far unwilling to move on reparations. Potentially it could be an explosive visit.

Gone are the days when representatives of the Mother Country were afforded deference. After a year of CARICOM discussions about launching a legal action against Britain and European countries, JA is in no mood to brush history under the carpet.

The last year, which culminated in the temporary abandonment of legal action in favour of a reparations commission to more accurately quantify the damage caused by chattel slavery, colonialism, failure to leave a social infrastructure upon independence and the consequences of economic debt enslavement, Jamaica has engaged in an unprecedented level of public debate around these issues.

This heightened degree of public reflection and awareness of the various impacts of British involvement with Jamaica means that Cameron is in no position to write enslavement off as past history. 

The choices before him are to either directly address the demands for repair or say nothing at all. And saying nothing will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the whole Caribbean and plunging diplomatic relations with the whole CARICOM region into deep freeze.

I was tweeting a week ago that if Cameron was planning to fudge or avoid entirely the reparations debate he shouldn’t be going to Jamaica at all.

The BBC documentary series ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners’, screened last month, illustrated the extent to which Britain grew rich off the backs of the blood, sweat, tears and forced labour of the descendants of Africans kidnapped from their homes.

We are entering an era in which demands for compensation are being underpinned by new research into the extent of that enrichment and new efforts to quantify what this means in terms of repair, whether that be financial compensation, creating fairer terms of world trade, and/or other measures to level the playing field.

The longer Britain and other former slave trading nations delay, the more detailed the analysis will be, and the higher the notional value of compensation will be. Factors such as the compensation slave owners got on emancipation, inflation and interest, the ‘cost’ of emotional and generational damage, and the economic impact of racism, can all be added to the equation that at present is based on simpler calculus.

Far from fading into history, the more work that is done on the issue the bigger the demands will grow, not just in financial terms but also in the demands of the ancestors of stolen Africans.

When Mike Henry launched his Private Members Bill last April, he told the Jamaican parliament:

“The claims against the slave traders are far more heinous, as any act against humanity carried out by anyone else and the horror and the atrocities are known.

“I am not asking for the death penalty. I am asking for reparation to the country in cold, hard cash and debt relief.

“Our ancestors cry from their graves for justice, and we could readily deny that our own recent upsurge in blood-letting may not be the cry from the grave.”

From the historical disadvantage and ingrained societal racism against those of African ancestry to the generational ill-health and disfunctionality we see manifested today from the disproportionate criminalisation of black people and the underachievement and youths killing their brethren, the modern day consequences of enslavement are undeniable. Just as the comparative advantage of the nations that perpetrated the horrors are clear for all to see.

There is only one conclusion they can come to: that the legacy of enslavement is clearly evident in white advantage and black disadvantage today, and that addressing this requires more than words. It requires action, whether affirmative, trade-based or cash compensation-based – or a combination of all three.

Today Cameron should do the right thing and commit the British government and parliament to fully consider the recommendations of the reparations commission alongside a full and unreserved apology for the horrors committed by Britain which the country, its’ financial institutions and families such as his own, continue to benefit from.

By Lester Holloway

 

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Cameron must address reparations in Jamaica today

david-cameron-UN-speechDavid Cameron is due to arrive in Jamaica today for a three-day visit amid pressure from JA’s politicians and academics to address the issue of reparations for enslavement.

As The Guardian reports today, Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the CARICOM reparations commission, has pointed out that the British prime minister is himself a beneficiary of the brutality of the plantations that enriched the enslavers.

With Cameron due to address Kingston’s House of Representatives and Senate one MP, Mike Henry, is calling for Jamaica’s politicians to turn their backs on him if he fails to move on the issue.

Meanwhile reports suggest that Britain is so far unwilling to move on reparations. Potentially it could be an explosive visit.

Gone are the days when representatives of the Mother Country were afforded deference. After a year of CARICOM discussions about launching a legal action against Britain and European countries, JA is in no mood to brush history under the carpet.

The last year, which culminated in the temporary abandonment of legal action in favour of a reparations commission to more accurately quantify the damage caused by chattel slavery, colonialism, failure to leave a social infrastructure upon independence and the consequences of economic debt enslavement, Jamaica has engaged in an unprecedented level of public debate around these issues.

This heightened degree of public reflection and awareness of the various impacts of British involvement with Jamaica means that Cameron is in no position to write enslavement off as past history. 

The choices before him are to either directly address the demands for repair or say nothing at all. And saying nothing will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the whole Caribbean and plunging diplomatic relations with the whole CARICOM region into deep freeze.

I was tweeting a week ago that if Cameron was planning to fudge or avoid entirely the reparations debate he shouldn’t be going to Jamaica at all.

The BBC documentary series ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners’, screened last month, illustrated the extent to which Britain grew rich off the backs of the blood, sweat, tears and forced labour of the descendants of Africans kidnapped from their homes.

We are entering an era in which demands for compensation are being underpinned by new research into the extent of that enrichment and new efforts to quantify what this means in terms of repair, whether that be financial compensation, creating fairer terms of world trade, and/or other measures to level the playing field.

The longer Britain and other former slave trading nations delay, the more detailed the analysis will be, and the higher the notional value of compensation will be. Factors such as the compensation slave owners got on emancipation, inflation and interest, the ‘cost’ of emotional and generational damage, and the economic impact of racism, can all be added to the equation that at present is based on simpler calculus.

Far from fading into history, the more work that is done on the issue the bigger the demands will grow, not just in financial terms but also in the demands of the ancestors of stolen Africans.

When Mike Henry launched his Private Members Bill last April, he told the Jamaican parliament:

“The claims against the slave traders are far more heinous, as any act against humanity carried out by anyone else and the horror and the atrocities are known.

“I am not asking for the death penalty. I am asking for reparation to the country in cold, hard cash and debt relief.

“Our ancestors cry from their graves for justice, and we could readily deny that our own recent upsurge in blood-letting may not be the cry from the grave.”

From the historical disadvantage and ingrained societal racism against those of African ancestry to the generational ill-health and disfunctionality we see manifested today from the disproportionate criminalisation of black people and the underachievement and youths killing their brethren, the modern day consequences of enslavement are undeniable. Just as the comparative advantage of the nations that perpetrated the horrors are clear for all to see.

There is only one conclusion they can come to: that the legacy of enslavement is clearly evident in white advantage and black disadvantage today, and that addressing this requires more than words. It requires action, whether affirmative, trade-based or cash compensation-based – or a combination of all three.

Today Cameron should do the right thing and commit the British government and parliament to fully consider the recommendations of the reparations commission alongside a full and unreserved apology for the horrors committed by Britain which the country, its’ financial institutions and families such as his own, continue to benefit from.

By Lester Holloway

 

Banning hate preachers is not the answer

JS42796244Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats are right to oppose Conservative moves to ban ‘hate preachers’ from Britain’s universities. Of course genuine hate preachers are distasteful, but all the evidence shows that the UK’s social commentators, media, politicians and many elements within universities are singularly unable to differentiate between ‘hate preachers’ and moderate Muslim clerics.

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The hounding of Miranda Grell

mirandagrell“So what’s Miranda Grell, formerly convicted of homophobic smears on her Liberal Democrat opponent, up to these days?” That was the headline of an article by the main Lib Dem grassroots website Lib Dem Voice earlier this week.

The conviction was nine years ago. Yes, a full nine years ago.

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Political media class do not understand the Greens

bennett-v2Evidently yesterday was a disaster for the Green Party. Their leader Natalie Bennett’s ‘excruciating’ car crash interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC radio was followed later in the day by an equally embarrassing farce of a press conference to launch their general election campaign.

The Green’s opponents are no doubt doubling over. I must admit to a giggle myself, yet when the dust settles on the whole debacle probably says more about the elitism of political journalism than it says about the Greens.

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Colour me black

coloured-bannerThis article was first published on Voice4Change England (3rd February 2015)

Coloured, half-caste, half-breed, mulatto and mongrel. These and many other insulting labels have been stapled to people like me, a black man of mixed African and English heritage.

“Does it matter if [the actor Benedict] Cumberbatch used the wrong word?” asked Ben Andrew in an article on this site. Well, it does if you have been on the receiving end.

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An unholy alliance: Syriza and the far right anti-immigration party

Alexis_syrizaThis article was first published on Media Diversified (27th January 2015)

A characteristic of Greek tragedies is that someone who has risen to a great height fails to understand why they are falling from grace. And a typical reason why many fall from grace is down to the company they keep.

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Humanity has failed over Boko Haram’s slaughter of 2,000 civilians #blacklivesmatter

killingsAlmost a week on and *still* hardly any UK, or indeed Western, media are seriously covering the unbelievable massacre in Baga, northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram are said to have slaughtered up to 2,000 innocent civilians. 

Despite the absence of journalists, photos far more graphic than the one republished here, are slowly making their way out. They are truly horrific and stomach-turning. No one with an ounce of humanity can fail to be moved, appalled, sickened and angered by the unimaginable carnage that has befallen the peoples of the same region which lost 273 of their young girls almost a year ago.

Social media is awash with members of the public demanding more coverage of this atrocity, yet the UK media is collectively unmoved. Most, but not all, of those tweeting and facebooking about this event are black, just as was the case all those months ago when it took several weeks of electronic outrage, with the #bringbackourgirls hashtag before journalists decided to get their act together. That’s not to suggest white folk don’t care; many do. It’s just that in the absence of mainstream news coverage about a massive story in Africa, it is those of African descent that lead the charge before the rest of society follow.

It defies belief that anyone can ignore 2,000 people being massacred anywhere in the world, just like it seemed scarcely believable that almost 300 young girls being abducted wouldn’t make the news. But it’s true, the most sensational and outrageous crimes can indeed be completely ignored in Britain, even in the age of social media where thousands of British people tweet about it.

At least when the Chibok abductions occurred, western media could excuse at least the first couple of days on grounds there wasn’t much happening in Nigeria at the time so they needed time to get over there. In the event it took them about three weeks. This time around, as many hundreds if not thousands met a brutal end in Baga, there is no excuse whatsoever for not having a media spotlight on Nigeria. It’s in the middle of an election campaign, to decide its’ president and state governors. 

This crucial election, in the world’s seventh most populous nation and the biggest in Africa, has huge implications for geo-politics across west Africa and indeed the whole continent. It takes place against a background of the fight against terrorism (over 7,000 killed by Boko Haram in the last year alone), surging economic growth and plummeting oil prices that could undermine it all. Quite simply it has all the ingredients for a many a good ‘hook’ for western media.

Yet even before Baga, the Nigerian election hardly registered on the UK media agenda. Not even a large Nigerian population in Britain persuaded journalists to pay any attention. I was tweeting about this incredible lack of interest in such a vital election a week or so before the massacre. The country should have been awash with journalists before Baga.

This lack of interest reinforces the perception that, to elements in the west, black lives don’t really matter. That Africa, despite its’ growing economic strength, doesn’t matter. Even on the day when there was enough information to run a TV news story, the BBC went with the Bafta awards and high winds in Scotland over covering the loss of 2,000 black lives. It reinforces how out of touch much of our media is with Africa, due in no small part to lack of diversity in its’ ranks.

With president Goodluck Jonathan and rival Muhammadu Buhari both ignoring the atrocity at Baga, it almost feels like an international conspiracy to keep this genocide from public attention. The numbers of dead may be mind-boggling but numbers fade. It’s the stories of real experience that will give it the attention it deserves; the human story of fear, bravery, the desire to survive, and vivid descriptions of the evil that seeks to extinguish that hope. It is a human story, and it needs journalists to tell it. To give those nameless victims lying in the street meaning. We need humanity, names and actions – and the pen can bring that to the world. That is why journalism is so important, and why it has failed so spectacularly in this case.

It is so ironic that mourners in Paris are holding up pens as a symbol of the freedom of speech they profess to cherish while that pen has yet to make contact with paper over such a massive loss of life. We are all seriously diminished by ignoring a catastrophe as occurred just a few short days ago in the north-eastern tip of Nigeria. All the emotion and analysis of the Paris attacks ring hollow and are wrapped by hypocrisy. Humanity, that which makes us human, seems to have undergone a bypass as departed as 2,000 victims decay. It has got me questioning whether western society has been so indifferent to a single act of mass slaughter since ordinary Germans pretended the Holocaust wasn’t really happening. 

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Have Labour lost two thirds of Indian voters?

Cameron-Indians-BlogPix-finThe Daily Telegraph tried its’ best to spoil Ed Miliband’s festive day with the Christmas Eve headline: “Labour’s crucial ethnic minority vote set to collapse.”  

This was based on British Election Study figures showing ‘identification’ with political parties by ethnicity. It came up with the astonishing finding that Labour support within the Indian community had plummeted an astonishing two-thirds in just four short years.

That would be account for completely unprecedented slump in support for any political party from any sizable section of the electorate. Indians are the largest non-white ethnic group in Britain, so if these findings are true – and I don’t believe them to be completely accurate as I explain below – it would suggest that this community alone could cost Labour dozens of seats.

There is no doubt the Telegraph report is attention grabbing. The trouble is the sheer size of the drop make the figures truly unbelievable and calls into question the validity of the whole report. Yes there has been a steady shift by BAME communities away from Labour over past elections, but the smart money was on Labour arresting this decline in 2015 or even, temporarily at least, bucking the trend as a result of BAME communities disproportionately baring the greatest burden of austerity cuts.

It is true that Indians, traditionally the most Conservative supporting of all BAME communities, have been relatively insulated from the effects of the recession and austerity cuts. This is due to a combination of greater self-employment rates and more employment in the private sector, which has been growing in the gradual recovery while the public sector continues to shrink.

A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the effects of the recession found that in employment Indians are only just behind white workers, and Labour Force data I discovered earlier this year indicates that Indians came out of the recession relatively unscathed while some other ethnic minorities, particularly Africans and Caribbeans, suffered.

However the recession was biting before 2010 when, according to research by the Runnymede Trust research 61% of Indians voted Labour against 24% for the Conservatives. It is difficult to believe that the economic recovery under the coalition would lead to a dramatic two-thirds fall in Labour support.

And aside from Labour’s generally dismal performance and image over the past few years Labour has not insulted or upset the Indian community specifically. There have been no Labour figures who made any racist comments about them or their faiths. There were no major defections, and community media like the Eastern Eye newspaper (which I used to work for) remain generally supportive of Labour. Sunrise Radio (another former employer of myself) has long leaned to the Right but has very little political content and has not changed its’ tune, literally and metaphorically, in recent times. Quite simply nothing to explain the British Election Study (BES) predictions of Armageddon for Labour.

A small fall in Labour support would be expected, in line with the trend over past elections, but nothing to indicate such a seismic shift. The Conservatives have certainly been attempting to woo the Indian community, and David Cameron and George Osborne have been visiting temples and Gurdwara’s in the UK and in India while promoting trade links with India. But this must surely be counteracted to an extent by Tory efforts to restrict student visa from India and elsewhere, and continuing clampdowns on visas generally as well as extra scrutiny on marriages. Labour have been far more sympathetic in all these areas.

The sketchy nature of ethnicity voting studies make them unreliable and that casts doubt on the BES findings that Indian support for Labour has crashed in four years. In particular, failure to take into account the geographical variations in Indian political allegiance and socio-economic factors can seriously distort results out of all proportion.

The Runnymede Trust reported higher Indian support for the Tories in 2010 (24%) with the most Tory votes coming from East Africans (Uganda and Kenya) and Hindus, while Sikhs remained more stubbornly within Labour’s camp. However when you consider that the majority of East African Asians in Leicester vote Labour, it leads to more doubt over the way the BES study was conducted.

Some Hindu communities have been significantly Conservative-leaning for a very long time, which explains why Harrow in north London keeps returning Tory MPs in seats that are in the top third for a non-white population.

Indians are the largest ethnic minority in 175 constituencies in England and Wales but many of these are seats have a low overall BAME population. A more realistic measurement is that they are the largest ethnic minority in 34 of the 168 marginal seats where the BAME population is larger than the majority of the sitting MP, which I identified in the Operation Black Vote ‘Power of the Black Vote’ report. In short, Indians are the most powerful ethnic minority in general elections. As a community they also make both Labour and Conservative ‘safe seats’ safe by lending support to the incumbent.

Indians are also among the most likely to vote, with 74% voting in 2010 compared to a national average of 65%. The 74% needs to be measured against the slightly lower voter registration rate of BAME communities, but even taking this into account it is almost certain that Indian voters are more likely to vote than white voters.

There is also a regional pattern to seats with large Indian populations who play a very significant role in elections; with Labour relying on their support in seats like Blackburn, Bolton, Coventry and more ‘inner city’ areas like Brent and Ealing, while the Conservatives appear to benefit more from Indian votes in places like Chipping Barnet and Harrow. What this appears to suggest is that it is difficult to make overall judgments about Indian voting patterns, and that the differences may be down to socio-economic status.

If it is the case that economically successful Indian families living in prosperous leafy suburbs are more Conservative and that Indians in poorer neighbourhoods and in the north-west and midlands support Labour, factoring socio-economic status into ethnicity voting studies may hold the key to unraveling the true picture.

It also begs the question of how samples for such studies are collected in the first place. Surveying by ethnicity is problematic because it often requires making value judgments about which areas to survey. Picking Harrow over neighbouring Brent, say, could throw up completely different results. Which is why all such studies need to be taken with a pinch of salt until geographic and socio-economic data are overlaid. And that means more detailed and time-consuming studies which require more money to complete.

In addition, the Telegraph article should have come with a health warning in that affinity with political parties does not equate precisely with either voting intentions or actual votes cast. But it is not without use. Identification is still a useful guide to how strong political allegiances are, and therefore which sections of the voting public are more susceptible to changing their allegiance.

Lord Ashcroft’s Degrees of Separation report found that 55% of Black (African and Caribbean) voters declared their identification with Labour – against 4% for the Conservatives and 2% for the Lib Dems. But the Runnymede Trust found that the actual percentage of Africans who voted Labour in 2010 was 87% and Caribbean’s 78%.

9% of Caribbean’s voted Conservative and 12% voted Lib Dem, while Africans voted 6% for both parties. If these studies reflect reality in shows that there is a significant gap between identification with parties and actual votes. There are many issues that give rise to this but surely the biggest has to be tactical voting according to which parties stand a chance of winning. Black Labour sympathisers in particular may have voted Lib Dem to register an anti-Tory vote. But given the complex nature of Britain’s 650 seats it is impossible to say with any certainty how these factors play out on Election Day.

Yet whatever the inaccuracies of the BES / Telegraph story, it should still give Labour serious pause for thought. Labour have run a more ‘traditional’ pitch to all BAME communities, through its’ race equality consultation and subsequent speech by Sadiq Khan promising that Labour will put race equality “at the heart” of decision-making. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/sadiq-khan-declares-war-race-inequality There is a lot to commend this strategy, but it has its’ roots in an anti-racist approach of seeking to unite all non-white communities under the banner of tackling common barriers. Conservatives, meanwhile, have been conducting a more sophisticated and under-the-radar strategy that appeals to individual communities rather than BAME’s as a collective.

Labour have yet to truly combine individual targeting with broad-brush anti-racism, and Ed Miliband has left most of the heavy lifting to Khan and other front benchers rather than leading from the front, as Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson have done. If there has been a dip in Indian support one would expect that the BAME Labour group, supposedly the eyes and ears of Labour in non-white communities, an early warning system that would pick this up and devise a plan to address it. Yet the impression is of a group talking to each other and with Labour politicians rather rolling up its’ sleeves and doing serious grassroots activity. 

However unreliable the BES figures might be Labour are not in a position to take chances or cross their fingers and hope everything will be alright on the night. The power of the ‘black vote’, and in particular the Indian vote, will need to be shored up if they are to take power in just over four months’ time. They need to not just reinforce and promote anti-racist policies but replicate the Tories’ more covert targeting of individual communities while likewise valuing Indian trade. Both BAME Labour and Miliband need to get out more and show just how much they want the Indian vote. The clock is ticking and the maths show they simply cannot afford to lose seats because Indians have abandoned them.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Greens must not repeat Lib Dem mistakes on race

GreenPartyBlogPix-finalOpinion polls currently have the Greens roughly neck-and-neck with the Lib Dems, between five and nine per cent, suggesting Natalie Bennett’s party could be set for a bumper general election result in just over four months’ time, in terms of their overall popular vote anyway.

