Boris BME history makers must deliver on race equality


True to his word Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a very diverse Cabinet. In fact, it’s the most diverse Cabinet in British history. The stand-out appointment is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid. The man who will be in charge of the nation’s purse strings, managing a 400 billion pounds budget, becomes the second most important man in British politics. It’s an impressive journey for the son of a bus driver.

The appointment of Priti Patel as Home Secretary also ensures that she now becomes one of the biggest political players around the Cabinet, alongside Alok Sharma taking the role of International Development, my long time friend James Cleverly running the Conservative party office as Chair,Rishi Sunak holding Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and  Kwasi Kwarteng at BEIS - no one can say there are not black and brown faces in high places.

Other ministerial roles have gone to Nadhim Zahawi and Kemi Badenoch at BEIS and DfE respectively.  All the above clearly demonstrates the PM and his top team have given this some serious thought.

But many amongst the UK’s Black and minority ethnic communities (BAME) will want to see more than the positive political optics from the PM and his diverse Ministers. Having BAME Ministers is good, but it is policies that really count.  For example, will the Treasury Secretary Sajid Javid, insist that every Government Department write in a race equality impact assessment before submitting him their departmental budget? Caribbean families are desperate for the Home Secretary Priti Patel to deliver for those seeking compensation from the Windrush scandal, including allowing claimants legal aid to help with the complicated process.

And what of the Prime Minister himself. It’s not nearly enough for any Prime Minister to be like Marmite – you love him or hate him, as is with the US President Donald Trump. What BAME communities care about beyond the general desires of: law and order; prosperity; a national health system from the cradle to the grave; and a decent education system, is religious and racial equality. That opportunities and life chances are not dependent upon how light your skin colour is, or what God you happen to worship.

Here Johnson has to show real political intent, lead from the front with policies and initiatives that literally change the foundation that have for far too long delivered inequalities for many BAME communities. For example, the work we’ve done with the Race Disparity Unit (RDU), and the Advisory group that I chair highlighted some fundamental challenges within our education system for many groups - including - Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT), African and Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and some white working class areas too. They include high levels of school exclusions, difficulties getting into top universities - poor experience once in university, poor university attainment, and poor overall grades.

One big positive the RDU and the advisory group has found from schools, universities, Ministers, civil servants, and agencies has been both an acceptance of most of the data, and above all a willingness to collaborate to put things right. The biggest element that has begun this journey of success is leadership: Leadership from the top. The former PM Theresa May led from the front on this and at every juncture, including her resignation speech, declared this was something she was extremely proud of.

The challenge now for the new PM Boris Johnson is to resist doing what some leaders do coming into high office and state; ‘everything belonging to the former PM is out, we want to stamp our own mark’.

A smart leader would say; ‘Let me have a good look at everything, take the good bits and turbo charge them'.

Time will tell. But with the Brexit date hurtling towards us, and a section of the BAME community who do not instinctively trust Johnson, he’ll have to act quickly.

In this very challenging time Britain needs all the talent it can muster. Recognising the obstacles and dealing with them to unleash talent is critical.

Simon Woolley