Election summit: Putting race back on the agenda



OBV's Deputy Director Francine Fernandes inspired BME leaders and academics from around the UK with a simple, yet truly empowering message:

"History is waiting to be written."

And that was the theme that continued throughout the historical 2015 General Election summit held yesterday at OBV’s offices. In my introduction, I argued that:

" It is us who must be the driving force to ensure that tackling race inequality is put back on the political agenda, with policy directives to close inequality gaps."

It came as no surprise to anyone that neither the Prime Minister David Cameron, nor the opposition leader Ed Miliband had made a single speech about tackling race inequality in the past 4 years. Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg was the only party leader who had made a speech about persistent race inequality, but was followed up with no discernible action.

Professor Anthony Heath from Oxford University used his groundbreaking research book, ‘The political integration of Ethnic minorities in Britain’, to highlight a simultaneously depressing, yet empowering fact.

He told the audience that according to his research BME communities think along the lines of the wider British public on many issues, such as supporting the National Health System, transport and climate issues, but there was one area in which the gap was so huge, it even took the researchers by surprise.

The big difference was around the issue of prioritising race equality. BME communities could differ like white British people on a number of areas, but when it came to race equality the different BME groups prioritised the issue from 75%-85%, whilst the white population rated this issue at only 19%, a difference of around 60%.

What Heath’s research unequivocally suggests is that the white British public, not unlike our senior politicians care little and do even less when it comes to tackling race inequality. As depressing as this first seems, it should scream out to us that change will only come if we drive the agenda and demand change is made.

The lever for change, we articulated yesterday was the 168 marginal seats in which the BME vote could decide who wins and who loses. But first we must ensure our communities are registered to vote.

Ratna Lachman, from Just West Yorkshire informed the audience that there were seven seats in her area alone in which the BME vote could decide. She urged activists not to forget the North, and to ensure alienated women are empowered to get involved.

Finally Lee Jasper, Co-chair of BARAC sought to stir the audience with an emotive speech, the likes of which are rarely heard these days.He lamented,

"‘We are in danger of bequeathing less to our children than our parents bequeathed to us. The irrationality of racism means that Black talent is squandered, Black youths are readily criminalised-sighting the data that shows white youths being cautioned for possessing class A drugs, whilst Black youths are criminalised for possession class C drugs- and that Black communities and immigrants in general are blamed for the nation's woes."

Overall, it was a powerful meeting with bold pledges to collaborate, support each other and collectively put tackling race inequality back on the political agenda.

For me, one of the greatest elements of this event was to see and hear the language of unity from groups covering Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland, representing communities such as Chinese, Turkish, African, Asian, Caribbean, the Gypsy and Traveller community, Latin American, students, unions, businesses the BME media, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Black-led Churches Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats and the Greens, and a kaleidoscope of activist too. Truly inspiring.

Together we will write a history and it will firmly place tackling race inequality back on the political agenda.

If you want to learn more about how you can be involved contact info@obv.org.uk

Simon Woolley