Viewed in context, popular support for the Greens today is less than half the level that they enjoyed in the 1989 European elections (15%) however there are crucial differences that will give them hope that at the coming general election they may enjoy their best result yet.

The Greens are a different proposition compared to 25 years ago. Less reliant on environmental issues they trade more as ‘real Labour’, a radical Left alternative not afraid to challenge the Lib-Lab-Con triopoly who are all squeezing into a similar space on the Right of the spectrum on immigration and austerity cuts.

Large swathes of the public can see that many of the issues we face are international in nature, from the economy to immigration to the environment, so ‘borderless’ internationalism may be of its’ time. A welcome antidote to sovereign flag-waving and Daily Mail populism.

The closest of the ‘big three’ to this brand of thinking are Nick Clegg’s party, but even they know they’ll be remembered more for propping up State-shrinking neo-Thatcherites for the last five years rather than their worthy-but-moderate achievements in government or their more progressive policy positions.

On past form over the past three decades the Greens should misplace their European voters as they head into a UK general election. However this time the Greens, who picked up 8% in the Euros earlier this year, show no signs of following historical boom-bust traditions and have solidly consolidated their vote, meaning they are on course to easily beat their personal best in a general election, 3% in 2005.

Running parallel to this resilience in the polls is another development new to the Greens but perhaps equally as significant. For the first time in their history they are attracting notable support from Britain’s black and Asian communities.

In some ways this could be a repetition of the ‘first time’ support BAME voters lent Nick Clegg in 2010. Now, after a period in government where BAME communities have disproportionately suffered under austerity, particularly in employment, most of those first time votes are almost certainly last time votes for the Lib Dems, perhaps for a generation or more.

The fact that sections of the BAME electorate continue to look for alternatives to Labour rather than ‘going back’ to them is also a reflection of an on-going trend. BAME support for Labour, once over 90%, slipped down to just 68% in 2010 according to research by the Runnymede Trust. While this was still double national Labour vote the direction of travel is clear; black and Asian communities are steadily moving away from blind loyalty to Labour as new generations reserve the right to make their own choices.

It is also a consequence of a mainstream shift away from Labour and the Conservatives. Support for the ‘big two’ has shrunk steadily with every passing election, from 81% in 1979 to just 65% in 2010, a massive 16% reduction. Current polling suggests that trend will continue next year with Labour and the Conservatives set to lose another 5% on top of that, meaning that the duo have together lost a quarter of their traditional vote in the past four decades. It could be even worse, depending on UKIP’s performance.

A ‘red box’ YouGov poll in November, measuring potential voting if the party had “a chance of winning” put the Greens on a whopping 26%, more than the Lib Dems achieved in 2010 with ‘Cleggmania.’ So the message for Natalie Bennett is clear – make the public believe they are a realistic choice and the Westminster is their oyster.

The insatiable hunger for alternatives to the establishment parties, of which the Lib Dems are now part of, shows no sign of abating, suggesting the UKIP phenomenon is not so much a blip but simply the latest manifestation of Britain’s growing ‘none of the above’ political appetite. And despite coming from the opposite side of the political spectrum ironically the Greens stand the best chance of stemming the UKIP tide by diverting disillusioned but compassionate voters away from Nigel Farage’s clutches.

As far as their growing support from Black and Asian communities the Greens have a unique opportunity that may either form a bedrock for future growth or be a fleeting opportunity lost, never to be seen again. Yet if they wish to retain and build on support from BAME communities they must learn lessons about how Clegg’s party won and lost BAME votes in a short space of time.

The Greens are currently attracting plenty of young BAME members, but even more importantly they are also signing up some highly influential grassroots activists. Rashid Nix, a campaigner and documentary film-maker ran in the local elections in Lambeth and looks set to contest a London parliamentary seat, while Sara Myers, who led the high-profile successful campaign over the controversial ‘Exhibit B’ human zoo exhibition, has joined the Greens in Birmingham.

They may not be household names among middle class white Greens, but both individuals command a strong degree of support and confidence at a community level. Keeping hold of the likes of Nix and Myers, and attracting new activists of similar standing, will be a key challenge for a party that has traditionally been mono-cultural in makeup.

The inability to recognise and value BAME activists with community connections has long been a Lib Dem failing. Amjal Masroor, Mohammed Shafiq, Issan Ghazni and Abdul Malik are among the most influential Muslim figures in the country, respected by a large number of powerful Imams who in turn influence many tens if not hundreds of thousands of worshippers.

Much of this support dates back to Charles Kennedy’s opposition to the Iraq invasion, but Clegg’s party inexplicably failed to capitalise on this rich potential access to the Muslim mainstream. Beyond the faith communities they also have the likes of Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera, a founder and former general secretary of the National Black Police Association, and until recently myself, a former Editor of a national African and Caribbean newspaper and officer with Operation Black Vote.

I never felt the experience and connections of BAME Lib Dem members were truly grasped at any level within the party. They place more stock in celebrity, making Floella Benjamin a baroness. She is certainly well known but not for her politics. The promotion of ready-made stars sends out all the right signals to all communities, but those signals are stronger with their core vote than the ones they hope to win. Among more sceptical observers this is but a stunt not proof that the party itself will be more welcoming to them.

If the Greens are to do things differently they will need to better understand and appreciate that name and face recognition only chimes with credibility when it is matched by a track record of representin’ at the grassroots.

Environmentalists and Dalston hipsters may not have heard of them, but to treat these recruits as any other ordinary member would be a huge waste of their talents and reach. Of course on one level they wouldn’t want any special favours, but it is clear that a large number of African and Caribbean people will be looking closely at what Nix and Myers have to say. People like that have a ‘constituency’ without even running for election.

At least the Lib Dems have the ‘excuse’ that they have a philosophical tendency to interpret equality so literally they break out in hives at the very thought of treating anyone more favourably than another, notwithstanding their natural preference for white middle class men. Not that this is any defence. The Greens, by contrast, have no excuse whatsoever. As a party they are naturally more inclined towards the traditional Left approach of action to address inequality and environmental damage and desire action not merely good intentions.

In that sense, the Greens are perhaps better placed to build on their growing BAME support than the Lib Dems have managed. But when it comes to ‘race’ that does not mean the Greens will necessarily do any better in reality. Yet they must; it will be even more unforgivable if they too squander the presents that appear under their tree.

Despite the good track records on race equality and justice that MP Caroline Lucas and MEP Jean Lambert can boast of, it is fair to say that overall the Greens have not done nearly enough over the years to win the support of BAME communities. Proof of this can be seen in places like Hackney, one of the most diverse constituencies in Britain, where the make-up of the local Greens does not come close to reflecting the neighbourhood.

Granted one of their three vice-chairs in of an Asian background, yet I remain convinced the Greens are still woefully undiverse and have not worked hard enough to win new recruits like Nix, Myers and a cohort of young black and Asian members who have flocked to them recently.

Rather those individuals have arrived of their own accord, partly a consequence of the Greens appearing as the most radical Left outfit, partly a symptom of the growing desire for a ‘none of the above’ alternative, and partly the result of Labour’s vacillation on issues like austerity, immigration and Ed Miliband’s unconvincing image.

With Britain’s non-white population currently at 14%, and predicted to rise to 36% by 2050, it makes sense for the Greens to entrench support within BAME communities. It promises them more sustainability from one election to the next, moving away from the peaks and troughs of the past which saw them go from 15% in the 1989 Euro elections to 0.5% just three years later at the 1992 general election.

Can they do it? That’s a big ‘if’. As the Lib Dem experience shows, a wish to be diverse rarely if ever translates into reality without wider cultural change; a willingness to challenge behaviour; diligence in monitoring membership including recruitment, retention and promotion; identifying and utilising talents and connections; boldness in policy-making (such as plans to tackle disproportionate unequal racial outcomes); creativity and strategic thinking in reaching out to BAME communities; ‘race’ being on their political agenda; and a strong determination by all senior members to make it happen. Consistently not as a short term fad.

If the Greens really want to succeed in this area they will need to expect internal resistance and be ruthless in overcoming it. It will reap significant electoral benefits to them for years to come and hand them the opportunity to permanently leapfrog the Lib Dems and bite a sizable chunk out of Labour’s inner city support.

This is a test that the Greens have never before faced, yet it is one that has presented itself for them to make. Doing nothing is also a choice, and to do nothing will guarantee the Greens that BAME support will eventually ebb away as it has done for the Lib Dems.

It is a test of how seriously they want to grow. And on occasions that will mean challenging themselves even when they believe everything is already rosy in the garden. There will be times when, however comfortable they feel they are with themselves, they will need to change. If the Greens are not awake and alive to the experiences of BAME members they may be guilty of unconsciously (or consciously) tolerating an environment uncomfortable for some.

Black activists should not be expected to hand over their networks or deliver communities on a plate to any party; if they are working well with the party those networks will get to know about it and word will spread in the right places.

And if the Green & Black alliance is to work there is one more thing that Bennett and other top Greens will need to prepare themselves for. A world view that is significantly different from theirs. This is another area the Lib Dems have struggled with. Yes, all BAME Lib Dems believe in the broad principles and vision of British Liberalism, but they also hold a range of other perspectives that are rarely incompatible with the party but sit very much outside it. Culture, history and faith all bring different outlooks.

Many African and Caribbean activists come with an understanding of Afrikan history in this country, in the Mother Continent and everywhere the Diaspora went or were forcibly removed to. Black activism is not just a series of campaigns but part of the collective community history. Pride in being Black / Afrikan and of the great achievements and civilisations, the striving for justice including reparations for enslavement, an analysis of the struggle and of the nature of white supremacy, and spiritually are all interwoven strands. It scared the bejesus out of the Liberal Democrats. Greens will need to be more open minded.

Ultimately if the Greens want to make serious progress on racial diversity their own leadership must be willing to shift from merely spreading the party message and brand to engaging with communities in new ways beyond their tried and tested methods of campaigning.

Can the Aussie Natalie Bennett turn British politics on its’ head? She has the opportunity to. I’ll be watching with interest.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Endnote:

I wasn’t intending to mention explicitly that I am not joining the Greens, as this blog is written from the standpoint of an independent commentator. However the nature of politics is such that, having recently left the Lib Dems, speculation may arise that I am paving the way to join the Greens. I’ve decided to add this postscript to make it clear that I’m not!

As a part Liberal part Socialist, I am attracted by the Greens Left radicalism but often dismayed by their anti-Liberal tendencies, and I feel their policies frequently lack depth of thought. Their positions are naturally oppositionist, as befits a party of protest, but as the general election approaches they will be scrutinised about what unique positive proposals they have and how worked out and costed they are. That said, if I had an opportunity to vote for Nix or Myers I would do so without a shadow of a doubt.

The problem with post-racial bloggers

blog-blackvote-pic“The problem with black politics in Britain.” That was the headline of a recent blogpost by Tony Thomas, a new activist in the party I have recently left, the Liberal Democrats. And, as the title suggests, he argued against efforts to “improve race relations” on grounds that it would only create “resentment, hostility and racial, ethnic competition.”

Sadly black conservatism, in the sense of urging the community to withdraw from the struggle for equality and justice, has as long a tradition as black activism. Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jnr warned against the voices of caution from the community who preferred not to upset white America lest they renege on their vague promises of gradual evolution, and who preferred “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Comfortable accommodation with a political status quo that shows no desire to tackle the scar of unequal racial outcomes, such as black unemployment running proportionately at more than double the rate of white unemployment, cannot be right or just.

Whether the motivating factor be lack of courage (the fear of antagonising ‘mainstream’ Britain) ignorance (unaware of the evidence), revisionism (colour-blind ‘post-racialism’), a selfish agenda (to gain advancement) or any combination of the above the result is the same; to feed a narrative that works for those that do not wish to change and against those that do.

Thomas’s blog appears to combine the first three elements to varying degrees, leading to a suspicion that the fourth element, advancement within the Liberal Democrats (a party that are on the whole instinctively against positive action on race), underpins it all.

He says: “I have come to reject any notion of a race specific politics…[and] identity politics of the 20th century is a thing of the past and today only exists amongst activists as an exercise in nostalgia.”

In a Twitter conversation I had with Thomas he maintained that Liberal Democrat mainstream policies, such as drug reform, appealed to ethnic minorities, while sidestepping the demand for policies to tackle the big issues like disproportionate black unemployment, which is increasing for African and Caribbean workers even during the recovery as other ethnicities re-enter the workforce.

To suggest that race is a ‘thing of the past’ that implies that race inequality used to exist but doesn’t anymore, which is post-racial delusion at its’ worst.

The assertion that black politics should not exist hardly makes sense without a dissection of the many factors that give rise to black politics in the first place. Not even the cultural revisionism of the late great Professor Stuart Hall made that leap because, whatever Hall’s thoughts were in relation to how black politics is pitched amid churning and constantly changing identities, there was a basic assumption that race and racial unfairness mattered greatly, and so did campaigns to change it for the better.

While ‘black politics’ and the ‘black vote’ are lumped together by Thomas when there are crucial differences. Black politics is a phrase that embraces many race equality campaigns around issues as diverse as deaths in custody, school exclusions, refugee groups and even elements of the anti-religious discrimination and anti-fascist movements, while the ‘black vote’, by contrast, is a term that seeks to unite voters of colour around common interests, principally the desire for decision-makers to adopt policies to tackle racial prejudice and the campaign for more decision-makers of colour.

What seems to have prompted Thomas’s blog is another blog post, by Paul Hensby on the Operation Black Vote website. Hensby bases his arguments on the power of the black vote in the forthcoming general election, which was illustrated in a report I wrote for OBV earlier this year which showed that the BAME vote was larger than the majority of sitting MPs in marginal (swing) seats, more than enough to sway the result and decide who gets the keys to Downing Street.

While the ‘black vote’ has always been acknowledged, not least by OBV themselves, to be a lose term as diversity in voting patterns across the political spectrum means there is no ‘bloc vote’ as such. That said, there is certainly evidence that race plays a part in elections. UKIP only do half as well in multicultural London compared to the rest of Britain, Ken Livingstone’s vote held firm in the inner cities while Boris Johnson triumphed in the less diverse London suburbs, and 68% of BAME voters supported Labour in the 2010 election, twice the rate of the whole electorate.

Research by the Runnymede Trust and Lord Ashcroft’s Degrees of Separation report show crucial differences in political affiliation by ethnicity, and to ignore that is to engage in the kind of head-in-the-sand approach that saw Mitt Romney win the white American vote but lose to Barack Obama because well over 90% of it went to him. I previously warned that the Liberal Democrats, the party Thomas hopes to rise in, displayed similar tendencies. And while there are some in the Lib Dems who will warm to Thomas’s post-racial views, ultimately a party that ignores both demographics and mounting evidence of structural race inequality will remain mostly-white and increasingly irrelevant to modern Britain.

At a time when the newly-elected party president, Baroness Sal Brinton, suggested during her election campaign that she was favourable to the idea of a ‘race equality inquiry’, the danger is that Thomas’s brand of revisionism, which has virtually no support in the wider world of activists, campaigners and the BAME electorate as a whole, will be absorbed by naive members to try and prevent such an inquiry from taking place.

Black politics has come a long way since the 1960s in tandem with the black community. Through the Sus laws and inner city uprisings, the pioneering Lord David Pitt and the Labour Party Black Sections, the Stephen Lawrence case and race equality laws, black politics and what was happening at the grassroots maintained a connection.

Yet today we have a new generation of BAME MPs who owe patronage to the party machine and fail to speak out against continuing race discrimination, an anti-immigration climate not seen since the days of Enoch Powell, a public narrative that has erased ‘race’ from public policy, and black tenants who face prejudice from would-be landlords just as their grandparents did in the 1960’s. We have come a long way, and slid back a long way.

While there is a need to refresh thinking around how race equality fits with ever-changing identities, particularly among the younger generation, the assimilationist views espoused by Thomas will take us further backwards still. The issue is not one of flushing ‘race politics’ away but of cutting a line between modern identities and assimilation, between culture and fear-infused integration, and strategising a way forward for community organisation and party politics. To work for a positive not negative peace, and to be clear that the time when black politics will no longer be relevant, and the time there will be ‘One Britain’ will be when we are judged by the content of our character not the colour of our skin. And all the evidence and everyday experience of many testifies that this is far from reality, and slipping ever further away.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Why I resigned from the Liberal Democrats

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Earlier this week (29th October) I resigned from the Liberal Democrats after eight years as a party member, four of them as elected councillor for Sutton in south London.

It was a difficult decision but one borne of immense frustration with lack of progress on race equality and a growing view that despite the efforts of a number of campaigning members change seemed as elusive as ever.

The lead-up to the trigger

The trigger which pushed me over the line was a debate on the independent Lib Dem site for grassroots members, Lib Dem Voice. I commented on a story about how Lib Dems were helping an opposition party in Botswana, in southern Africa.

Given the Lib Dems had only two African or Caribbean prospective parliamentary candidates in the whole country so far – both of them in the most unwinnable seats – and have in all probability under one percent support from those communities in the UK, I was perplexed as to why the party were trying to unseat a popular (certainly in terms of elections) ruling party in Botswana with one of the most successful economies in the continent. Yes there are grumbles about a degree of autocracy there but it still begs the question of why were we, the former colonial power, interfering in their affairs, designing leaflets for the opposition party in Lib Dem colours and fonts and trying to unseat a ruling party with roots in the struggle for independence in order to depose president Ian Khama, son of the freedom fighter and first independence ruler? 

The Lib Dems are also expending efforts to help an opposition party in South Africa, with a stronghold in the Cape and a white leader who has frequently landed in hot water over racially ill-judged remarks, in an effort to unseat the ruling African National Congress. Annoyed, I suggested the Lib Dems were “scratching a colonial itch.” 

What then transpired was astounding. First, Lib Dems on the thread, led by Simon McGrath, gave the clear impression of not to knowing about the terrible and devastating impact colonialism has had on Britain’s former colonies and appeared to reject the notion that Africa had been under-developed. Worse was to follow.

The trigger

Then a thread contributor, calling himself “jedibeeftrix”, wrote a particularly nasty and explicitly racist comment that Africans “didn’t know what a toilet was” and made reference to inter-tribal hatred. I was sickened by the comment. But evidently no one else was.

As the thread discussion continued, it became a straight battle between the three BAME members (myself, Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece and Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera) and everyone else, who I suspect are white. Yet while all the white members nit-picked and criticised the BAME trio, not a single white member had anything to say about the atrocious racist comment by jedibeeftrix. 

That night I reflected on the discussion in a blog post entitled “Why it’s unacceptable to say Africans don’t know what a toilet is.”

In the background, a senior BAME member had emailed the moderators at Lib Dem Voice asking for the jedibeeftrix quote to be removed. It was initially taken down but was reinstated shortly afterwards, after an email discussion which I later learnt I was copied into (my internet was down and couldn’t access emails at the time). Moderators were advised to publicly reprimand jedibeeftrix – not a decision the site came to by itself – and this led to Caron Lindsay telling jedibeeftrix off in the thread and stating that she regarded the comment as racist.

There were a mix of views behind the scene. The moderator argued that a reason for allowing the racist comment to stand was that myself and Meral had “won the argument”, which given the nature of the thread certainly wasn’t evident to me, and that the thread would look “odd” if the comment were removed. The consensus was that the comment should remain, which is illogical. The nature of anti-racism is to not tolerate racism, so leaving it in place demonstrated that the comment had not crossed the line. I believe it clearly had. And the very fact that LDV appeared unable to know how to deal with it – and in fact didn’t act until a complaint was made, and didn’t reprimand jedibeeftrix until given permission to do so – is illustrative of an alarming lack of understanding about how to deal with such issues.

The trigger for me was not LDV’s confusion or the fact that the comment is still there, but the fact that an appalling racist comment did not provoke a single participant in the thread to say anything against it until I resigned. Instead all the white members were too busy attacking the only three people who condemned jedibeeftrix, all three of which were BAME, to notice or care about the anti-African racism.

I made a comment that jedibeeftrix was a Lib Dem “supporter.” One Lib Dem, Duncan Borrowman, claimed this was “clearly not true.” Several others, both on the site and Twitter and Facebook, laboured on my apparent error by making a huge song and dance about it. In fact I had very quickly responded that I was willing to accept that jedibeeftrix was not an actual member, but had instead been a very active participant in LDV threads over a long period. That did not stop the haters, who continued to raise my ‘error’ for some considerable time. In reality there is no proof one way or the other about jedibeeftrix’s status. Borrowman offered no proof that he wasn’t a member – aside from analysing his comments I’m not sure how anyone can be sure – yet this was accepted as gospel fact and repeated ad nauseam. In any case, jedibeeftrix’s membership was never the issue, it was the conduct of people I know to be Lib Dems and the way they tolerated racism as they attacked BAME members.

