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In British politics, race is still the elephant in the room


In his interesting piece, Jonathan Freedland argues that “while class barriers remain as high as ever, the fact that some of the barriers of race and sex are lowering in the party of the establishment is significant” (The next PM may well be from an ethnic minority. That’s a big deal – and a challenge for Labour, 15 July).

That may be so, but significant in what respect? Biological diversity, whether on the axis of race or sex, is meaningless unless it makes a difference to the historically oppressed target groups to which those “diverse” individuals belong. In my Gleaner column from which Freedland quoted, I gave evidence of Sajid Javid’s and Priti Patel’s operation of racist immigration law and practice, and the suffering inflicted upon law-abiding black citizens. “Race traitor” is a cheap and meaningless jibe.


The home secretary is responsible for both policing and immigration, the major fault lines in the British state’s relationship with its black population, the majority of whom are former British colonial subjects and their dependants. I believe the black population is entitled to expect that the process of racialising immigration and the failure to hold the police to account for human rights abuses – for example, deaths in custody – won’t be embraced so zealously by a black home secretary.

Race remains the elephant in the room in British government and politics, yet it did not feature in the febrile manoeuvrings of any of the initial Tory leadership contenders. One is entitled to infer therefore that – ethnic minority or not – they were all signing up to business as usual, if not to frustrating the efforts of anti-racists to build a counterculture of equity and of racial and social justice, efforts that are casually dismissed by the likes of Kemi Badenoch as “identity politics”.
Prof Gus John
UCL Institute of Education, London

Nesrine Malik’s article (There are Tories of diverse origins and skin tones. What they need now is real difference, 15 July) has painful implications for the Labour party. It was Labour that was principally responsible for the equalities legislation developed in Britain between 1965 and 2010. But it was also Labour that acted with careless disregard for principles of good governance when it set up the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007. Nor, after 2010, did Labour in opposition adequately scrutinise and challenge the Cameron, May and Johnson governments in relation to their hostile environment policies against refugees, the Windrush scandal, the Trojan horse injustices, the disparities in health outcomes inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and claims that concern for human rights, due process, due regard and equal treatment are mostly no more than mere wokery and political correctness.


“Here,” says an Englishman in EM Forster’s A Passage to India, referring to one of the Indians, “is a native who has actually behaved like a gentleman; if it was not for his black face we would almost allow him to join our club.” A hundred or so years later, as Nesrine Malik points out, a white face is no longer de rigueur for admission to the club. It’s as important as ever, though, to focus not only on a club’s outward appearance but also on its inner character, and therefore on the effects of its actions and inactions.

One requirement now is that the Equality Act’s concept of due regard should be revisited and clarified. This will require, to quote TS Eliot in another context, an “intolerable wrestle with words and meanings”.
Robin Richardson
Former director, Runnymede Trust

Nesrine Malik expressed very clearly how having an appearance of diversity without the policies or intention to provide any change for the better is what the Tories are all about. The same can be said of their “two women prime ministers” boast, as both these women presided over periods that made life worse for the majority of women.
Deirdre Burrell
Mortimer, Berkshire


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