Last week we witnessed the funeral of George Floyd. His shocking and heartbreaking murder in Minneapolis on May 25th has ignited the campaign against racism with public outcry and protest all around the world – including on the streets of my own constituency of Maidstone and The Weald.
For as long as I have been involved with politics there have been numerous strategies, reports, plans, reviews and audits to tackle the scourge of racism; David Cameron’s 20-20 vision, The Parker review of diversity on Boards, the McGregor-Smith review on race in the workplace, the Lammy Review on BAME individuals in the Criminal Justice System, Theresa May’s Race Disparity Audit – a world first for publishing data by ethnicity – and multiple Equalities and Human Rights Commission reports.
Yes, we are well informed about the issues, the causes and the demographics but what we need now is action. In my view there are three main areas on which to focus: in Society, in Government and Politics, and within the BAME communities themselves.
In society we need to recognise that racism does exist. For too many it is still invisible or considered to be something that happens somewhere else. We will never be able to find a fix if significant elements of our society fail to both recognise and reject racism.
In Government and politics, we all need to work even harder to re-build trust with BAME communities and individuals. Much damage was done during the referendum campaign, by both sides, and the lasting effect should not be underestimated. Our great British values of diversity, inclusion, multi-culture, and equality need to be reconfirmed at every opportunity if we are to redress the situation.
We must also do even more to address the fact that many BAME people in Britain still face social and economic disadvantage. Dealing with this has to be the start-point for any race and integration policy. By way of one example, in both public and private sectors, I would like to see compulsory data collection and disclosure relating to BAME recruitment, retention, promotion and pay. The light of transparency can be immensely powerful in tackling conscious and unconscious bias.
In the public sector I would like to see more proportionate ‘universalism’ to reduce health inequalities; balancing universal and targeted services to ensure they are delivered in proportion to the level of need – which is often higher within BAME communities. Services like the NHS Health Check would be a good example.
And in the criminal justice system, there needs to be more accountability, transparency, oversight and safeguarding, right across the board.
Within the UK BAME population too, some of us can do more for ourselves and our communities, particularly by engaging more with our democracy. Politics is power, but a disproportionately large number of BAME people are not even registered to vote. Registering and using our votes; lobbying our MPs and other local representatives; joining political parties and standing for election as councillors and MPs – all of this action can, and already does, make a difference.
These thoughts are just a few examples of practical measures we can take, right now, to start to redress the injustice. Let us use the momentum created by George Floyd’s tragic death to bring ideas and people together, in a wave of action, to defeat racism in all of its baleful ignorance. But please, no more reports and reviews etc. etc. We’ve done the surveys, we’ve seen the data and we have good legislation. We know what we need to do.
I have seen at first-hand the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to tackling racial inequality, particularly during his time as Mayor of London. I have no doubt that he is the man to drive through a transformational agenda which will improve the life chances of people from BAME backgrounds in our country. As we rebuild our economy and our society in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, we have the opportunity to build back fairer and build back stronger. Let’s not waste it.