Background

1. Culture of the party and online spaces

This row was just the latest in an endless and countless catalogue of disrespectful and negative discussions on LDV on matters of race equality and racism. As a general rule whenever such issues are aired, especially by people known to be associated with Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, we inevitably have to do battle with the angry white men who populate the threads. I acknowledge that it is difficult for LDV editors, as volunteers, to keep on top of this and do not blame them for the culture of their online space, but it is profoundly depressing that the mere mention of race brings out the haters every time. The flipside of this is the macho culture of the threads, and following my resignation both related issues were discussed on a LDV piece written by Caron Lindsay called “Making LDV more inclusive.” The tone of the almost 100-strong thread underneath was very reflective, and I thank everyone who expressed sentiments that my resignation was a loss or that they hoped I might reconsider my decision. I am very touched by this. Yet while I truly appreciate the goodwill and the desire in this thread to foster a more inclusive online Lib Dem community, more reflective of the party’s values, some members saw the racism row in isolation when in fact this was merely the tip of the iceberg.

2. Lack of policies to tackle race inequality

There are very many issues underpinning by resignation from the party. A key one is the lack of policies to tackle race inequality in Britain. The Lib Dems have wasted four and a half years in this regard. Institutional racism is alive and kicking throughout society and racial inequality has got worse since 2010 in several areas, not least disproportionate BAME unemployment. Disproportionality in the world of work was pretty big to begin with but the relative gap between working age white and non-white citizens has widened considerably under the recession, not least because public services (where many BAME workers are concentrated) have been squeezed by austerity while the growth in the private sector has disproportionately hired white over non-white employees. In fact while GDP and overall employment grew in every quarter of 2013 African and Caribbean people actually saw their numbers in work continue to fall. Lib Dems have no policies to tackle this. I attended a meeting with two of Nick Clegg’s special advisors over a year ago where this was discussed and they promised to work on employment policies for “stuck groups” including tackling disproportionate BAME unemployment but nothing has happened, and six months away from a general election I am not expecting anything.

In September this year, well within the last quarter of the electoral cycle, the business secretary Vince Cable promised a review into diversity covering all under-represented groups in the City’s top boardrooms. This is welcome but surely needs to be underlaid by wider policies to tackle race inequality across the whole mountain of employment, not just the very peak. Yet Cable’s initiative is, amazingly, the only significant development to tackle racial inequality in the entire term in government, a shockingly depressing level of inactivity caused by the fact that ‘race’ is well off the Lib Dem’s agenda. 

There were a couple of other minor initiatives since 2010. An access to finance report into the lack of bank lending to BAME communities ended up absolving the banks of any discrimination and blamed BAME communities for having low credit ratings – surely the consequence of generational racial disadvantage. The Lib Dems had one worthwhile ‘race’ commitment in their 2010 general election manifesto, name-blind job applications. But this hasn’t even been rolled out beyond all Whitehall departments, and there has been no attempt to push this out to the rest of the public sector let alone promote it to the private sector.

Two other policies have proportionately benefited BAME communities – the raising of the tax threshold and the pupil premium – but only because those communities are disproportionately disadvantaged due to endemic racism. Yet there was not a seconds’ consideration given to the race dimension with either of these policies, and the overall picture of the Lib Dems’ record in government in this area remains depressingly poor. In fact the Lib Dems have fronted a number of policies that have negatively impacted on BAME communities, from the decimation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to hacking lumps out of the Equality Act under the guise of cutting ‘red tape’, to the increased fees and other restrictions on taking out race discrimination and other employment tribunal cases.

Attending meetings with two of the three Lib Dems to have occupied the role of ‘minister for race’ – Andrew Stunell and Don Foster – they attempted to claim that a series of small and medium-sized grants to interfaith charities, music and dance projects, and the girl guides and brownies, were fulfilling their responsibilities to making Britain a more racially-equal society, and their integration strategy, which focussed on tackling extremism, failed to mention the importance of race equality to good race relations. 

Even when the party end up with a good progressive policy to tackle race discrimination – as was the case two years ago when federal conference unanimously approved a policy paper and motion that I took part in writingthey don’t do anything with it. That paper, written by the Race Equality Taskforce, recommended measures to address BAME school exclusions and using public service contracts to the private sector (‘procurement’) to ensure monitoring of race equality before public contracts are awarded. Although this is party policy it has sat on the shelf ever since, despite several follow-up meetings with special advisors and ministers.

This is an utterly dismal record; four and a half wasted years of largely ignoring the scar of racism and unequal racial outcomes.

3. Lack of BAME general election candidates

As mentioned above, the Lib Dems have just two black African or Caribbean prospectives parliamentary candidates (PPCs), both in unwinnable seats. This is just unacceptable. Party HQ are presenting a significantly higher overall number of BAME PPCs than is apparent from their profile pictures, but what matters is the PPCs in held or winnable seats, and at the moment there are two – Ibrahim Taguri in Brent Central and Layla Moran in Oxford West and Abingdon. The definition of what seats are winnable is, inevitably, cast more widely to include other BAME PPCs, but despite the best of intentions the party simply hasn’t taken a big step forward yet. I played a key role in writing a motion proposing regional targets for BAME selections in 2010 but this was rejected by party conference, however what emerged out of this motion was the Candidate Leadership Programme covering all under-represented groups, of which white women are the main beneficiaries. While that is welcome – women are drastically under-represented in the party – progress on racial diversity has been way too slow. 

Other initiatives, like diversity training at conferences, “inspiration days” which frankly lacked inspiration, and a ‘new generation’ group that has essentially just become a mailing list, are at best ineffective in encouraging BAME communities to join the party or encourage BAME members from bidding to become MPs. 

4. Lack of diversity within the party

I wrote in LDV last month about the “embarrassing lack of diversity” evident at the recent federal party conference. This is illustrative of a wider problem of getting local parties to nominate BAME members as delegates and seeking out BAME talent to stand for council elections. As a result not only is the party looking whiter than ever, but the elected representatives are less racially diverse than ever. This is partially as a result of getting hammered by Labour in inner city council elections, but that in turn is partially a consequence of the lack of appeal the party has in BAME communities. I wrote in that LDV article:

The Lord Ashcroft report ‘Degrees of Separation’ found that only 2% of Black (African and Caribbean) and 4% of Asians polled “identified with” our party, while 6% and 9% respectively actually voted for us at the last election. Given that we polled 23% nationally it is clear we weren’t appealing to BAME communities even with Cleggmania. That was in 2012. My antenna tells me now that support from African and Caribbean communities will be absolutely minuscule in 2015. So unless we are resolved to attract even less ethnic minority votes than UKIP urgent action is required.

The Power of the Black Vote report I wrote and researched for Operation Black Vote found that the BAME electorate was larger than the majority of 21 Lib Dem MPs in marginal seats. In that report I wrote:

Liberal Democrats could go a long way to consolidating their numbers in the House Commons in 2015 if they can win over the Black vote. They could potentially win 13 seats from the Conservatives in marginal constituencies where the BME electorate is larger than the Conservative MP’s 2010 majority. Nick Clegg’s party could also lose 21 MPs in seats where the BME electorate is larger than Lib Dem MP’s majorities (seven to Labour and 14 to the Conservatives). That means, for theLib Dems, it is all to play forIn addition, the Lib Dems are the second-placed challenger in 18 Labour marginals where the BME vote could decide the result. As the Party currently have 56 MP’s, these numbers represent a very significant portion of their overall representation in the House of Commons.
Given the obvious electoral benefits of the Lib Dems attempting to win over more BAME communities, and the fact that they should be alarmed by polling showing just how low their support currently is, it has been amazing to see the relative lack of concern from the party over this. While there is an attempt to get their selling pitch right in key marginals, unless the party get their message right nationally – and that includes policies – they face an uphill battle making the case to BAME voters in isolated pockets where there is a desperate need to win a decent share of the BAME vote.
Labour responded far more positively to the report than the Lib Dems, even though I wrote it and at the time sat in HQ one day a week supervising EMLD interns and spoke to all the key officials about it.
5. Culture of the party
One key reason why progressive ideas to advance race equality – both inside the party and on the policy front – was because many did not truly understand the arguments EMLD were making, or where they were coming from. We did get a good hearing from the left of the party – a group called the Social Liberal Forum, and held a very well-attended and positive ‘race conference’ with them where Vince Cable gave an excellent keynote speech – but outside this wing of the party there was a lot of warm words but little genuine enthusiasm. The main obstacle I, and others, kept bumping into was philosophical: the tendency of many Liberals to regard action to tackle race inequality as illiberal or even socialist. Yet state and party action on other matters barely raised an eyebrow. It seemed to me that if there was any issue guaranteed above any other to provoke a heated debate on the arguments between action to drive change and liberal freedom to chose to change or not was race equality. And, in the world of Liberals, where there isn’t consensus on such matters the default position is that there should be no action. The default position often won, and the consequences of this flowed over to almost everything I have written above in this blog.
 
The one exception, or so I thought, was that all good Liberals would not tolerate open and explicit racism and bigotry. That was why the LDV debate that pushed be over the resigning line was so key for me. If the party not only lacked an appetite to truly diversify the party and its’ policies but also (contrary to my belief) even lacked a willingness to challenge an obvious example racism that was in their face, what hope did we have? Last year I wrote that the party required root and branch reform to embed race equality in its’ DNA. I wrote:

100 years ago the Lib Dems were eclipsed by an emerging Labour Party not because they didn’t help the poor but because they did not ‘represent’ the working class in terms of who they were. As the 2011 population census shows Britain is becoming ever more diverse in towns and villages as well as the big cities. As a result the Lib Dems are facing another historic watershed.

Having black MPs and policies to make Britain a racially equal society is not a luxury choice, it is a question of survival. If we grasp the opportunity and are the first to put race back on the political agenda the benefits could be significant and long-lasting. If we fail a slow decline to oblivion beckons.

Reaction to this was over 130 reader comments that were mostly extremely uncomplimentary, including several downright rude remarks directed against me personally.

Of course facing rudeness is something I have come to expect in the Liberal Democrats. The first-ever article I wrote for LDV, in 2009, called “The defection spiral”, upbraided the party membership for launching angry personal attacks on BAME defectors rather than reflect on why those members left the party. I wrote:

It’s a case of déjà-vu all over again. The defections of Chamali and Chandila Fernando seem to have produced carbon copy internal debates to the ones that greeted Norsheen Bhatti and Sajjad Karim’s walkouts.

As a party we really need to start learning some lessons from these regular blows because I, for one, am tired and frankly quite bored of witnessing the same depressing spiral of losing bright young BAME talent followed by a debate more notable for its heat than light, as the membership lob brickbats at the defectors.

All too often there is precious little by way of actual solutions to improve racial diversity in the party, but no shortage of insults. Arrogant, selfish and over-ambitious individuals who saw advancement in the party as their entitlement… good riddance to these jumped-up scumbags, I hear you say. Over and over again.

The trouble is, once we’ve stopped furiously kicking up sand there is virtually no energy left to tackle perhaps the biggest elephant in the room – our failure to look like a diverse party.

Yet five years later, even though I have merely left the party and not defected to any other, there was a great deal of hating against me personally on the private Facebook page Alliance of Liberal Democrats. In a debate on my resignation Daniel Jones accused me of adopting a “bullying” tone. Anne-Marie Atlay wrote: “If people want to stomp out because they don’t like not being able to oppress us, that is their choice.” Lauren Jayne Sal wrote that I had a “chip on [my] shoulder”, and that I appeared to be “anti-white” and a “bigot”, Ben Mathis wrote: “If he’s leaving over toleration of racism – does that mean we don’t have to tolerate his anymore?” before going on to wildly misrepresent my utterances in years past over the term ‘coconut’, ‘land confiscation’ in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and more recently FGM. Mathis added: “and [he] refuses to condemn anti-LGBT laws in African countries on the basis of “culture,” he is essentially saying that people of one race should not be expected to uphold basic human dignity and support universal rights.” All Mathis’s points were a gross distortion of my views, but the point on anti-LGBT laws is an outright lie, pure and simple. I have condemned anti-LGBT laws in Africa strongly.

However in addition to the haters, there was a lot of love from many Lib Dem members who wrote on a range of online forums plus a great many emails, Facebook and Twitter private messages expressing their sadness that I had left the party, begged me to return, and paid complements about the contribution I had made to the party and how much the Lib Dems still needed me. I was very touched by such comments, which significantly outnumbered the haters by around 10:1 in my rough estimation. I won’t lavish any more complements on myself, but I do wish to reserve particular praise for Baroness Sal Brinton, who also made a point of stimulating a positive debate about becoming a more inclusive party. I truly hope she wins the race to become party president.

All the positive comments are a reminded that the party at large does want to be inclusive, but struggles to know what to do. In truth, despite writing reams of articles and speaking countless times, I genuinely think that because of my life experiences working and volunteering for 25 years in the anti-racist movement and 15 years working in the black media, most members didn’t really understand where I was coming from. They couldn’t grasp the extent to which my views were rooted in the ‘black struggle’, and indeed my colleagues in the struggle never really understood what I was doing in the Liberal Democrats. A friend of mine, who has experience of both, said to me that the party suffers from “boiling frog syndrome”, a tendency to stay put while the water heats up rather than jumping into action when the temperature gets too hot. I understood this to be a reference to our developing multicultural society, and particularly to changing demographics, and the inexplicable inability to respond accordingly.

The demographics of the party is that it is overwhelmingly white and middle class. While many that join the Lib Dems believe in equality they nevertheless hail from a demographic group that continues to benefit from the racism status quo in society. Strong leadership and guidance on any issue can change the culture of any organisation but unfortunately we have a privileged class of leadership which has no experience of tackling or understanding matters of race and community. They cannot see the problem and simply ‘don’t get it’.  On top of that, we have a toleration of the Lib Dem online spaces being dominated by angry white men, and that in turn has proven to tolerate explicit racism.

This is what I meant when I said that the racism against Africans was the “tip of the iceberg.” There are many good members in the party, but until there is more of a movement to change the narrative and picture on race equality I feel progress will always wither on the vine. There is a chance the wind might start to blow in the right direction in the aftermath following the forthcoming general election – I certainly hope so because Britain needs a Liberal alternative, just one that understands, reflects and has solutions to offer Britain’s diverse communities. But after six years of solid activism I need to see evidence before even considering returning to the fold. A colleague on the left, Gareth Epps, said that my leaving the party was “letting them win.” I disagree; my resignation is a reminder to everyone who wants to see change to move out of bottom gear and press the accelerator if they don’t want to see others passing through the exit door in future. 

I’ve done my bit for now having expended enormous amounts of energy, and will now only rejoin if there’s a bigger army for change. If not, I’ll forever wish them well but will get on with the rest of my life outside party politics.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Why it’s unacceptable to say Africans don’t know what a toilet is

jedibeeftrix-screengrabTo most decent people the very idea that anyone would have to explain why it is unacceptable to say Africans “don’t know what a toilet is” appears farcical. But in the world of Liberal Democrats apparently that explanation is necessary.

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Ed Miliband fudges his way to mild applause on race equality

edmilibandThose with long memories will recall how Tony Blair was welcomed like the returning Messiah by a mainly black audience at Ruach Ministries church in Brixton towards the end of his Downing Street reign, while everyone else just regarded him as a very naughty boy.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has a very long way to emulate anything like that kind of adulation. Despite keeping his audience waiting for almost an hour before arriving to deliver what was billed as a speech on race equality, the anticipation clearly had not built up to fever pitch. The polite but far from enthusiastic reception hardly measured on the Richter scale, and indication that even in front of audiences representing the most loyal sections of society he still has a lot to do to convince that he has star quality.

Miliband had come to talk about Black History Month. And to be fair it got a couple of mentions, one prompted by an audience question. But mostly it was standard Labour sales pitch on the NHS, housing, and the bedroom tax of the kind that Andrew’s Neil and Marr itch to interrupt to shift the debate to more challenging questions. About two thirds of audience questions fell straight into Miliband’s comfort zone – perhaps the result of host Pat Reid thrice instructing us to “ask positive questions” and not “moan and groan about what’s wrong.” But whenever an awkward question came a brief moment of awkwardness hung in the air.

Miliband paid tribute to the Class of ’87 – Diane Abbott, the late Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz – but when veteran activist Marc Wadsworth said his role as chair of the Labour Party Black Sections had delivered that breakthrough, Miliband scratched his neck and momentarily grimaced. Wadsworth went on to ask for all-black shortlists in party selections, but Miliband fudged by saying “let’s have the debate, let’s not rule it out.” The trouble is not getting all-black lists while not ruling it out is just as bad as ruling it out in the first place. 

Another audience member asked him about school exclusions. “I’m happy to look at that”, Ed responded before somehow turning the subject matter to Chuka Umunna (“we need people like him”). Another person asked him to support reparations for slavery. “I completely understand where you’re coming from and those issues must be acknowledged”, he said, not exactly answering the question.

The one specific on race equality we did get from Miliband, which he promised was an exclusive to those present, was a commitment that the next Labour government would, in its’ first year, require every government department to have a race equality plan. “This covers stop and search, the judiciary, ethnic minority representation on the boards of big companies and lots of other areas”, he said with pride. This is indeed good news, although not so exclusive to the smaller number who had heard a speech by shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan two or three months earlier. The trouble was there were no specifics from Miliband about particular changes he wanted to see.

Yes, he clearly wanted more race equality (although he stopped shy of repeating Khan’s pledge that Labour would put race equality “at the heart” of decision-making”), but I wanted to know, beyond those encouraging sentiments, what specific policies he actually wanted to see. Would he change the law to allow affirmative action or not? How would be deal with issues like disproportionate BAME unemployment? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the Whitehall mandarins to work it out on Miliband’s behalf.

Having witnessed Khan’s speech it was clear this member of the team had a firm grasp on the detail. It was disappointing that his boss Miliband was comparatively light on the specifics. You felt that if Umunna or Khan were leader there would be a lot more detail forthcoming. But Miliband got away with it. Indeed most questions were non-race specific, reflecting the fact that the black community care about mainstream issues every bit as much as other voters, but given the billing I was disappointed that more people didn’t grill him on the detail of his race equality plans.

Miliband ended the event – which was organised by Croydon BME Forum and Operation Black Vote – by saying: “I accept that injustices in particular, and not just in general, cannot be reduced simply to class; that’s why you’ve got to look at race equality across the board… and there’s a lot of witnesses here, I’m sure you’d hold me to account!” The trouble was there wasn’t all that much to hold him to account over. Once civil servants have knocked up a race equality strategy for his department, no matter how weak, he will have fulfilled his one commitment to the meeting tonight. Hardly taxing.

Thankfully, as an observer of Labour moves on this subject I happen to know there’s a lot more going on. The race equality consultation, and Khan’s work on the issue, is being followed up by junior front benchers on individual areas. Labour do appear to be gearing up to make a series of efforts to combat comparative racial disadvantage, and this should be a wake-up call to other parties to match or better Labour’s stance. It’s just a shame that Miliband himself believes he can coast along spouting generalities. There was a lack of passion and a lack of detail, and that doesn’t bode well for the future.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Prime Minister Cameron goes a-niggering

cameron-aniggeringIn British folk tradition blacking-up used to be known as ‘niggering’. Now, of course, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that… or so the defenders of David Cameron would have us believe after the Prime Minister was pictured surrounded by blackfaced morris dancers last weekend. 

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5 reasons why voting reform at council level may not be a great idea

IA-03-12-09-slice-of-pieThe Fair Votes referendum might have been lost but it appears that voting reform could be making a comeback as one of the red lines before Lib Dems can sign up to another coalition.

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Why I’m backing Sal Brinton for party president

bzrenz9cyai2th3The contest to replace Tim Farron as Lib Dem party president enters the final straight on Wednesday when the official starting gun is fired.

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Labour’s failure on immigration

Passport immigration stampLabour has a long and miserable record pandering to anti-immigration sentiment, both in government and opposition, from Neil Kinnock’s failure to challenge Margaret Thatcher’s “swamped” rhetoric to their bi-annual asylum and immigration laws under Tony Blair.

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Does Clegg have the political will to follow Cable’s example on race equality?

