For Boris de Pfeffle Johnson, Mayor of London, the concept of Black History Month has always be seen as a waste of money and nothing more than political propaganda.
Having slashed the BHM budget by 92% last year reducing the funding from a respectable £132,000 to a paltry £10,000 his paltry effort this year speaks volumes about the Mayor’s perception of the importance of London’s Black Communities.
Against the backdrop of the summer riots that were ignited in part by the massive increase in the number of black men who suffered suspicious deaths in police custody such as Smiley Culture, Demetre Fraser and Mark Duggan and over the last three years a staggering 300% increase in the rate of police stop and search, Boris recognised that he has to be seen to be doing something.
Anger is palpable in London’s Black communities and police-Black community relations are worse now than I have seen them in the last 30 years. The reason for that is Boris just does not do race. He sees it as an anathema and his strategy on race has been to do the bare minimum with the maximum publicity.
So this year, the year before the Mayoral elections he has launched a Black History Month competition with the London Metro asking Londoners to vote for their most “Inspirational Black Person” from a long list of assorted media, political and sports stars. Hilariously and as a result of the acute shortage of senior black staff at City Hall his officials were reported to be ringing round black organisations asking for the telephone numbers of long deceased historical figures such as Marcus Garvey and Claudia Jones.
This tawdry effort amounts to nothing more than an inverted mountain of celebrity piffle. Johnson’s calculation is that as a celebrity obsessed community, we will forget about black men being shot dead by police officers on the streets of London and vote like demented lemmings for our celebrity Back History Month idol.
Often cited as controversial politically Johnson is a fake maverick, a deeply conservative right wing one trick pony but nevertheless he is undoubtedly a first class charming and effective communicator.
Boris has developed the dark art of obfuscation utilising that English Wodenhousian bluster, stuffed with historical quotes and finely honed in the raucous Bullingdon Club debates at Eton. This is Johnson’s favourite and I have to say most effective modus operandi. He provides proof, if proof were needed, of the validity of a quote by Napoleon Bonaparte: “In politics, absurdity is not a handicap.”
Boris is best summed up as personally charming, intellectually funny and politically incompetent. His outward public approach to black people is best described as a rather charming benign patronism whilst his political decisions reveal his true psychology. Massive cuts to black employment and cultural projects of all kinds across the capital, the destabilising of Notting Hill Carnival, failure to tackle serious youth crime and failure to ensure his top team reflects London.
His steadfast refusal to formally acknowledge 23rd August Trans Atlantic Slavery Memorial Day despite repeated requests that he be seen to recognise both the involvement of London in the slave trade and the huge financial benefit to the capital is quite simply an outrage. In my own humble assessment I get the impression that Boris and host team think black people are politically chaotic, easy to please and for the most part emotionally and intellectually naïve.
He has the ability to charm an audience and by and large at those black public events that I have attended, the audience reacts to him with smiles and warm applause. His celebrity and millionaire persona exert a charismatic political alchemy that appeals to poor people seeking to gain political patronage.
Whilst protected from critical media inquiry or challenge by a largely supine media and in that context well able to deflect criticism by simply refusing to answer the questions or announcing some ill thought out new tokenistic policy solution, he manages to deftly avoid all sustained political attacks. Boris Johnson’s recent interview with Jeremy Paxman provides a perfect and most recent example. Whilst we can all agree that Paxman has lost his edge it is quite nauseating to see a politician given such an inexplicably easy ride.
In relation to black communities in London his assessment is that as a community we do not vote in big numbers and he can afford to ignore us. As a response we need to launch the largest voter registration drive ever seen in the capital in the run up to the next Mayoral election. If the inner London voter registration and turnout can be increased by around 10% then the political importance and significance attached to those issues that affect our communities will be hugely increased.
London’s Mayor has reduced Black History Month to the status of an X-Factor competition, complete and utter drivel. In and of itself not really that important, however taken together with his general political failure to meet the needs of the London’s black communities we can see its real significance.
By Lee Jasper