3100005889Thank goodness for Vince Cable. As well as delivering a speech yesterday rooted in progressive Liberal values, and rejecting the Tories’ squeeze of the poor to fund tax cuts for the wealthy, he began Lib Dem conference with an announcement of an investigation into the lack of ethnic minority representation in Britain’s boardrooms.

This may have come at the fag-end of this coalition government, but the move is still the only significant action any minister has taken specifically to address racial disproportionality throughout the whole four plus years in power. 

Such action is not nearly enough, but at least one Lib Dem minister is moving in the right direction.

Interestingly there has been no dissent from the party grassroots. I suspect that if Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) had proposed the measure there would have been a vexed debate with Liberal fundamentalist purists arguing against it. Yet using the power and influence of government to bring about social good is at the heart of social-Liberal values. That is the historic tradition our party lived by when cleaning up Dickensian poverty, and why the Methodists and Quakers of the Whigs and early Liberals campaigned against the enslavement of Africans.

Cable’s announcement is welcome but it is disappointing that the problem which underpins the lack of BAME representation in the boardrooms, race discrimination in the labour market as a whole, has gone unaddressed. A year ago Nick Clegg’s office promised to bring forward proposals on this and other “stuck groups”. Sadly the policy seems to have itself become stuck in the bowels of his office and is unlikely to see the light of day before next years’ election. The reason must be a lack of political will.

I visited the federal conference last weekend, and was standing by the EMLD stall when Clegg was on his tour of the exhibition stands. When he approached a colleague said to him “Nick, did you know that Michael (Bukola) is the only African or Caribbean PPC (prospective parliamentary candidate) in the whole country?” Nick’s crass response was: “Fantastic!”. 

Far from being fantastic, it is an absolute disgrace. I don’t know whether Michael, who was present, was happy about being used in this way but I feel it was important that Clegg was challenged over the failure of his party, seven months away from the election, to select more than a single African or Caribbean PPC anywhere in the UK so far. 

This year has been the most undiverse party conference I have attended since joining the party in 2006, with hardly a black or brown face in sight. Yesterday saw a debate on the Equalities Working Group paper – a process I was involved with – yet the only ethnic minority to speak was Amna Ahmad, the PPC for Streatham. From TV pictures I could only see one other BAME member in the audience, Rabi Martins. There may have been others at the back, but the image beamed into Britain’s living rooms was a sea of white faces discussing equality for all discriminated-against sections of society, including BAME communities.

The paper itself was weak, but again a step in the right direction. Last year federal conference approved a far more radical policy document from the Race Equality Taskforce – another process I took part in – recommending that the private sector should monitor and publish equalities information just as public authorities do, and that national and local government should make better use of their purchasing power to force companies to improve diversity before getting public contracts.

A motion endorsing the paper was unanimously approved by party members, yet unlike many other conference policies that have seen those ideas taken forward in government, this one has been met with no action whatsoever. There were several meetings after conference with ministers and senior advisers but despite this the policy has sunk without trace. Again, lack of political will.

Ever since 2010, when the Lib Dems had only one significant policy to tackle unequal racial outcomes – nameblind job applications – I’ve been asking why this has not been rolled out beyond a few (less than half) of Whitehall departments to society at large. Yesterday, four years later, party members are now talking about wanting this measure. But they are not asking why this 2010 manifesto commitment has not been implemented so far. Answer: lack of political will.

In Glasgow a member told me that some are saying I appear to be paving the way to rejoin Labour. This is categorically untrue. Writing off critics as malcontent’s who do not belong inside the Liberal Democrats just shows how far we have sunk. Despite Lib Dems suggesting I should leave, and Labour friends calling on me to ‘come home’, I am staying put because I believe in the principles of social-liberalism and because Lib Dems must and will become more diverse in representation and policies. Leaving would be the easy option. I have consistently said that I would leave if the party formed another coalition with the Tories after 2015, and that remains the case. But if we did another deal with the Tories there wouldn’t be much of the Lib Dems left by 2020 anyway.

Labour remain deeply conservative on many issues – such as electoral and constitutional reform – and remain centralist in not wanting devolution to the grassroots or trust ordinary people to make decisions. Before being elected leader I thought Ed Miliband possessed liberal instincts but that was either a mirage or he lacks the courage to push these principles in the face of more socially-conservative figures like Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. 

Labour are currently streets ahead wanting to address racial unfairness, as witnessed by their race equality consultation and speech by Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, promising to put race equality at the heart of decision-making. There is nothing about this that Liberal Democrats should disagree with; in fact we should embrace it and push the mission to end institutional racism further. This is one area where Labour and Lib Dem visions should overlap and dovetail, where our respective political beliefs can be of mutual benefit to each other in order to radically change Britain for the better.

But in order to form a coalition with Labour the Lib Dems have to break a notional threshold of national support in order to claim legitimacy for being in government. In 2010, with almost a quarter of the popular vote, we could make that claim. Given that Lib Dem members have lamented the 15% turnout for police and crime commissioner elections (PCC) as lacking a popular mandate, the Lib Dems have to beat this figure across the country not just in isolated pockets of support. We are currently languishing at between 6-9% in the polls so have a lot of work to do. 

Without broadening our appeal to BAME communities we are not going to have a higher national vote than the PCC turnout. That means following Cable’s lead and using the remaining time in government to push through a swathe of policies to make a real difference to the lives of BAME communities, starting with a real push-out of name-blind job applications to all employers, ensuring that diversity of the private sector is a deal-breaker in the procurement of public sector contracts (both existing Lib Dem policies) and serious proposals to tackle disproportionate BAME unemployment and all “stuck groups” (promised by Clegg’s special advisers).

If the political will is there, this can happen. If not, we probably need a leader who does see the need for such action.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

The power to change politics regardless of electoral reform

20141005_131639I took part in a fringe meeting at Liberal Democrat federal conference this afternoon alongside the Communities minister Stephen Williams MP and Nick Tyrone from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), and the event was very ably chaired by Teena Lashmore of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats. The fringe was jointly organised by EMLD and the ERS to explore the issue of changing the voting system to make it fairer, and what the implications are for minority communities.

My message was that the struggle to improve participation in the electoral system for all communities cannot wait for electoral reform. Black, Asian and other minority communities will participate in whatever electoral system we have. Or not, as the case may be. And the work of organisations like Operation Black Vote – whom I used to work for – is not on hold until we have another Fair Votes referendum, whenever that may be.

It was interesting that Stephen Williams said that the issue of fair votes may be back on the agenda sooner than many assume, as this may be a key demand of Liberal Democrats before joining any future coalition government. I’m not so sure, but he may have greater insight into this than I. I’ve always felt we may wait a long time for another opportunity for such a referendum, but we cannot wait for this to address disparities in voting between different communities.

What we are dealing with here are two separate universes. In one universe we have a debate about how to make votes more accurately reflected in the politicians who are elected; and how making the system fairer will make politicians more responsive to a wider spectrum of the electorate. And in the other universe, we have BME communities who have seen precious little change in disproportionate rates of employment, health and housing, educational outcomes and criminalisation whichever party is in power.

The fact that there is only a 3% difference in electoral registration rates between white and south Asian communities; a 6% gap with Caribbean communities; and a 16% gap with African communities is a testament to their faith in mainstream parties to deliver the mainstream policies they want rather than any faith in parties to tackle institutional racism – even though it affects their life-chances in a big way.

An Electoral Commission survey found that 37% of BME voters said policies to tackle racial disadvantage mattered a great deal. I don’t know how the Electoral Commission carried out its’ survey because one by Operation Black Vote found that over 80% of Black Britons said it mattered to them. But let’s take the 37% figure. 37%, yet the registration gap is mostly in single figures. What that shows is that many BME voters put aside their lack of faith in mainstream politics to deliver a more racially equal society and instead vote on everyday issues that we call care about like the jobs and economy, the NHS, education, childcare and so on. Given how little impact mainstream politics has had on systemic racial unfairness over decades, it is amazing the registration gap is so small.

If BME people cared only about addressing race discrimination a much larger proportion wouldn’t vote at all. And there is a powerful argument I have often heard at grassroots level in African and Caribbean communities that we shouldn’t vote unless and until parties raise their game significantly on tackling racism. I argue the opposite – that the less we vote the more likely we are to be ignored. But it is a weak argument when set against the relatively high voting participation and the lack of results. I understand, and sympathise with, the argument that BME communities should just opt out of the electoral process altogether. I just think that would be counter-productive, but not significantly more counter-productive than the current situation where we do participate and get nothing in return. It would make a bad situation worse.

I have foun a real appetite for a change in the electoral system. They understand that a fairer voting system will increase their bargaining power to make demands. They’re just not interested in the people making the argument, people like the Electoral Reform Society, and the Liberal Democrats. We’re not getting through. And we just have to look at ourselves to see why. We saw how undiverse the ‘Yes’ to fair votes campaign was.  Most BME ‘Yes’ activists were already active in mainstream politics or mainstream charities.  But the campaign singularly failed to reach out beyond this, to the wider constituency of BME citizens – even though I believe you would have found a large audience willing to listen. There was little interest from non-activists on my social media.

Many people I spoke to were planning to vote ‘Yes’ but weren’t inspired by the campaign to tell anyone else or take a more active role. And it’s no wonder why. Look at us – the Lib Dems, the most enthusiastic about electoral reform, and the least diverse. I don’t think too many in BME communities are assuming that changing the electoral system will automatically make politics more inclusive.

Of course proportional representation – at least in its’ truest form – would reorientate British politics so that the voice of the forgotten majority would be heard. And that would mean that constituent parts of the electorate – the working class and BME communities among them – would be listened to in a way they have not been before. But I do not have faith that this,  in itself, would put race back on the political agenda. If the Westminster atmosphere remains hostile to this no amount of changes to the electoral system will change that. It has to come from political will, first and foremost.

In terms of where we are now, last year I wrote a report called The Power of the Black Vote, for Operation Black Vote. What it showed is that in 167 marginal seats, the collective BME vote is larger than the majority of the sitting MP. This means that the ‘Black Vote’ has potential power under the current unfair electoral system to influence the result of the next general election. That we don’t necessarily need electoral reform to make a big impact. Electoral reform would help, but its’ not a necessity. Of course BME communities do not vote as a bloc. Not entirely anyway.The Runnymede Trust found that in 2010, 68% of BME communities voted Labour. Far below the 90% they pulled in, in the 1970s, but still double the proportion of the general population who voted for Gordon Brown. The BME ‘bloc vote’ has been disintegrating gradually with every passing election, but this coming election I believe we’ll see a reversal in that trend. Mainly due to the failure of the Lib Dems to hold its’ support in multicultural areas. If we don’t increase our support, visible representation and policies to tackle racial disadvantage, the BME vote may gravitate away from us for a generation.

Returning to the subject of this blog, there is no reason why BME communities should wait for electoral reform to make demands for change. Those demands will keep growing. Over the last couple of months we have seen thousands of black African and Caribbean people on the streets demanding reparations for enslavement and protests against an art exhibition deemed to be deeply racially-offensive. I sense we are moving into a period of protest again. In some ways this is a symptom of many people feeling disenfranchised from the political system, of frustrations beginning to bubble over. Whether this grows during the general election campaign we have yet to see but I suspect it will.

With BME youth suffering levels of unemployment similar to Greece and Spain, we were on the edge of witnessing unrest this summer. After the Mark Duggan inquest verdict I saw, on the streets of Tottenham, a poor and disenfranchised community on the very edge of rebelling, at the very end of their teather. In this environment, politics – and electoral reform – comes second to demanding change and the voice of so-called community leaders – who call for engagement with politics – becomes drowned out on the streets.

So how can we reconnect disenfranchised citizens to politics again? The first thing must be to break out of our complacency. We need a new community politics, one that has door-to-door voter registration, by and for BME communities. We need genuine grassroots attempts to hold politicians to account. But most importantly, we need more grassroots non-partisan community mobilisation. It is only by restoring faith in politics that we will see more interest in changing it for the better.

Until that time, parties like ours will continue to delude ourselves that all is well because BME voters come out on Election Day and vote on issues that concern us all. That there is no need to heed the demands of activists to ‘put race back on the agenda’ because those calls are not coming from ordinary BME voters. But they are. Operation Black Vote see it wherever they go around Britain. On this issue activists *are* speaking for the majority of BME communities. And they are saying: “Even with this current outmoded political system, BME communities have the power to force change.”

Race equality survey of Lib Dem president candidates

tellusThe following survey on race equality and the Lib Dems was conducted on SurveyMonkey by myself. It is my own survey, not done in conjunction with EMLD.

Comments by the candidates are in italics, and the standard answers they picked are in normal font. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order (surname). My commentary is in blue.

Question 1: Lib Dems should deliver equality and diversity training to local parties where they are, not just sessions at party conferences

Sal Brinton – I agree. She added: “We will need to train more people to deliver this, which I know has started, but it is too slow”

Daisy Cooper – “I agree, and believe a lot of practical interventions can be cost neutral”

Linda Jack – I agree

Liz Lynne – I agree

COMMENTARY: All candidates agreed that diversity training should be expanded out of party conferences, which only a slice of members attend, and taken directly to local parties. Sal noted that the party would need to train people to deliver this and the process had already started but was “too slow”, and Daisy said “a lot of practical interventions can be cost neutral”

Question 2: There should be ‘zipping’ or quotas for BAME (Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic) members on key committees like FE and FPC, along the lines that the FE is proposing for Women at the 2014 federal conference in Glasgow

Sal Brinton – I agree; this should be done as soon as possible. She added: “We can’t do one under-represented group and not others. FE will have to decide the proportion, but as they want it for women, now is the time to extend it.”

Daisy Cooper – I agree, but we first need a consultation on zipping / quotas for all under-represented groups including the disabled, LGBT+ etc.

Linda Jack – I agree, but we first need a consultation on zipping / quotas for all under-represented groups including the disabled, LGBT+ etc.

Liz Lynne – Commented: “I have never agreed with zipping or quotas for anyone as it can lead to tokenism, I would rather try and change the culture within the Party”

COMMENTARY: Sal Brinton and Linda Jack both believe that if the party adopt quotes (or ‘zipping’) for women that should be extended to BAME’s. Linda and Daisy favoured a consultation with all under-represented groups including the disabled, LGBT+ etc. Sal noted “we can’t do one under-represented group and not others. FE will have to decide the proportion [of BAME places], but as they want it for women, now is the time to extend it.” Liz was the only candidate who did not favour mechanics to lever change. She noted: “I have never agreed with zipping or quotas for anyone as it can lead to tokenism, I would rather try and change the culture within the Party.”

Question 3: BAME Labour have a place on their party’s ruling National Executive Committee. Should the Lib Dems follow this example and hand a place on the FE to EMLD?

Sal Brinton – If the FE happens to be all-white they should co-opt a BAME member. She also picked – No; the current system of allocating an FE member to liaise with EMLD works well and as such their views are reflected adequately.

Daisy Cooper – Commented: “I would like protected groups to be represented, but not necessarily automatically by SAOs”

Linda Jack – Yes, along with other key SAO’s representing members covered as protected groups under the Equality Act, such as LDDA (disabilities), LDA (gender) and so on

Liz Lynne – No; all members on the FE should be elected on merit

COMMENTARY: Linda believes the party should follow Labour’s example of reserving a place on their ruling National Executive Committee for the BAME Labour organisation, and hand places on the FE to EMLD and other SAO’s for under-represented groups such as LDDA and LDW. Sal was more cautious and noting: “FE is already a large body, and if zipping is introduced, there will be BAME members on it. The current allocation of liaising works as well as the FE member doing it, so not always adequate, but some FE members take their link role v seriously.” However Sal believes the FE should co-opt a BAME member if it is all-white. Liz opposed the idea of reserved places for SAO’s, believing all FE should be elected on merit. Daisy said “I would like protected groups to be represented, but not necessarily automatically by SAOs”

Question 4: (MULTIPLE CHOICE – TOP THREE OUT OF SEVEN OPTIONS LISTED) Lib Dems would have more appeal to BAME communities if…

Sal Brinton –

  1. …we had BAME MPs
  2. …we had better policies that resonated such as ways of specifically tackling race discrimination
  3. …we did a better job at selling our policies to those communities

Daisy Cooper –

  1. …we had BAME MPs
  2. …we could more effectively outreach and recruit from those communities
  3. …we had better policies that resonated such as ways of specifically tackling race discrimination

Linda Jack –

  1. …we had BAME MPs
  2. …we had better policies that resonated such as ways of specifically tackling race discrimination
  3. …we did a better job at selling our policies to those communities

Liz Lynne –

  1. …we could more effectively outreach and recruit from those communities
  2. …we had BAME MPs
  3. …we had better policies that resonated such as ways of specifically tackling race discrimination

COMMENTARY: Candidates were asked to rank seven options in order of preference. I have only counted the top three choices. All four candidates believed the party would be doing better if we already had BAME MPs, which we don’t – yet! Linda and Sal believes the party can improve on the way we sell our current policies to BAME communities. Daisy, Linda and Liz believes we need better policies to specifically tackle racism.

Question 5: When legalisation allows, the Lib Dems should introduce all-BAME shortlists for the selection of PPCs in held seats that become available and winnable seats

Sal Brinton – Yes; but it should not be imposed. There could be regional targets for the selection of BAME PPCs in held or winnable seats. She added: “if no progress made in the GE 2015, the party must debate AWS again (that was in the 2011 motion). I want to see BAME added to that. Unlike LAbour, we don’t have certain safe seats, so 12% of candidates might well mean none were elected.”

Daisy Cooper – I like the idea but it seems unworkable. She added: “Local parties should be required to ensure that selection short-listing panels are as representative of its community”

Linda Jack – Yes; but it should not be imposed. There could be regional targets for the selection of BAME PPCs in held or winnable seats

Liz Lynne – No, all PPCs should be elected on merit

COMMENTARY: On the question of all-BAME shortlists for PPCs, if and when legislation allows, both Sal and Linda agreed there should be such action but that it shouldn’t be imposed. There could be regional targets for the selection of BAME PPCs in held or winnable seats. Sal noted that if no progress was made [electing more women MPs] “party must debate AWS again”, adding “I want to see BAME added to that”, but was mindful that unlike Labour the party don’t have any safe seats. Liz opposed all-women and all-BAME shortlists on grounds that all PPCs should be elected on merit. Daisy liked the idea but believed it would be unworkable, favouring instead local parties “required to ensure that selection short-listing panels are as representative of its community”

Question 6 – (MULTIPLE CHOICE – TOP THREE OUT OF SEVEN OPTIONS LISTED) Although the party president does not deal with national policy, what do you feel are the best policy solutions to deal with disproportionate race discrimination

Sal Brinton –

  1. We need to empower and properly fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission, giving them new Audit Commission-like powers to investigate and if necessary sanction (fines / prosecutions) for failure to address inequality
  2. A new Stephen Lawrence / Macpherson public inquiry to assess how far we have come
  3. It is the job of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to monitor and offer advice in this area

Daisy Cooper (two answers given) –

  1. We need to empower and properly fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission, giving them new Audit Commission-like powers to investigate and if necessary sanction (fines / prosecutions) for failure to address inequality
  2. It is the job of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to monitor and offer advice in this area

Linda Jack –

  1. We need to empower and properly fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission, giving them new Audit Commission-like powers to investigate and if necessary sanction (fines / prosecutions) for failure to address inequality
  2. A new Stephen Lawrence / Macpherson public inquiry to assess how far we have come
  3. There is already enough evidence covering many areas of public life, what is needed now is radical action like Affirmative Action to force employers and service providers to eradicate any race disproportionality in their workforce

Liz Lynne –

  1. We need to empower and properly fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission, giving them new Audit Commission-like powers to investigate and if necessary sanction (fines / prosecutions) for failure to address inequality
  2. It is the job of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to monitor and offer advice in this area
  3. A new Stephen Lawrence / Macpherson public inquiry to assess how far we have come

COMMENTARY: Candidates were asked to rank in order of preference options for policy solutions to deal with disproportionate race discrimination. Out of seven options I have only counted the top three. All four candidates gave top preference to the idea of empowering and properly fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission, giving them new Audit Commission-like powers to investigate and if necessary sanction (fines / prosecutions) for failure to address inequality. Sal, Liz and Linda also believed Britain needed A new Stephen Lawrence / Macpherson public inquiry to assess how far we have come. Sal, Daisy and Liz believed it is the job of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to monitor and offer advice in this area. Linda was the only candidate to pick the most radical option – ‘There is already enough evidence covering many areas of public life, what is needed now is radical action like Affirmative Action to force employers and service providers to eradicate any race disproportionality in their workforce.’

More crystal balls

Manchester City midfielder FernandinhoSo,how did I get on with last season’s football predictions? Not too bad if the truth be told. I correctly predicted Man City (my team) would win the Prem, and that Liverpool and Chelsea would be strong challengers, but like many I assumed Man United would finish in the top four.

The prediction that Sunderland would be candidates for a Europa place was wide of the mark and I under-estimated Everton but broadly got it spot on about most mid-table prospects apart from Fulham and Norwich – I thought they’d both be safe but both were relegated! West Ham and West Brom struggled as expected, but Crystal Palace and Stoke City did better than expected.

So I might not be Mystic Meg (but let’s face it she didn’t predict the demise of the News of the World) but not too far off in the football crystal ball stakes. Anyway here’s my one-week-late look ahead to the next season.

THE TOP

A more settled Man City to retain title (just!) ahead of Chelsea who are too reliant on Diego Costa up front. Arsenal third and an ever-improving Everton to pinch fourth especially if they can find another striker to partner Lukaku.

ALSO RANS

Man United and Tottenham are more likely to push for fourth than Liverpool who simply can’t replace Suarez, even with Sterling and Sturridge at the top of their game,which they’re unlikely to be for a whole season.

MIDFIELD MUSH

Newcastle have plenty of talent but continue to lack a cutting edge. QPR have a pretty strong team, particularly at the back, and if old bones and discipline hold they should be more than safe. Hull look stable and solid, as do Aston Villa.

DANGER ZONE

Swansea got off to a good start but I can see them slump down the table… but should be just about okay along with Sunderland. Burnley have great spirit and are bound to go on a survival run along with Leicester City. Southampton have lost too many stars not to struggle. West Brom will be down there as usual – as soon as Berahino loses form and Samaras comes in.

RELEGATED

West Ham are running out another average team and club tensions over playing style are bound to lead to an implosion. Pulis-less Crystal Palace look down. The third team from any in the danger zone – probably Southampton.

CHAMPIONSHIP

I got most of my predictions wrong last season, but in fairness it’s a hard league to judge as there’s not much between top and bottom.

Derby are the obvious tips for promotion. Cardiff have kept most of their team and look a good bet to yo-yo back to the Prem.

Tiny Bournemouth could make an assault on the play-off places along with Norwich, and I’m going to risk repeating last season’s mistake of tipping Watford and Wigan again.

Teams that won’t make the playoffs include Nottingham Forest, who are an implosion waiting to happen. Struggler’s could include Leeds and Birmingham, and – it looks like – Fulham. But Bolton, Rotherham and Millwall should be okay.

Blackpool can barely put a team out so are odds-on to go down. Joining them will be Huddersfield and possibly Birmingham.

Clegg needs to reach the whipped bottom in Glasgow

nick_clegg_danny_alexander_and_vince_cable_vote_for_the_make_it_happen_resolutionSpare a thought for Lib Dems preparing to gather in Glasgow next month. It’s the last conference season before the 2015 general election and the last time the public will get to see the party gathered collectively together. And while only obsessive politicos will be glued to proceedings on the BBC Parliament channel those all-important news clips and camera scans of the audience on the 10 O’clock news will tell voters all they need to know about who the party is. So many signals to give the electorate and so little time.

The coalition feast was good while it lasted but we’re now finishing desert, coffee is being served, and thoughts turn to facing the hungry chanting crowd outside. Not an entirely inappropriate analogy given the mushrooming of food banks since 2010 and the growth in shoplifting arrests by first-time offenders for stealing food, explored on BBC R4 Today programme yesterday morning. Proof that while George Osborne’s luxury wallpaper designs might have images of economic recovery imprinted on them, these are only comforting for those who can afford them. The recovery remains but a mirage to the many in part-time work, zero-hours contracts, those who have seen their real incomes fall, and the unemployed. They would rather build a mound of Lib Dems to climb over in order to reach this fabled recovery.

As Ed Miliband rubs the ‘squeezed middle’ and Tories focus on the bow-tie upwards who is speaking for the whipped bottom? If the Liberals are not about standing up for the interests of the great mass of people against powerful special interests I don’t know what we stand for. Sadly few motions on the Glasgow agenda directly address the victims of the recession, on-going for many and a dark depression for pockets of society. It is the last chance for the Lib Dems to effectively acknowledge the hurt and struggle of the many, apologise for our role in policies that have exacerbated their condition, and articulate progressive Liberal solutions.

We may not convince a sceptical electorate immediately but if we don’t venture down the road to redemption before polling day this road will be that much rockier and steeper afterwards. The best way of selling the positive changes Lib Dems have made in government is not to present them as isolated gems but to place them in their proper context of being rare bright glows in Cameron’s sludge-tank and argue that we’ve done our best in the circumstances but its’ not been nearly enough when you add everything together, as voters do before placing their cross.

There has never been a more important time for Nick Clegg to earn his crust as party leader as opposed to swanning around as Deputy Prime Minister. He will need to lead from the front at Glasgow, positioning the party for the battle ahead not with a rousing pep talk or a justification for past actions but by outlining a clear vision about how Lib Dems can travel that post-2015 road and how Liberal principles, if put into action, can make a positive difference to the bottom half of society.

As well as speaking to Britain as it is, as opposed to the Britain we might like it to be after five years of being at least partially in power, Lib Dems need to look more like Britain as it is. Given the party don’t quite reflect modern society some choreography may be required here. Let’s face it even UKIP, with their ranks of Colonel Blimps and BNP-sympathisers, are better at presenting a more diverse face than Liberals. They also have more BAME European MEPs than us. With a bit of will and creativity there is no reason why we can’t convey a better image, both in physical and policy terms. This is another area where Clegg can lead from the front. On equalities the party has a progressive policy, adopted at last years’ conference, on race equality in education and employment containing several gems such as forcing companies contracted to supply services to the public sector to comply with the Equality Act and reveal how many BAME employees they have, and allowing excluded children who have had the exclusion overturned on appeal back to school. Spring conference saw the party approve a good policy on asylum and immigration, and a new report is coming forward from the party’s Equalities Policy group which backs positive action to achieve equality across all under-represented sections of society. These are all positive messages that Clegg can weave into a new narrative. Stronger Equality, Fairer Social Democracy, if you like. He might as well, he doesn’t have much more to lose.

Just as Joseph Chamberlain’s municipal Liberalism offered radical solutions to Dickensian poverty in the 19th Century, today Britain is crying out for a party that not just decries hard times, as Labour do, but lays out a plan to tackle the forces pushing the poor down and the barriers preventing equality rising. A narrative underpinned by policies that protect individuals from surveillance, guarantee workers rights to freely organise and strike, increase social mobility, dismantle the barriers to equality and redistribute wealth. We need to occupy land Labour have long vacated, land currently populated by one lonely green flag.

Below the grand ideals there is also much work to be done in Glasgow to get the processes right. I was disappointed to see the Federal Executive proposing a motion to ‘zip’ the proportion of women on party committees but missing out other under-represented groups. Ironically as the only three BAME members on the top three committees are men this measure will see all three lose their seats to be replaced, in all probability, with white women. A retrograde step.

And so far there’s been no debate about how to reach out to the working class. Yes, women are under-represented at all levels of the party but a mother living on a council estate may well prefer Dennis Skinner to represent their interests than another middle class woman. As a black man I’d rather see a progressive working class white man raise issues of race inequality than a middle class woman who doesn’t, or indeed a BAME man that doesn’t. There is no substitute for lived experience, which is why BAME self-representation is so important, but a gender-diverse committee that sidelines race until they find a BAME woman they can trust is cold comfort.

The Glasgow conference should also be the start of a fightback to grow from the grassroots. In the local elections this year the party lost a great many councillors across the country and in London saw many talented BAME councillors lose their seats. We currently have only 19 councillors from a visible minority in the capital, ten of whom are in leafy Sutton. Brent has 34 councillors from a visible minority but the solitary Lib Dem is listed on the council website as “Councillor Dr Helen Carr BA (Hons); M Phil (Oxon); Cert TEFL; Dip; DPil”. The only letters missing are BAME.

Sutton, where I stood down as a councillor this May, actually increased BAME representation as well as the number of Lib Dem councillors – a rare success story on an otherwise disastrous election night. Many in the party are asking what the secret of Sutton’s success is. How have they held their ground, and even gained more, as the party were pushed back everywhere else? The answer is not in the water. Sutton Lib Dems face a dysfunctional and somewhat jaded and aged Tory opposition while Labour remains squeezed out entirely. Sutton Lib Dems began the process of sounding out potential council candidate early and had diversity in mind. The council is widely seen as doing a good job, there are two hard working MPs, and many retired folk deliver Focus leaflets (I suspect the exercise may be more important to some of them than the stuff in the leaflets). And councillors knock on doors all year round, reinforcing the Lib Dem presence to an electorate that don’t see any other party until election time.

In London, a city where visible minorities account for over 3,200,000 people, it is surely possible to find more potential members and candidates. Even if just one in a thousand joined, that is 3,200! The fact that we only have nine London BAME councillors, excluding the Sutton cohort, and with just two of African or Caribbean heritage, should give the whole party cause for serious reflection.

The task ahead for the remaining nine months before the general election may be daunting but with the right leadership there is no reason why the faithful cannot leave Glasgow with renewed faith that the collective family of Liberals will be reaching out to all sections of society with something exciting to offer them. But if delegates leave with a Clegg peptalk but no plan to connect with the electorate that will be a massive opportunity missed; the last opportunity to change direction before the election.

Heartless benefit cuts driven by the media

JS41759962The Independent has published “the 11 most senseless benefit sanction decisions known to man” and the list of heartless decisions to axe claimants’ benefits is truly shocking.

From a man who was deemed to have failed to complete an Employment and Support Allowance assessment due to suffering a heart attack during at the job centre, to someone who had his benefits stopped for selling poppies in aid of soldiers, the sad and sorry catalogue of decisions reinforce the view that the DWP have long since ceased to see claimants as real people.

This ridiculous collection of sanctions puts DWP plans to charge claimants for appealing against benefit decisions, announced earlier this year. 

A report in July found that “cruel” benefit sanctions are hitting the poorest hardest while the rich get richer. Even more damningly, figures show that 8 million Brits are in receipt of income support, jobseekers allowance, employment support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit combined. Out of a working population of 50 million, that means almost one in five citizens are in need of state support to live.

This is a testament to our low-wage, part-time, zero-hours economy along with ‘structural’ high unemployment which hasn’t fallen below five percent of the working age population since the late 1970’s. That is an incredible amount of wasted talent and generational hopelessness that our political class tolerate and accept.

We have, in government, a DWP minister supposedly from the social-liberal left wing in the form of Steve Webb. He makes fine speeches at Social Liberal Forum events but I haven’t seen much evidence of compassion in his departments’ policies. I’d certainly like to see some action from Webb to challenge his Tory bosses Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey.

When are politicians of all hues going to stand up and condemn the national scandal of unemployment and ‘inactivity’. Benefit recipients are now increasingly massaged out of the figures and sometimes pushed into Dickensian levels of abject poverty as a result. Admittedly the wealthy account for a slice of the inactivity data, but so do those at the extreme opposite of the income spectrum.

Sadly I doubt whether Britain will become any more sympathetic to the plight of those who desperately need a safety net, despite the evidence, until progressives stand up and systematically challenge the right-wing narrative around benefits in the media. This means putting isolated stories of unemployed families living in million-pound houses into its’ true context and hearing the voices of the many who struggle to stay alive and, all too often, give up hope (see my blog on suicides).

 

Time to rewrite the Rennard rulebook

o-LIB-DEMS-570Nick Clegg’s survival strategy appears to rest on saving as many of the 57 seats as possible. How many MPs the Lib Dems need have at next year’s general election to cross that palatable threshold depends on expectations, of course. 30? 35? 40?

What constitutes a good result (in the circumstances) is in the eye of the beholder. And in some ways the low overall opinion poll results – hovering between seven and ten percent – suppress expectation. Hanging on to the majority of seats while barely registering double-figures in the polls could be something akin to the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the five thousand and the resurrection all rolled into one.

Yet miracle worker is precisely what Clegg could become thanks to the vagaries of our political system. Holding onto three dozen seats while in single-figures across Britain while UKIP only get one or two MPs with 50 percent greater share of the national vote is entirely possible due to Lib Dems reinforcing their strength in tiny pockets while votes Nigel Farage’s party are spread evenly across the land.

Ironically the age-old grumble about the number of Liberal MPs massively under-represented in the Commons compared to the national vote could be flipped on its’ head. It was a grievance that fed the insatiable appetite of Lib Dem grassroots activists for electoral reform, so much so that the demand for ‘fair votes’ should have been followed by brackets ‘(for us)’.

When (now Lord) Chris Rennard was appointed director of campaigns at Cowley Street in 1989 the party was perpetually jaded with the experience of attracting a high national vote but only ending up with a dozen or so MPs. In 1983 the party pulled over 25 percent of the popular vote but landed just four percent of MPs(23), and in 1987 collected 22 percent of the ballots but again just four percent of MPs(22). It was manifestly unfair.

Rennard changed all that. His ruthless plan to target selected seats by corralling supporters from the region, and even across the country, to pour in, and his invention of street campaigning – making a fuss over some neglected pothole – showed residents in those areas the Lib Dems really cared. They were visible and active. Local teams pounded the streets shoving endless Focus leaflets through the letterboxes, each headline containing the word ‘local’ or the name of the street or neighbourhood. Candidates were vetted and their performance in recruiting activists and raising money scrutinised with a cold eye before their constituency qualified as one of the chosen ones.

The strategy was incredibly successful. Aided by some stunning byelection results – Eastbourne and Ribble Valley amongst them – the Lib Dems’ share of the Commons shot up in the next four general elections. For the first time in a century they were a potent electoral force, even while their national share of the vote declined. Many, if not most, Lib Dem MPs owe their jobs to Rennard.

In some ways this explains the gratitude and loyalty that has cost the Lib Dems credibility with women as the party obfuscated and procrastinated over allegations – now acknowledged to have some truth to them – that he sexually harassed women activists.

If Rennard is now disgraced his campaigning legacy lives on. The party continues to work to the same blueprint that has served it so well over a quarter of a century, just tweaking it here and there to add more sophistication. And despite the massive unpopularity of the party nationally – due to struggling in government and in the media – they may yet pull of a miracle and retain many of their MPs with a record low popular vote.

The Rennard rulebook could well be the difference between the party imploding in the ruins of disaster and picking itself up with a cockroaches’ sense of invincibility.

Yet there is every reason to rewrite this rulebook for a modern age. The announcement yesterday by Pauline Pearce – aka the Hackney Heroine – that she was throwing in the towel in her bid to be party president citing “underhand racism” is a side-effect of the Rennard strategy in two ways.

First, whatever the merits of Pearce’s claims there is no denying that the Lib Dems have failed to move with the times on diversity and working class representation. We are a white, middle-class, and overwhelming male party and everybody knows it. And in this modern age that is simply not a good look.

Second, the fact that a sizable slice of activists were backing Peace in the first place in a desperate bid to appear more diverse is a testament to the inability of the party to attract more talented and credible members from under-represented sections of society.

In that sense Pearce’s pièce de résistance speaks to a much wider and deeper issue than her individual huff might at first suggest. The institutional barriers that cause internal tensions are the flipside of a problem that also make the Lib Dems such a turn-off to large swathes of the public even if they care not for internecine squabbles.

The unforeseen consequence of Rennard’s Law is that past successes, particularly in recruitment of activists, have served to collectively blind the party to ask a fundamental question: who are we attracting? The uncomfortable answer is ‘more of ourselves’. In the good years the Lib Dems self-replicated like, well, cockroaches but this is an individual species and not an accurate reflection of the whole biodiversity system.

As we languish in single-figures in the polls the time has come to rip-up the Rennard rulebook and start again. Keep the pages that have worked – like local street campaigning – but shred the rest. Having a representative party involves more than a few tag-on initiatives; it requires a fundamental reorganisation of the way the party campaigns and reaches out to communities. It requires local, regional and national strategies based not just on pot-holes and Focus leaflets but on intelligence-led plans to target every under-represented group, and better policies and better selling of the policies we have to those sections of society.

While there is an immediate need to hold on to as many seats as possible in May 2015, there is perhaps an even more pressing need to raise our general appeal across the country. If that means sacrificing a few MPs to increase our general share of the vote it may reap greater benefits in future elections.

2015 is not a time for short-termism but a chance to rebuild and regroup. And that means more than a post-mortem on the coalition, but a fundamental reorganisation of the party from head to toe. Miracles have their place but there’s no substitute for intelligent design.

By Lester Holloway

Just days left to change the Immigration Bill

6158254528_cf567fbf3e_zThe Immigration Bill is now nearing the end of its’ swift journey through parliament and will become law before the European elections in May, just months after being unveiled. The reason for this breakneck speed is, of course, so that Tories can try to win a few grubby votes off UKIP by showing how tough (ie. hostile) they are towards all these ghastly immigrants coming over here and contributing to our economy.

Only last week David Cameron suppressed a report which proved that immigrants don’t prevent British workers from getting a job. Civil servants in Theresa May’s own department found that the figures she’d been repeatedly quoting, about the impact of new arrivals, were bunkum. A little embarrassing for the Home Secretary, perhaps, but essentially it was good news likely to reassure voters anxious about immigration. Yet this news was kept hidden until BBC Newsnight winkled it out.

That’s just the latest in a string of examples where ministers have been waving around studies which paints the impact of new arrivals in the most unfavourable terms – for example the economic benefits to Britain – while kicking more credible sources like the OECD under the table which show that even after you deduct take-up of services and benefits there is still a net benefit to the British economy of over £16 billion every single year. And rising.

It’s the same with health tourism. Absolutely minuscule in reality but souped-up out of all proportion by ministers led by Mrs ‘Hostile Environment’ herself. I blogged about her squalid Immigration Bill last October arguing that the curtailing of human rights demeaned us all. Since the Bill was announced the Labour Party have fled the playground with Ed Miliband hiding behind a wall, terrified of being seen as pro-immigrant. Such is the depressing state of debate around this issue these days.

Labour’s cowardice has sadly guaranteed there has been very little opposition to the Immigration Bill from any side of the house. Even in the Lords there has been little appetite for going to war with the government. Fox-hunting or Lords reform this is not. A few peers are fighting the good fight. Honourable mentions, however, go to B.Hamwee, L.Roberts and L.Avebury (all Lib Dem) and B.Lister, B.Kennedy and L.Pannick (all Labour). But the voices of conscience are echoing around a chamber that is morally hollow on rights for immigrants and asylum seekers.

Vince Cable is, to his credit, leading the charge to show that the scapegoating and demonisation of immigrants does not make any sense once the light of facts about immigration are shone on the debate. On the backbenches Sarah Teather (Lib Dem) and Jeremy Corbyn (Labour) remain outspoken about the Immigration Bill, but all around them their Commons colleagues whistle and look at their shoes.

Last weekend, at the Lib Dem’s spring conference, I challenged the Home Office minister Norman Baker at a Q&A just minutes after grassroots members almost unanimously approved a progressive policy on immigration. How, I asked Baker, are you going to reconcile the positive spirit of our party’s new policy with the pernicious and punitive Immigration Bill which your department is pushing through? An uncomfortable looking minister mumbled something about the Bill “not being that bad.” It was a line I’d heard before, at a private meeting with him a few weeks back, and sounded no better now than it did then.

The Bill stinks. Earlier today I attended a Movement Against Xenophobia conference where Teather described the Bill as “barking mad” and said all three main parties were on a “race to the bottom”. She added: “We are seeing a raft of mad and bad policies that will have a severe impact on the most vulnerable people and create an atmosphere of hostility towards immigrants, where we become suspicious of our neighbours.” She is right, however I suspect that was the whole point of the Bill. May said she wanted to create a ‘hostile environment’ and that’s what they’re doing.

The Bill itself is a gruesome witches brew of completely different anti-immigrant policies all thrown into the same pot and cooked together. We have new stop and search powers (clause 2) that will make immigration officers more powerful than the police with greater ability to stop someone simply because they don’t believe they look British. They will also get powers to conduct mouth searches. Just in case someone is hiding their passport and immigration papers there, perhaps…?

Officials, who were known as UKBA until recently, will also be able to raid the homes and workplaces of anyone ‘connected to’ a someone suspected of having irregular immigration status. So just because you were born in the UK doesn’t mean you won’t have the immigration squad kicking your door down at three in the morning. They will also get sweeping new powers to exert “reasonable force”, not just on any grounds listed in any immigration law currently on the statute book but any future law. Anyone thinking the police were going to be the face of any ‘police state’ may have been looking in the wrong direction. It is immigration officials who could be acting like they’re protecting a Fijian military junta.

The Bill will also bring in new biometric data capture, including iris scans, just four years after this government scrapped Labour plans for a national ID card which proposed pretty much the same thing.  Authorities will also be able to retain such data for all time, rather than having to destroy it after 10 years, and are free to pass this to the police. As a result all immigrants, even if they were later granted British citizenship, could be held on databases for the rest of their lives – including on the police national computer along with criminals – even if they have never committed a crime.

Part 3 of the Bill increases fines for landlords and employers if they give a roof or a job to anyone who’s status is irregular. There is already much evidence that landlords regularly discriminate against Black would-be tenants and it is highly likely that this measure would make things much worse. The problem is that landlords are ill-equipped to understand the hugely complicated system comprised of dozens of different immigration statuses. Some immigration lawyers can barely understand it. And there is already anecdotal evidence that some landlords are asking for a £3,000 “fine” upfront on top of the deposit for tenants who may well be legitimate. 

Likewise, Doctors of the World (DoW) have already reported GP’s turning away immigrants and asylum seekers even though, contrary to press reports, the Bill does not include doctors surgeries. The ‘health levy’ is another aspect of the Bill, made up of a compulsory annual fee of up to £200 paid upfront before a visa is granted. If the visa is three years that’s £600, please. With virtually no evidence of ‘health tourism’ this is yet another measure to act as a deterrent to those from poorer countries.

Although emergency care in A&E is available to all many immigrants who face serious illness will worry about the assessment of hospital doctors as to whether it was indeed an emergency. Studies already show that immigrant women are less likely to seek pre and post natal care, and the risk factors for stillbirths and the deaths of women giving birth are bound to increase. 

And on marriage, anyone getting married to someone who is not a British or EU citizen must notify the Home Secretary of their intentions at least 28 days before the big day and hope that when Mrs May is asked: “Do you, Theresa Mary May, consent to this marriage?”, she replies: “I do.” There is, thankfully, a silver lining to this; she is keeping the right to marry in an immigration detention centre.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough the Government are stripping away most appeal rights for all but asylum cases (clause 11). And even then under clause 12 they can deport someone and tell them they can appeal only the decision in the country they have been returned to. The good news is if someone disagrees with the Home Office they can now pay the Government up to £200 for the same department to look at the decision again. This extra cash will no doubt help employ officials using ‘reasonable force’ to remove the person paying the money.

The implicit message underpinning this Bill is that the Government so hates immigrants that they are willing to make a bonfire of civil and human rights and usher in a police state replete with bovver-booted UKBA thugs and ID databases.

After all this bad news you might be relieved to hear that the Bill actually has an anti-discrimination clause (28). The problem is this clause actually weakens equalities legislation by preventing an immigrant from taking civil action against landlords for racial discrimination, and it even protects the Home Office from legal action in the same way.

You can do something about this. As policy officer for Voice 4 Change England, I have set up a lobbying page so that anyone can send a lobbying email to selected members of the House of Lords in just a few seconds. It automatically generates peers and has a model text all ready to send with the click of a button.

You don’t have long to do it, though. The final two days for the Lords Committee Stage is this Monday (17th) and Wednesday (19th). There will then be a report stage on 1st and 3rd April. And that’s it. There’s just a few days to say “no” to the ‘hostile environment’ the Government want to create. I urge you to visit the lobbying page and make a difference.

By Lester Holloway

Lobbying Bill is an attack on democracy

1405013_583252665081205_503441274_oI was privileged to be part of a Voice 4 Change England panel discussing the Lobbying and Immigration Bills along with Conservative former Boris Johnson adviser Kulveer RangerLabour shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn and my old anti-racist movement colleague Claudia Webbe, a Labour councillor.

 

I have written a few blog pieces on immigration so will limit this article to the Lobbying Bill. This Bill proposes to clamp down even further on the ability of charities and trades unions to ‘campaign’ during an election.

The fundamental flaw running through the Bill like a stick of rock is the assumption that campaigning on issues could constitute “preferment” for individual candidates or parties. This is nonsense; charities do not tell voters who they should vote for, they raise concerns in their area of expertise and leave it up to the public to make up their own minds.

Even Labour-affiliated trades unions rarely explicitly call for a Labour vote during the election campaign. If they want to claim, for instance, that Government ministers are eroding workers rights that might imply they prefer Labour in power but generally they are careful to avoid saying this explicitly. And, in a free society, why shouldn’t they? Private businessmen are free to take out full page adverts during an election, so why prevent others also doing so if their members wish. 

The Government assumption is that this somehow corrupts the election but that is, frankly, utter rubbish. It is called democratic debate. Interest groups are perfectly entitled to express an opinion whether one agrees with their points or not. Ultimately a general election campaign is all about debate and politicians do not have a monopoly on it. Which MPs end up getting elected should be of secondary importance to having a nationwide conversation about the issues ordinary people face.

Trades unions proportionally represent members who are at the sharp end of Government policies, those on low wages. Charities help many thousands of people, providing help that is often not available from the States or they are picking up the pieces of Government policies. They have a valuable contribution to make and should not be silenced during an election.

Charities are, almost without exception, extremely careful about what they say already. The voluntary sector are already governed by a very strict regime as a result of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), which treats volunteers as if they were FTSE100 company legal or compliance experts and has created fear in campaigners as to whether or not they fall under this law and therefore cannot raise their voice. Under the new Bill even supporters of charities could be cited as having carried out ‘lobbying’ in the interests of a charity.

PPERA was a dogs dinner that went too far in neutering public debate and, now that has been digested, we are witnessing the poop of the current Bill emerging from the other end. If we want a Big Society, as opposed to Big Brother, let us hear from the groups that are supposed to deliver it.

Many politicians entered politics because of involvement in interest groups so they should not be killing the goose that laid the rotten eggs. The reason for this Bill is quite simple; it is about the Tory Right’s paranoia that charities are somehow agents of the Left. If they spent more time getting reacquainted with charities work they would realise the groups are mostly not radicals but concerned individuals doing a public duty that is often filling an unmet need. As a result, the Government are making enemies of the most active citizens in the country.

The heavy hand of the Bill towards charities, extending the PPERA further, is compounded by the light touch provisions in Part 1 of the Bill addressing lobbyists of private firms. In reality some of the issues charities wish to campaign on are the consequence of regressive policies implemented by politicians listening to lobbyists who fund their party. It is not charities spending money in constituencies that is a problem, it is the problems experienced by constituents. Conservative ministers have the cheek to call this a ‘transparency bill’ but all that is transparent is ministers’ desire not to be forced into transparency through public debate.

Politics already too narrow and excluding without making it even less appealing by removing alternatives voices from the stage during elections. Knocking charities out of the ring means they can’t question false claims, broken promises or misleading manifestos. It is a Liars Charter. 

The Bill means more interest groups will have to go direct to politicians to gain influence rather than go direct to the electorate. If politicians want the public to listen to them the trust needs to be earned not enforced by a proposed law that seeks to impose politicians’ command and control over elections. There is far more need for a Bill that ensures politicians tell the truth.

Under this Bill an evangelical Christian businessman can take out full page newspaper adverts advocating a pro-life position but pro-choice charities cannot. A private organisation can do the same can spend cash arguing that Britain should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights but Liberty cannot put the case for staying in. 

Indeed it is possible to interpret the Bill as covering anything that any politician may have an opinion over. Just because Labour have highlighted the growth of foodbanks and as indicator of the consequences of economic policy does not mean charities that deliver foodbanks are being pro-Labour if they say how appalling it is that so many foodbanks are feeding thousands of starving Britons. 

Worse, the Bill seeks to ensure that strict limits on charity spending in elections – as low as £5,000 – are also extended to coalitions of organisations. In other words that cash limit applies to the collective. The No2ID campaign against Labour’s ID cards before the last election – which many Lib Dems supported – would be outlawed under this Bill. So to is the right to assemble restricted. Of course everyone’s right to attend meetings and rallies is unchanged but the ability of charities to organise that assembly would be dramatically curtailed by falling within the spending curbs. 

Britain will be forced to rely entirely on the media to uphold independent scrutiny of politicians at election time despite each newspaper holding its’ own political agendas and declaring their support for particular parties. Stifling public debate by shackling charities may shine the spotlight exclusively on politicians but voters want to hear from a wide variety of sources before making their minds up. 

Politics more than voting, it is about debate whether or not people vote. This authoritarian and illiberal Bill needs to be opposed for the sake of democracy. 

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Tackling fuel poverty in Sutton

fuel poverty images 2I am part of a cross-committee taskforce in Sutton looking at fuel poverty. Fuel poverty has been rising dramatically in recent years, continuing an upward trend that began as long ago as 2003.

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All-women shortlists are needed for the same reason all-BAME shortlists are

babesJonathan Calder, aka ‘Lord Bonkers‘, wrote on his Liberal England blog that all-women shortlists are better than the party’s candidate leadership programme. 

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Air Passenger Duty is hitting Caribbean families hardest

Caribbean-FlightIt was very disappointing that government ministers this week refused to scrap the hated Air Passenger Duty, a regressive tax which penalises hard-pressed Caribbean families visiting relatives.

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Immigration Bill – How Lib Dems voted


Passport immigration stampThe Second Reading of the Immigration Bill (22nd October) can be found here. Sarah Teather made a good speech, which I include below.

The final vote was:

AGAINST (3):

John Leech, Sarah Teather and David Ward

ABSENT OR ABSTAINED (6):

Danny Alexander, Sir Malcolm Bruce, Nick Clegg, Lynne Featherstone, Martin Horwood, Charles Kennedy,

FOR (46)

Norman Baker, Sir Alan Beith, Gordon Birtwistle, Tom Brake, Annette Brooke, Jeremy Browne, Paul Burstow, Lorely Burt, Dr Vince Cable, Sir Menzies Campbell, Alistair Carmichael, Mike Crockart, Ed Davey, Tim Farron, Don Foster, Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert, Duncan Hames, Mike Hancock, Sir Nick Harvey, David Heath, John Hemming, Simon Hughes, Dr Julian Huppert, Mark Hunter, Jo Swinson, John Thurso, David Laws, Sir Bob Russell, Adrian Sanders, Steve Webb, Stephen Williams, Mike Thornton, Norman Lamb, Stephen Lloyd, Michael Moore, Greg Mulholland, Tess Munt, John Pugh, Alan Reid, Sir Robert Smith, Dan Rogerson, Sir Bob Russell, Ian Swales, Mark Williams, Roger Williams.

Regarding absentees or abstentions, it is certain that Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Sir Malcolm Bruce were away on parliamentary business. My guess is that applies to Martin Horwood too, although I may be wrong. Charles Kennedy’s absence is more likely to be a rejection of the Bill, but I am happy to be corrected.

Sarah-Teather_2560463bTeather told the Commons:

“This happens because of the culture of disbelief in the Home Office, and it is that culture that needs to change, yet I see nothing in the Bill that will have any impact on the quality of decision making or on how individual officials treat constituents such as mine when they go with their asylum or visa applications. In my 10 years as an MP, I have seen countless examples of this behaviour, as all Members will have done.

Those of us with the highest levels of immigration casework will have seen more, but it is a source of huge frustration for many MPs that our advice surgeries are spent mostly dealing with stuff that the Home Office should be dealing with.

We know that there are a lot of people who fall through the net when they are first given refugee status and end up destitute. They make up the bulk of the people whom the British Red Cross deals with in terms of food parcels because they cannot prove their entitlement to benefits. A significant number of people have the right to stay but will struggle to be able to prove it.

Personally, I have never seen an organisation more in need of checks and balances on its own use of power than the Home Office or, indeed, its predecessor, the Border Agency. Instead, the Bill gives powers that it is not equipped, nor frankly able, to meet and powers that it cannot be relied upon to exercise properly. Where it exceeds or abuses its power, or simply fails to do the job, it will be shielded from challenge in many cases and there will be no redress whatever.

The implications of the Bill cannot be understood without also placing it in the wider context of legal aid changes and proposals to restrict judicial review.

The problem is that the impact on individual lives gets lost in the grandstanding of headlines. When immigration is all about reducing numbers on a spreadsheet to meet an arbitrary cap or creating arbitrary political dividing lines and traps for opponents to fall into, the subjects of the legislation—the human beings at the centre of it—are somehow invisible.

I am weary of a politics that creates and defines enemies in order to demonstrate potency but, frankly, it angers me to see politics do that at the expense of those who have the least power to change their own futures. All three Front Benches, I am afraid, are at it, including my own, scrabbling over the mantle of toughness, chasing opinion polls and, in some cases, wilfully whipping up fear and loathing in the process. It is staggeringly careless with lives and with community relationships that have been built up over a long time.

I am afraid that whatever the damage that is done by the detail of the Bill when, I dare say, it is ultimately passed, some of the worst damage has been done in our debate in the lead-up to it. The language with which this was brought forward is what really causes the damage in terms of community relations.

I remind hon. Members of the debate we had earlier about the Home Office vans. That is a case in point; it had almost no effect on the ground except to whip up real tension between communities. My constituency was one of those areas that was targeted by the vans.

It is worth remembering that, for a lot of vulnerable people who come here, it is very difficult to enter the country legally. Many of the legal routes have been closed down. Someone coming here and applying for asylum may have entered the country illegally and then claimed asylum. Understanding that is important, as is understanding some of the detail. I am in danger of speaking for too long and I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but we must understand that those who get caught up in this may be some of the most vulnerable people.

There is a great deal in the Bill that will have catastrophic consequences on the ground. In most cases, the problem that it seeks to fix has been poorly defined and the solutions ill thought through. All of it is incredibly rushed, a point made by a number of hon. Members. A number of my hon. Friends have also made the point about there being no pre-legislative scrutiny.

It seems to me that the detail has been negotiated by an exceptionally tight group of people within the Government, and very little time is being afforded to this House to consider it. One day on Report is extraordinary. The very small period of time between the Bill being published and Second Reading means that most of the briefings from relevant organisations came in yesterday afternoon as they have just begun to grapple with the detail of this Bill. There is a significant amount of detail and the devil will be in making sure that the detail is correct.

It is worth noting some of the increases in power that the Bill gives. There is an extension of removal powers and the application to family members—including British citizens, I should add, who are not excluded from the Bill. Those matters will be in secondary legislation and we have no way of properly scrutinising the extension of powers.

There is a significant extension of immigration officers’ powers to use reasonable force, despite the fact that whether the Border Agency previously used reasonable force has been a matter of constant dispute. It is completely within the culture of the Home Office, it seems, always to assume that force is the only way to manage any situation, which was precisely the culture within Government when I was negotiating the details around the ending of child detention.

We sought to try to change that so we did not always go to the maximum end of force in enforcement procedures to get a family to understand that they had exhausted the appeals process. I cannot see how an organisation so psychologically addicted to the use of such powers should properly be given more powers until it has learnt how to use the powers it already has well, and certainly until it has learnt from the work that has been done elsewhere within its vast structure to try to change the culture.

Staggering, too, are the proposals on bail for immigration detainees, which would effectively allow the Home Secretary repeatedly to issue removal directions in order to prevent an application for bail. No account would need to be taken of changes in circumstance, or of the health of the detainee or their family. There was an earlier intervention about criminal bail. I want to make the point that some of the detail of that intervention was not fair because, within criminal procedures, one automatically eventually comes up for bail, whereas within immigration detention there is no automatic right to have one’s bail application considered.

We detain more people than any other European country except Greece, and Greece only detains people for very short periods. We effectively operate indefinite detention. The UNHCR has made clear its profound concerns about UK policy on detention and made it clear that bail hearings ought to be automatic.

The removal of appeal rights was spoken about by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). That effectively removes appeal rights for all areas of managed migration, an area that has traditionally had very high rates of success on appeal. Given the appalling nature of decision making in this area, it seems to be particularly absurd to remove appeal rights. It is also likely to result only in more claims under judicial review or under article 8, which the Government say they want to try to reduce. It seems utterly nonsensical.

It was perhaps the redefinition of article 8 that made me shudder particularly. It completely ignores the test around the best interests of children and ignores all case law in this area. No doubt this is a deliberate attempt to overrule case law, but certainly it flies in the face of our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

It ignores children under the age of seven—those children who have been here for fewer than seven years—and will of course apply not just to adults in terms of their right to family life with any of their children, but to unaccompanied migrants in decisions on their immigration cases. I find it very difficult to see how the courts are going to interpret this, but certainly it will have a chilling impact on the Home Office’s own decision making in this area.

I am rather frustrated that the careful work we did on the ending of child detention, on the culture within the Home Office and on how we treat families seems to have been completely cut across by this very political statement in the Bill. It also cuts across the Children and Families Bill, which is still making its way through the Lords as we speak.

Perhaps the most absurd proposal in the Bill is that on landlords’ checks. I have listened to some of the discussion on that and there is some naivety about the property market in London in terms of understanding what it means to try to rent a property and the difficulty of getting in there first. If there is any doubt whatever about someone’s immigration status, there is no way they can rent in my constituency. Many people find it difficult to prove their documentation.

The claim that this will all work well because a similar system involving employers has worked well flies in the face of our experience of the employers’ checking line, which often gives out inaccurate information resulting in people being unable to get or keep a job. It is extraordinary to propose a similar system that could affect someone’s right to live somewhere.

The catch-all term “illegal immigrants” is being used to describe the people who will be caught by the Bill. I remind the House that some of those people have no status because they are stuck in the black hole of the Home Office’s legacy system. Others might not quite have achieved the definition of “refugee” under the terms of the Geneva convention, yet cannot be returned to their own country because it is not safe to do so.

I would count people from Syria among those affected in that way, and I saw many people in that situation during the Iraq war. Unless people are on section 4 support, they will find themselves falling foul of many of the Bill’s provisions.

The NHS levy will apply to in-country applicants, some of whom will have been working here for many years. Some of my colleagues have said that they are prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on the Bill.

Personally, I am not prepared to do so. I see very little in it that is worthy of a Second Reading. In fact, it was extremely difficult to find anything in it that I could support or that I found well thought through. I shall vote against Second Reading this evening, and I encourage others who disagree with it to join me in the No Lobby, rather than just adding to the impression that we are all happy for a Bill as ill thought through as this to pass on to the statute book.”

The dishonesty of honest Roy

hodgson-townsendBeing accused of racism is mostly taken as one of the worst accusations known to man, only to be used in the face of the most extreme and explicit examples. Indeed if some had their way the bar would be raised so high that only members of the English Defence League might qualify. Which happily exempts 99.9% of the population from being racist. How this squares with all the evidence of unfair racial outcomes is left unexplained.

These days the word ‘racist’ is slowly being expunged from the lexicon. Race awareness training has become “unconscious bias” training. This follows the transformation of race equality, a state where all races are offered equal opportunities with no blockages or barriers, into “diversity” which merely describes a picture of different races and cultures living in the same area regardless of the inequalities between them.

Casual racism, the kind that those with power exercise both consciously and unconsciously, does not count it seems, despite the collective damage that decisions influence or infected by such prejudice has on society. Unless a written or verbal statement is so incontrovertibly dripping with racist bile it fails to count as racism. As a result the more sophisticated and hidden racism becomes the harder it is to detect unless we lower the bar.

Unlike sexism, which can be an uncomfortable accusation but still easily shrugged off, and anti-Semitism where the bar is set low enough to ring the alarm at the very possibility of prejudice against Jewish people, racism needs a standard of proof beyond all reasonable doubt. It is clear why many do not wish the racism bar to be lowered, for that might cause the finger to point to the attitudes and actions of a far greater proportion of the population.

I had cause to consider these issues again after the England manager, Roy Hodgson, was the subject of a Sun front-page story that he had effectively called player Andros Townsend “a monkey” by telling a ‘joke’ in the dressing room at half time whose punchline was about feeding the monkey. In this case the ‘feeding’ involved an instruction to pass the ball to the flying winger and let him do the rest. A Sun editorial, presumably written by a white journalist, helpfully clarified that the paper did not believe Hodgson was in any way a racist and was merely guilty of clumsy use of language. It was also suggested that the player being ordered to pass the ball to Townsend was Chris Smalling, also a mixed-race black player. So that’s all right then.

Scrolling through Twitter on the train back from Rugby, where I had been speaking at a National Black Police Association conference, I was confronted with a number of tweets from prominent white people, including Gary Lineker, pronouncing with absolute certainty that Hodgson was not being racist. I responded to Lineker asking him what specifically qualified him to be the arbiter of what is and is not racist. Not surprisingly there was no reply. 

Townsend himself was quick to say that there was no offence given or taken. This statement was held up by the many defenders of Hodgson and given much prominence with no consideration whatsoever that Townsend was a young player just breaking into the England squad and even if he had objected would have almost certainly not said so. Tweeters gave next to no consideration to the fact that more than one Black player in the dressing room had taken offence and the organisation that campaigns against racism in football, Kick It Out, had demanded an inquiry. It was, without a doubt, a case of selective emphasis to support a pre-ordained view that Hodgson was innocent.

I do wonder if the reaction would have been the same had England just gone out of the World Cup following a string of dire results and he had been facing a barrage of calls to resign anyway. I suspect we would have seen people claiming this was the final straw. However Hodgson had just triumphed over Poland with a reasonable performance and booked a place for the national side in Brazil and absolutely nothing was going to spoil the party. 

No thought was given to exactly how offensive and racist the term ‘monkey’ actually is, nor the history of dehumanisation that has given the term its’ potency. And even if one accepts that there was no racial intent to Hodgson’s remarks – which is entirely possible – I felt there needed to be stronger condemnation of the managers’ ignorance. But no, everyone was too busy rushing to save him of any criticism at all. And not once did I see anyone refer to Hodgson’s time coaching football teams in Apartheid South Africa when many in England were boycotting South African produce and demanding the release of Nelson Mandela. If his time in South Africa would have taught him anything it would have been that the term ‘monkey’ is commonly used by racist Boers and Afrikaners and that the majority black population take great offence to it, as the African Diaspora do across the world.

A few months ago I blogged that the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, had answered a question by a Black man on the subject of the failure of his project to pair at-risk Black youth with mentors with the words “I couldn’t give a monkeys.” I cannot say with any certainty that this was a racist statement but I found it offensive not least because it came from a man who had a history of referring to racial stereotypes steeped in colonial prejudice such as “piccanninies” and Africans with “watermelon smiles.” The feedback I received after writing the blog was that readers were glad I had flagged this up and they were upset by the statement as well. At the very least this was a Mayor oblivious to the racial implications of what he was saying, but he was also a Mayor who had axed Black History Month funding and scrapped the positive action policies of his predecessor Ken Livingstone.

Neither Hodgson’s nor Johnson’s statement were clear and indisputable examples of racism. Both remarks leave ample room for interpretation. It is possible that neither man meant any offence. But both were guilty of causing offence whether or not they intended it, and both are powerful men whose decisions affect the lives of others. By the same token it is also possible that both men harbour attitudes that need to be addressed, so rushing to absolve them of any blame – as many commentators did – is not helping matters at all.

As I said, I learnt of the news about Hodgson on my way back from a National Black Police Association conference. When I was there I had conversations with officers about race relations training in the force and how this had not changed the prejudices or outcomes of policing to any significant degree but had merely taught officers what not to say and how to become ‘clever’ about how they can exercise their attitudes without being caught. In the time since race relations training was introduced the numbers and proportion of Black youth stopped and searched has risen dramatically yet it is increasingly hard to substantiate complaints of racism. Quite simply the more knowledgeable people with power become about what to watch out for the more confident they become in getting away with what they can.

That is why I have long argued the key to changing police culture is to screen would-be applicants extremely thoroughly rather than simply attempt to train them once they are already through the doors, as it is very hard indeed to get them out the door again having sworn the oath. As for ‘unconscious bias’ training, as well as falsely assuming that all ‘bias’ is unconscious there is an in-built assumption that any bias is as a result of self-replicating tendencies of hiring people that look like them rather than unpicking deep-seated prejudices that are often transmitted from generation to generation.

I must admit when I learnt the news about Hodgson’s ‘joke’ I was so incensed I tweeted that he should go. This provoked a wave of condemnation from other twitter users, none of whom I follow or who follow me, all of which I faced down with my customary zeal! After contemplation perhaps it isn’t the England managers’ resignation that is required so much as a brave and honest statement from him about the journey he has personally made to combat racism and an acknowledgement that he is still on the journey. Perhaps even admitting that he could benefit from help of others to delve deep and assist him grow.

Of course this would be too much to expect but it would be the intellectually and morally right response from a man who many seem to regard as intellectual and upstanding, at least by football’s standards. But instead we witnessed a wave of denial and a stream of commentators who don’t know pronouncing they do and giving Hodgson a clean bill of health. It was dishonesty all round. But hey, we’re through to the World Cup!

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

@swilliamsmp pledges to work on race equality

stephen_williams_mp_at_harrogateI was pleased to see that Stephen Williams, the newly-appointed equality minister, has told me that he sees race equality as an important part of his role.

I asked him on Twitter not to forget race equality and he replied “It’s a key part of my role and one in which I hope to do good work. Bristol West is great prep for it!”

There will be those watching closely to see whether he delivers on this promise!

His predecessors, Sir Andrew Stunell and Don Foster, did not deliver on race equality, even though it was a key part of their roles.

Part of that failure is down to the reluctance to utilise the knowledge and expertise available to them within the party, to say nothing of the huge degree of experts in the field.

In previous meetings with Stunell and Foster, I and others have continually stressed the need to tackle the big issues such as disproportionate BAME unemployment, discrimination in the workplace, the criminalisation of Black youth and disproportionality in many other areas of life.

The basic point is that the Government cannot make progress unless race is put back on the political agenda and this has been repeated directly to equalities ministers several times during this parliament without success.

Stunell spent time working on Eric Pickles’ Integration Strategy that failed to once mention racism, a key factor that divides society and prevents integration.

stephenwilliams

He also began work on a report looking at the barriers for access to finance for BAME businesses however this report took two years to emerge and when it was finally launched, by his successor Foster, it was extremely weak and exempted the banks of any prejudice against BAME businesses, arguing it was the Black community’s fault. 

And that – over the past two and a half years – is it. The only other policy with a direct baring on opportunities for BAME people was an idea in our 2010 manifesto for name-blind job applications. Yet this has not even been rolled out to the whole of Whitehall yet, and there has been no effort whatsoever to take it forward outside Westminster.

In other words, this Government has done next to nothing meaningful to specifically tackle race discrimination.

Yes, the Pupil Premium and raising the tax threshold are likely to have a particular benefit to BAME communities who are disproportionately economically disadvantaged, but so far nothing serious to dismantle the barriers of racism which keeps BAME people down in the first place.

It is a completely unacceptable situation. If Williams wants to make a difference in this area the first thing he needs to do is to refuse to parrot civil service briefings about tiny pots of money handed to sport, music and dance projects and start to work with experts who will turn the focus to the real issues, getting a measure of the true extent of racial discrimination and designing policies to make a significant impact in changing that.

We are now in the autumn of this Government’s term in office and time is running out. Two and a half years have been squandered by Williams’ predecessors and it will be deeply disappointing if we reach the next general election to find that three Lib Dem white men have all failed to take race equality seriously.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Theresa May’s Immigration Bill demeans us all

6158254528_cf567fbf3e_zThe government’s new Immigration Bill is all about UKIP. Westminster parties, led by the Tories, tremble at the thought of Nigel Farage and hope to peel away a few grubby votes by appealing to the worst instincts in society.

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Legalising weed makes perfect sensimilla

A Guardian report that three American states plan to legalise cannabis revives an old debate which has historically been polarised between Left and Right, the religious and the libertarian. What is clear is that prohibition doesn’t work. I believe the arguments for keeping marijuana illegal are much weaker than those in favour of decriminalising or legalising it, and what damage the herb does is almost entirely the result of it being illegal in the first place.

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Quilliam, it was really nothing

woolwich-edl_2570604bLike an amoeba the extreme Right tend to divide and sub-divide. That’s the thing about Fascists, their hatred of people different from themselves rarely holds firm long enough to prevent hatred of themselves flaming up and consuming them all in a ball of self-destruction.

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Consultation meeting on Ismaili centre in Worcester Park

WPTI attended the public consultation for a new Ismaili community centre in the old Worcester Park tavern (pictured) last night. The development has been branded a ‘mosque’ by the Worcester Park blog and in the local Sutton Guardian but that is not what is being proposed, according to the applicants.

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Susan Kramer should have become equalities minister

o-LIB-DEMS-570It’s unclear where race equality fits in today’s reshuffle. The ‘race equality’ minister, Don Foster, is seeing out the remainder his parliamentary term as the party’s chief whip after moving from the DCML.

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Promise to end BAME pay gap is off the political agenda

tony-blairIt’s ten years since prime minister Tony Blair promised to eradicate the ‘ethnic penalty’ of the pay-gap between BAME and white workers. As we reach this deadline today’s government is silent on the issue.

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Nick Clegg welcomes Black History Month

Education reformsI am delighted that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has made a statement welcoming Black History Month which begins tomorrow. I had a hand in this!

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Appearing on BBC South Politics Show

BBC South 2I appeared on BBC South Politics show this morning to talk about the Operation Black Vote report – which I authored – into the Power of the Black Vote.

You can watch this programme for the next seven days here. The segment starts after 40 minutes and lasts five minutes.

 

London could benefit from a progressive coalition in 2016

Sadiq-Khan-1916144Sadiq Khan has played a blinder in Brighton and is surely now leading the batting to become Labour’s candidate for London mayor.

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Battling al-Shabaab just invites attacks on Kenyans

lamu003The shocking terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya, is dominating headlines today. The loss of life is truly tragic but is far from unique in the modern history of Kenya.

There have long been tensions between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority through the 50 years of independence but especially since the rise of political Islam in the 1990’s.

Much responsibility for the dominance of the Christian faith lies with British missionaries however the land’s association with Islam goes back a lot further.

Explorers recorded a prosperous Islamic civilisation centred around Lamu island on the north coast from the 7th Century AD which traded with the Saudi peninsula, India and China. The photograph is of the ancient mosque before it was renovated and whitewashed, which now looks as good as new.

There remains to this day a thriving Muslim community in this region, which borders on Somalia to the north, although the past three decades have seen an influx of Somalians to Kenya fleeing their war-worn country. Muslims have complained that Kenyan security forces harass them.

The involvement of US and Israeli forces in the operation to kill the attackers at the Westgate mall – owned by Israelis – is no surprise. Kenyan politicians, fearful of breakaway movements and nervous of the continually-unstable Somalia, have been cooperating with both Washington and Tel Aviv, certainly since the 1980 explosion at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, owned by Jewish people, and according to some accounts a decade before that.

Kenya has a military agreement for the US to use airports for refuelling purposes and the three nations have cooperated to drive back al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia.

The 1998 attack on a US embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people and injured 5,000 for which Osama bin Laden and his operatives in Sudan were blamed, heightened awareness of extremism in the region, which was reinforced four years later suicide bombs in Mobassa which killed 13, and a lucky escape for passengers to Tel Aviv who saw rockets wiz past their plane.

Kenya was identified in the 9/11 Commission as a state where terrorists must be caught, and they submitted a list of names of suspected terrorists to the US and was allegedly complicit in extraordinary renditions to Guantanamo and elsewhere at the time of George W Bush.

The long involvement of Kenya in the fight against terrorism was bound to lead to another attack and a site like the Westgate mall, with its’ ostentatious wealth and Jewish ownership, was an obvious target.

A key question for Kenyans is whether their politicians have got the right balance between protecting security within their borders and external adventures, or whether they have gone too far in their cooperation with the US and Israel in a wider regional battle against extremism thereby leaving their own citizens exposed to the sort of attack we have now witnessed in Nairobi?

It may be impossible to turn the clock back several centuries when peaceful and prosperous Islamic kingdoms existed before European invaders showed up, but it is surely right that Kenyans strive for a political settlement in the region instead of engaging in a never-ending battle with al-Shabaab.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Sarah Teather’s successor should be African or Caribbean

Sarah-Teather_2560463bI am immensely saddened that Sarah Teather has decided to step down from her Brent Central seat at the next election.

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Affirmative Action gauntlet must be picked up by all parties

UK INFLATION DROPJust two days after US civil rights leader Rev’d Jesse Jackson called for affirmative action on a visit to Britain, Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (pictured) has responded by backing the idea to increase racial diversity in the police.

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Keeping Mikey Powell’s memory alive

6075804257_e0817c4d69_zLast Saturday marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Mikey Powell in Birmingham. I am sorry I was not able to get up to the community meeting and rally this weekend, however I am encouraged that people have not forgotten this tragedy.

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Mega-rare bird spotted as campaigners gear up to save Scrubs Wood

Front Inc Full CropLocals bidding to save Scrubs Wood, an inner London wildlife haven in west London, from destruction have launched new flyers to raise awareness of the campaign.

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David Cameron and his Ignorance Actually moment

Making-Freedom-Panel2David Cameron’s riposte to Russia’s “small island” jibe against Britain has been described as his ‘Love Actually moment’ but apart from the Prime Minister’s jingoistic and entirely false claim that Britons had “invented most of the things worth inventing” his comment that Britain had “abolished slavery” caught my eye, not least because the previous day I had visited an exhibition paying homage to those at the forefront of abolishing enslavement… Africans themselves.

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Guardian: Minority election – could black voters swing it in UK in 2015?

Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote encourages black people to vote in Brixton, south London.The Guardian this week published a feature on how black voters can swing the 2015 general election. The piece, written by Hugh Muir, is sparked by research by Operation Black Vote which I authored. I am also quoted in the article talking about the Lib Dem perspective.

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Lib Dems must keep pace with Labour on BAME candidates for 2015

2134907430Labour have responded to a study by Operation Black Vote into the Power of the Black Vote by selecting a new cohort of black and Asian candidates in marginal seats where the BAME electorate is larger than the sitting MP’s majority.

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Rev’d Jackson’s inspiring visit

1186084_10152179063719622_1627083746_nVisits to the UK by the legendary civil rights leader Rev’d Jesse Jackson are always inspiring and this year was no exception.

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My letter to Boris Johnson over threat to destroy Scrubs Wood

scrubs woodBoris Johnson: The Mayor of London, Old Oak Vision Consultation, Greater London Authority, City Hall, The Queens Walk, London SE1 2AA. Thursday 5th September 2013
 
Dear Mr Johnson,
 
OLD OAK VISION CONSULTATION
 
I object strongly to the proposed destruction of Scrubs Wood, a strip of railway land running along the northern border of Wormwood Scrubs open space.
 
Obviously the Old Oak consultation is not within the L.B. of Sutton however I count myself as an interested party because of my historic links with the area. I used to be the ward councillor for the area from 1994, which includes the vast majority of the Old Oak site covered in the TfL consultation. I was born and raised locally, grew up in the Old Oak estate, and was a member of the local tenants and residents association. I used to go birdwatching at Scrubs Wood as a teenager and, from 1985-87, I was part of a mostly successful campaign to save the land from destruction to make way for Channel Tunnel depots. I am now part of the new ‘Save the Scrubs’ campaign established to oppose the new proposal to destroy Scrubs Wood.
 
Scrubs Wood – Missing from the Consultation
 
It is clear from graphics and artists impressions that the entire length of Scrubs Wood is earmarked for complete destruction under these plans. Astonishingly Scrubs Wood and its’ wildlife are not mentioned anywhere in the consultation material despite Scrubs Wood having received significant media coverage over decades, including TV and newspaper reports concerning the ‘Urban Birder’ David Lindo, and before that during the mid 1980’s when there was a high-profile campaign to save this land from destruction; a campaign I was involved with at the time. There have been several ecological studies by respected environmental organisations and consultants specifically focussed on Scrubs Wood, and Scrubs Wood has been acknowledged by the London Wildlife Trust, Groundwork UK, CPRE and Hammersmith & Fulham Council who have referred to it in publicity literature and called it an “area of metropolitan importance” on their website. Therefore the omission of reference to Scrubs Wood and its’ wildlife in the is a significant error which means the consultation is misleading to the public and consequently fatally flawed.
 
Scrubs Wood – Wildlife
 
Mr Lindo, star of TV birdwatching programmes, has proven the area is a magnet for migrating birds including Pied Flycatcher; Dartford and Wood Warblers; Honey Buzzard; Richard’s, Rock and Tree Pipits; Osprey; Marsh Harrier; Turtle Dove; Long and Short-Eared Owls; Black Redstart; Great Grey Shrike; Nightingale; and Ortolan Bunting to name but a few. Scrubs Wood is also an important site for Common Lizards and over 20 species of butterfly including several species of Skippers. It is a favourite for breeding Lesser Whitethroats, has often seen breeding Skylarks, and attracts wintering Redpolls and Siskins. Nature studies have also highlighted the presence of voles, rare flora and fauna, bats, weasels, rabbits and a thriving colony of lizards. In Inner London terms, Scrubs Wood must rank in the same category as the Welsh Harp for the significance of it’s’ wildlife.
 
Reference to wildlife in the consultation
 
The only reference to wildlife in the consultation is presented as an asset, clearly implying that this land will not in any way be affected by the proposed development. The document says: “The unique character of the spaces would be retained, particularly for wildlife and recreational use, and new high quality green spaces would be created for the benefit of existing and future residents.” This statement is seriously misleading and the implication that wildlife would be “retained” is entirely untrue with regards to the land that contains the vast majority of wildlife, Scrubs Wood.
 
“Semi-derelict industrial” land
 
The document claims the area is “derelict and under-used land” and is also “semi-derelict industrial” land. Aside from confusion as to whether the land is derelict or semi-derelict, both claims are entirely untrue in the case of Scrubs Wood. There is substantial evidence that Scrubs Wood is an extremely valuable wildlife haven and ecological paradise. Therefore the document is misleading and untrue.
 
Proposals contradict House of Lords
 
The plan to destroy Scrubs Wood is in direct contradiction to the majority sentiments expressed by the House of Lords on the Channel Tunnel Bill Committee in 1987 (clause 36), who recognised the ecological value of Scrubs Wood and ordered the then British Rail to protect the vast majority of the site and invest a significant amount of money on remedial landscaping works. Lord Kilbracken told a Lords committee: “The Committee must be quite well acquainted with Scrubs Wood and will not need reminding of its importance as a habitat not only of insects and plants, including trees, but in particular of birds which are my interest. Some 99 species are recorded as having been found there, many of them breeding species. But many more are migrating birds using the land on their way to and from warmer climates. A little wilderness has grown up alongside the railway track [and] has accidentally created a marvellous habitat for wildlife. Ornithologists and bird watchers in the area have established a kind of squatters’ right to it.”
 
Wildlife management has improved ecological value
 
In the 26 years since Lord Kilbracken made his statement careful environmental management of the habitat overseen by Groundwork UK and other volunteers has enhanced the wildlife of Scrubs Wood even further. Therefore the sentiments of Peers should be seen in the context that over time the area has become even more important for wildlife.
 
Impact on Nature Reserve on common land
 
The Nature Reserve on Wormwood Scrubs common land is popular with school children from Hammersmith and Fulham and surrounding boroughs. However this Nature Reserve, and all its’ wildlife, is entirely reliant on the adjoining much larger Scrubs Wood on railway land. The proposed destruction of Scrubs Wood would therefore decimate the environmental value of the Nature Reserve, stripping it of all wildlife that currently enjoys the Scrubs Wood habitat.
 
Wormwood Scrubs common land
 
The consultation graphics / artists impressions clearly show a railway line (Overground) and station built on Wormwood Scrubs common land. This contravenes the Wormwood Scrubs Act 1879 which forbids “permanent erections” of anything other than army rifle butts and “their related appurtenances.” In addition, the plans seem to show the common land being divided up by rows of trees across the common. This will be detrimental to community safety, will restrict the use of the land for small aircraft enthusiasts, and will take the land permanently out of use as football / rugby fields which used to extend to the west but appear to be restricted only to the east of the common land in the plans.
 
Grand Union Canal Conservation Area / “Green Links”
 
The consultation plans show substantial development covering the Grand Union Canal Conservation Area, which is a haven for wildlife including waterfowl and dragonflies. Artists impressions depict six-storey housing blocks built right up to the waterfront with no allowances for wildlife whatsoever. I note that the area covered by the Grand Union Canal Conservation Area is omitted from the “Green Links” map. I can only assume that is because there are no plans to protect wildlife in the conservation zone. I am very concerned about this.
 
No strategic plans for Old Oak site
 
I am concerned that this proposed development has come forward without any planning framework to provide an overarching strategic vision for the land. I note that City Hall are currently busy writing an Opportunity Area Planning Framework while the public consultation is underway; this is unacceptable. L.B. of Hammersmith and Fulham are also working on a strategic plan after proposals have been put out to consultation. Therefore the area is not currently subject to a strategic vision that should guide development plans, and to consult at this stage is putting the cart before the horse.
 
Rushed timescale
 
The public consultation proposes a ridiculously short timescale from consultation to construction. TfL plan to have completed nine steps in the planning process by “early 2014” which suggests that a number of steps may have been completed before a strategic vision is in place.
 
Over-development
 
Cramming 19,000 homes into 155 hectares constitutes a gross over-development, and restricts opportunities for social infrastructure such as schools and shops. Further, including of a 40,000-seater stadium for Queens Park Rangers will either dramatically scale down the promises of 19,000 homes or lead to an even higher density development and thus even greater over-development. The comparison in the consultation document with Canary Wharf in terms of height and scale is entirely inappropriate as west London does not require a Canary Wharf-style development, especially as what is being proposed is primarily housing not businesses.
 
High rise blocks
 
I can see no justification in the consultation for high rise development approaching ‘skyscraper’ heights on the site other than it would provide a “landmark.” The erection of “landmarks” in this area is completely unnecessary and their inclusion would need substantiating beyond this flimsy justification.
 
Regeneration and local facilities
 
The nearest shopping centre is the run-down Willesden High Street and recent history of major developments in LBH&F – in particular Westfield – demonstrate that promises of trickle-down stimulation of private investment and regeneration in surrounding areas does not necessarily materialise. Thus suggestions in the Old Oak consultation that the proposed development will automatically lead to regeneration of areas like Old Oak estate are at best fanciful and certainly unsubstantiated.
 
Job creation – figures do not add up
 
TfL’s figures in their consultation document do not appear to add up and estimates of 90,000 jobs being “created” do not tally with the small area ear-marked for businesses, which can only amount to a very limited number of small retail outlets. The first 10,000 homes, proposed to be built within an eleven year period, are estimated to ‘create’ 10,000 jobs while the next 9,000 homes will apparently lead to 80,000 jobs. I can only assume these figures do not involve jobs being created at all but factor in guesstimates about additional economic activity for the capital as a whole rather than the Old Oak development specifically, as well as counting existing construction workers and suppliers of materials that would be involved for a short period building the project rather than long-term economic benefit.
 
Population density, lack of social housing and social engineering
 
The proposed development would make College Park and Old Oak ward arguably the most populous ward in Britain. The complete absence of any reference to social housing in the consultation would suggest that the development would socially-engineer this ward – which has historically been a ‘solid’ Labour ward – into a Conservative-supporting ward in one go, and thus constitute a far more extensive reorientating of the political map than Westminster Council were accused of. There is only one brief reference to affordable housing, however there is no mention of what proportion and in any case there has been extensive debate about how ‘affordable’ housing is no longer affordable for all but top bracket earners.
 
Public reaction
 
Almost 1,900 mostly local citizens have signed a Change.org petition which was launched in response to the consultation. There are also hundreds of comments by petitioners with a high proportion citing wildlife and particularly rare birds – including a colony of breeding Meadow Pipits – as key reasons for rejecting the proposal.
 
Conclusion
 
There may be development opportunities on parts of the industrial land, however I object strongly to Phase 4 proposing the destruction of Scrubs Wood. I wish to see Scrubs Wood preserved in its’ entirety and wildlife protected alongside the canal and no building on Wormwood Scrubs common land. I also believe that the rest of the concentrated, high-density and high-rise development be dramatically scaled back on all three fronts.

80s Gremlins attack equalities laws

Conservative-poster-SussexSurely the prize for the daftest excuse for a government policy has to be the idea that equality laws are a ‘burden’ and the best way of working towards equality is to, err, abolish equality laws.

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Shaun Bailey: David Cameron sees me as a black leader who can win the black vote

shaun-bailey-animated-ivThere was one moment on last night’s BBC London radio debate on leadership that led to startled looks in the studio. It came when David Cameron’s advisor, Shaun Bailey, admitted that the Prime Minister looks at him as the man who can attract “masses of black voters.”

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Do we need community leaders?

dotunshowI took part in a fascinating live debate on last nights’ Dotun Adebayo BBC London show on the subject of leadership.

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Boris plan to flatten wildlife habitat may flout the law

davidlindo2Boris Johnson’s plan to bulldoze a nature reserve risks flouting a law that recognises its’ outstanding wildlife importance.

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Campaigners gear up to save Scrubs Wood

scrubs woodCampaigners have launched a new petition urging London Mayor Boris Johnson to abandon plans to bulldoze an area of outstanding natural beauty.

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EMLD launch online immigration consultation

Passport immigration stampEthnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) have launched an online website to contribute to the Lib Dem’s immigration and asylum consultation.

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Do Liberal Democrats do God?

dogodI was intrigued by the launch of a new book ‘Liberal Democrats Do God’ authored by a collection of prominent MPs and peers.

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Boris plans destruction of wildlife haven to build concrete ghetto

Before clearing reptile corridorI was stunned to discover that Boris Johnson plans to concrete over an area of outstanding natural importance in west London.  And even more shocked that his new consultation document makes only a cursory reference to the wildlife haven he wants to flatten.

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The new football season, it’s a load of crystal balls

article-0-1B1B01D1000005DC-59_634x415Back when I was Editor of New Nation I decided to run a piece to mark the start of the football season by getting editorial staff to give their predictions for the top and bottom of the Premier League. So imagine my dismay when most staff tipped my team, Manchester City, for relegation. In fairness it was probably just an opportunity for them to blow a raspberry at their boss, and happily City finished the season comfortably mid-table. As for most people’s tip for the top – Chelsea never got anywhere near winning the league that season.

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Black voters can decide who wins the next general election

EnglandandwalesI was delighted that two months work has ended with high-profile coverage in The Guardian today. A study on the Power of the Black Vote – commissioned by Operation Black Vote – looks at the extent to which the BAME electorate can influence the result of the 2015 general election. And the conclusion is clear: we have the power!

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The earth is not moving for fracking-free Sutton!

fracking_690A couple of days ago I tweeted my outrage at a story that appeared in the Croydon Advertiser reporting on a fracking licence in that borough. Any resulting Croydon earthquakes, I said, would certainly be felt in neighbouring Sutton.

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Trust in the Laud? Not likely.

bb_derek_431x30You might have seen Derek Laud, the former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, in the news recently accusing the Conservative Party of racism.

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Tottenham needs investment not dance classes

busIn November 2011 I blogged about how, the aftermath of the London riots, cash was being given to multi-millionaire football club Tottenham Hotspur rather than the communities of Tottenham who experienced the turmoil.

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BBC London debates racial profiling immigration stop-checks

lester radioI was delighted to be invited onto the BBC London 94.9fm Dotun Adebayo show this evening along with Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote to speak about the immigration stop-checks at London stations this week. 

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The Stephen Lawrence case has eclipsed the Stephen Lawrence Agenda

Doreen-lawrence_2100240bI welcome the imminent appointment of Doreen Lawrence to the House of Lords. She has fought bravely for justice for her murdered son and supported many campaigns for race equality for 20 years. She will be an asset to the Upper House and will hopefully continue to speak up on the issues.

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Tomorrow’s leaders

BQcLg6QCYAAP0f0I am grateful to The Big Debate and Elevation Network for inviting me to speak at an event to mark the start of The Big Debate’s 2013 tour at the Stephen Lawrence Centre last night.

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FGM must not become a missionary cause

fgmFemale Genital Mutilation, or FGM, is a thoroughly unpleasant practice. It is painful, dangerous, unnecessary, damaging to young girls and women in later life and a violation of their human rights.

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Let Adeline Aina stand for council!

Adeline-Aina2Operation Black Vote carries news of a protest in Brixton last Saturday over the threat to deselect a newly-selected Labour council candidate, apparently on grounds that she used to be a Liberal Democrat.

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The Voice says Labour are losing the Black vote. Addressing Black voters might help.

1075388_389227261177659_1357796645_oThe Voice newspaper front page this week asks “Is Labour Losing the Black Vote?” The answer they suggest is ‘yes’ but it’s not quite that simple. Here are my questions (and answers):

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More to rise in black university applicants than meets the eye

students-14The number of black university students has increased, according to UCAS figures published yesterday.

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EMLD launches website to boost stop and search consultation

Stop-and-searchEthnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD), who are responding to the Home Office’s consultation on stop and search, have launched a new webpage to encourage members of the public to respond.

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Make-your-mind-up time over ministers commitment to equality

equalitiesctteeLast December I reported on the taskforce set up to review the Public Sector Equality Duty, noting how it was un-diverse and dominated by Conservatives it was.

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The Sun should apologise for 20 year hounding of Winston Silcott

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????News today that a man, Nicholas Jacobs, has been charged with the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in the 1985 Broadwater Farm uprising in Tottenham should be a reminder to The Sun newspaper to apologise for pursing Winston Silcott for 20 years.

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“Go Home” poster made me wonder if the BNP were in power

757407269The Home Office’s “Go Home” poster is the kind of divisive stunt I would have expected if the BNP were in government.

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Bring back the golden age of local government… by embracing new technology

MEN_ARC_0313784_5910309I was delighted to take part in a debate at Sutton Council’s Full Council meeting last night (22nd July) on the question of independence for local government.

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Why black and Asian Lib Dems and Labour should talk

imag0220Despite the political and philosophical differences between Labour and the Liberal Democrats there are many policy areas in which the social-democrat Left and Socialists can agree.

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27 years later the ban on Farrakhan entering Britain remains

Screen-shot-2012-08-24-at-12.28.51-AMIt is now 27 years since Margaret Thatcher’s government banned Louis Farrakhan from entering Britain on grounds that he would spark “civil disorder.”

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Trayvon’s murder impacted on Black Britain

trayvonThe acquittal of Travyon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, earlier this morning is nothing short of a travesty and a knife through the heart of equal justice regardless of colour.

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After Azelle Rodney we need an investigation into police firearms unit

Azelle-Rodney_2327280bAn inquiry into the fatal shooting by police of Azelle Rodney has concluded that there was “no lawful justification” for killing him.

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What’s happened to the report on black business finance?

BankManagerSo what has happened to the Lib Dem’s report into Black entrepreneurs not getting bank loans? According to The Guardian it is “gathering dust” 19 months after Nick Clegg ordered it.

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Windrush Day petition goes from strength to strength

e23_empire_windrushA petition calling for an annual Windrush Day to honour the Caribbean pioneers who helped changed Britain into a multicultural society has now gathered over 4,600 signatures.

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Equalities watchdog cut as Theresa May reaps rewards

theresaTheresa May’s announcement on stop and search can be credited to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for forcing the Home Secretary’s hand, as Left Foot Forward noted.

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Stop and search probe is welcome

Police-Stop-and-Search-Lo-007I was pleased to hear Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg calling for a review of police stop and search on his LBC radio ‘Call Clegg’ show this week.

Disproportionate use of stop powers against Britain’s Black communities has been rising sharply over the past eight years, ever since the ‘Stephen Lawrence agenda’ began to be quietly shelved.

It is a shame the last Labour Government did not order a full-scale review of stop and search despite growing evidence these powers were increasingly being abused for racial profiling causing tension on the streets.

An investigation into this is long, long overdue; I’ve been writing about it for years, in the black press and on my blogs. Indeed stop and search has been top of a list of concerns of community leaders since I can remember.

I am of course delighted that a Government is finally addressing an issue that criminalises generation after generation of Black youth and drives a wedge between the community and the police who are supposed to protect society.

However we must ensure that the new review is handled competently and that the right avenues are explored. That includes making use of the policing expertise available even before a consultation is launched to frame it correctly.

Speaking on Call Clegg this week the Deputy Prime Minister said:

“…there are some statistics saying that black men are being searched 40 times more than their white counterparts.  And so… we need to have a proper consultation and review about how this can be done, yes give the police the powers they need but made sure it’s done as proportionately and fairly as possible.

“And, look we’ve been thinking in government about consulting on exactly this, to sort of gather views, listen to people… on this vexed issue of stop and search and I hope that we can accelerate that and make sure that we publish this consultation as soon as possible.”

I wrote last December that Black youth were now 43 times more likely to be stopped and searched under ‘section 60’ powers; the new Sus Laws where officers do not need reasonable suspicion that a citizen is about to or has committed a crime in order to stop them.

The figure was 28 times more likely to be stopped, but that was based on figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission using 2001 census data. The latest 2011 census rapidly increased the extent of disproportionality.

The figures are stark but the solutions to the problem are more complicated. Some people like youth commentator Marc Vallée have argued that stop and search is such a blunt tool with a spectacularly low success rate it should be abolished altogether.  Their views, shared by a large slice of anti-racist activists and youths at the sharp end of unfair policing, are legitimate and must remain on the table in any consultation.

Others, including activists mindful of a community living in fear of crime willing to tolerate a sensible and proportionate use of stop and search, argue that the police tactic needs urgent reform if the force is to use such powers on the street. And that’s where the question of what options people prefer comes into play.

Running parallel to this is the issue of making police more accountable for their actions and ensuring that citizens, especially youths, know their rights and are able to complain if they believe they have been badly treated or racially-profiled and get redress from a complaints system that is objective, transparent and effective.

At the same time in these straightened times no-one wants to hamper police operational effectiveness by loading more bureaucracy on them. Which brings me full circle; the current state of affairs means police are largely wasting their own time carrying out random stops and searches.

Stops and searches of Black youth has grown by a third since 2006, about the time when the Lawrence agenda was being ditched. Only two percent of stops under ‘section 60’ powers resulted in an arrest so it is highly likely that conviction rates will be under one percent. Assuming that some of these will be minor convictions it stands to reason that the ‘real’ rate of serious offences will be absolutely minuscule.

That is a phenomenal waste of police time using tactics which are little more than a fishing expedition in a lake where few criminal fish get caught. What is almost impossible to measure, yet is crucially important, is the effect damaged community-police relations have on the flow of intelligence of real criminality which is most effective in keeping the community safe.

Section 60, which began life as an anti-terrorist measure before being used against football fans on matchdays, is now the power of choice to stop Black youth based on nothing other than their appearance and colour, and is a convenient vehicle for some cops to exercise their prejudices.

I believe that section 60 should be scrapped. That will still leave officers with a golf-bag full of stop and search powers, such as PACE, which they can use whenever they have reasonable suspicion. Indeed there are many policing laws, each one appended with their own stop and search powers, for individual categories of actual or suspected crimes. If beat constables swatted up on the range of powers available to them rather than lazily fall back on the easiest-understood and most easily-abused power they will be more than adequately equipped to do their job properly.

So what of these all these powers? I favour retaining them with the proviso that the public have confidence they are being used correctly. And that can be guaranteed by sending everyone who is stopped and searched a letter informing them under which power they were stopped and what that power is supposed to be used for.

This can be done without requiring officers to fill in a single form. Every time an officer stops a member of the public they run a police check. This process can be amended so that information on the nature of the stop, and the ethnicity of the person, is in-putted verbally to the call centre or electronically punched into a handheld device. This can then automatically generate a letter which is sent to citizen who is also offered a route to complain on the same letter if they are not satisfied.

That will mean that not only can the person see whether the powers used to stop and search them match the reasons given, but the police can better collect data in real-time that will show how each power is being used and monitor its’ effectiveness and the extent of racial disproportionality.  Advice and training – or in severe cases warnings – can them be issued by senior officers or the Home Office where problems are identified.

We won’t have to wait two years for a report to be produced as the data would be instantly available to decision-makers, right down to which officers are using their powers correctly or otherwise, and certain information on general performance can be published and updated by area.

In addition, equipping each and every beat officer with a camera built into their uniform, as has been trialled in Sutton, can allow every citizen who complains to view a video of their interaction with the police.

I expect that following Clegg’s comments on LBC that ministers will make an announcement about the stop and search consultation very shortly. I wait this with great interest, pleased that Government taking the issue seriously for the first time in 30 years but anxious to see that this process is framed correctly so that it leaves a lasting legacy.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Government equality priorities make no mention of race, faith or disabilities

geologoThe coalition’s equalities work programme has failed to include a single measure to address race inequality.

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Lib Dems launch race report

EMLD-SLF-6A new Liberal Democrat report into race equality in education and employment received positive feedback at a conference headlined by the business secretary Vince Cable.

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Time for Lib Dems to get serious about tackling race inequality in employment

1“In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.”

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Silence of the lambs and howling of the wolves

woolwichThe attackers who committed the sickening and barbaric murder in Woolwich yesterday have got what they wanted; the beheading of a British soldier, personal infamy with their faces on every front page, and inflamed community tensions.

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Campaigners save equalities law after coalition u-turn

janecampbellThe coalition has relented on plans to scrap a fundamental pillar of Britain’s equality law following a second defeat in the House of Lords.

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Grassroots Lib Dems urge party to think again on plans to repeal equality law

_67127906_kirsty_williams_paDelegates at the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference voted yesterday to urge Lib Dem peers to “vote with their consciences” today when the Lords once again debate Government plans to scrap an equalities vision statement.

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Lords lobbied over equalities vote

Hse_Lords_1251000cEthnic Minority Liberal Democrats are lobbying the House of Lords ahead of a vote on an important part of Britain’s equalities laws which the government want to scrap.

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Campaign urges MPs to save Britain’s equalities mission statement

hepplepicCampaigners outraged at government plans to scrap a key feature of equality law have launched a campaign to lobby MPs.

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No excuse not to tackle prepayment meter charges on the poor

pre-payment gas meter chandler IMG_2397I took the opportunity on Saturday to question Ed Davey, the energy secretary, on the matter of prepayment meters ripping off the poorest in society and deepening fuel poverty in Britain.

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Margaret Thatcher: Class Warrior

Margaret ThatcherAcres of newsprint, hours of broadcast time and unimaginable amounts of online words have already been devoted to the controversial legacy of Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday aged 87.

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The doll that won’t go away

jason-hughes-conservativeIt’s been a long time since I’ve heard of gollywog dolls. The last time was in 2011 when I organised a small protest in Sutton against a shop that refused to remove the offensive dolls from public display despite repeated requests. The story was picked up by the national Guardian and you can read my own personal account of the situation in this blog piece.

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Tackling bullying in the media will benefit newspapers as well as staff

me-nuj-bmcIt was a pretty busy day on Saturday, where I also spoke at the National Union of Journalist’s Black Members Council on the subject of bullying in the media, alongside the union’s general-secretary Michelle Stanistreet.

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Winning in multicultural London

me-lib-dem-london-conf-300I was pleased to address the Lib Dems London regional conference on Saturday in Docklands, talking about ‘changing demographics’ in the capital.

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Whatever the truth over Farage n-word claims, he needs to get UKIP’s house in order

Eastleigh by-electionTory Euro MP Sajjad Karim has resurrected old claims against UKIP leader Nigel Farage. It is alleged by UKIP founder Alan Sked that Farage used the n-word in a private conversation with him.

In a Facebook post Karim, who used to be a Lib Dem MEP before he defected to the Conservatives, quotes Sked who claims Farage told him: “We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us.”

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Book now for Lib Dem race equality conference with Vince Cable

confBook now for the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) and Social Liberal Forum (SLF) conference on race equality with guest speaker Vince Cable.

The conference is taking place on Saturday 1st June, 11.45am to 6pm near Shoreditch High Street station (London Overground). Tickets are £10 waged, £5 concessions.

Click here to book tickets!

The conference is called: “Race Equality: A New Lib Dem Approach.”

This conference will focus on race equality in education andemployment. It will see the launch of a new report by the Lib Dem Race Equality Taskforce on these subjects. And will discuss a progressive approach to differentiate the Lib Dems from both Labour and the Conservatives.

In addition to Vince Cable, other speakers include SLF co-chairs Gareth Epps and Naomi Smith, EMLD chair Issan Ghazni, Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, Dr Rob Berkeley director of the Runnymede Trust, and Professor Gus John, a renowned educationalist.

Venue: Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Action Centre 25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA

For more information email: jijiki7777@yahoo.co.uk

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