Coalition Government fails to engage with black communities

The friends you keep can often reveal more about you than the words you speak.The Guardian recently published a full list of all meetings held by the Government. The report states with whom Government and Ministers choose to meet and how often, but equally illuminating is the political inference that can be drawn from whom they choose not to meet. What is stark is the extent to which so few meetings have been held with black and ethnic minority organisations.

Who Government Ministers meet in the course of their work can often speak volumes about their political priorities. I for one along with many others have consistently argued that race equality has lost its priority under the current Coalition Government.

This Government has no discernable race and equality strategy to speak of. The Minister for Race Andrew Stunell MP has no commitment or understanding of the issues facing Britain’s black and ethnic minority communities. Meetings with him have been reported as “a disaster” and an “utter waste of time”. His grasp on the detail of issues affecting black communities is said to be almost verging on an insulting level of ignorance. The appointment by Government of someone with no interest or commitment to the issue of race is seen as further evidence of the level of disdain that the Prime Minister has for the concept of race equality.

All of the post Stephen Lawrence Report policy and consultative infrastructures right across the Government have been dismantled. Specific and targeted government funding for black and ethnic minority organisations has virtually ended. We currently have no credible policy consultative forums within Government at a national, departmental and regional level.

Since May 2010, up until the release of the information, out of around 3,000 meetings with corporate business groups and trade associations, think tanks and other interest groups the entire Government has had just 15 meetings with UK based black and ethnic minority groups.

Some of these meetings were roundtable affairs but on The Guardian database are listed as the lead organisations.
The community with the most meetings across all Government departments is the Jewish community. According to the published list, Jewish organisations had a total of seven meetings with David Cameron’s Ministers.

Muslim and Asian community organisations have had a grand total of five meetings with the Government.

Britain’s black community organisations have had just three. Two of these were round table affairs organised to simply wind up the previous government’s Race Equality Fighting Fund.

As a result, a range of national black organisations in receipt of funding targeting race equality and social cohesion initiatives have seen their funding from the Government disappear.

Those organisations still in receipt of Government funding are largely white dominated “black led” organisations. These types of compliant organisations generally agree with the Government’s colour blind approach to race. This analysis denies the existence of institutional racism in the development of policy and the allocation of resources and services. It discounts the affects of racism on black and ethnic minorities as consequences of individual life choices and believes that 21st century Britain is a ‘post racist society’.

This is their most fundamental and grievous error and one that is not informed by the myriad of facts that prove otherwise but is more worryingly driven by a deep ideological opposition to the very concept of anti racism.

I would have expected the Minister for Race, Stunell and the Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone MP, to have the foresight to recognise the political importance of black and ethnic minority community’s voices being heard in Government. Both have shunned black communities and despite their Ministerial responsibilities, have through ignorance and inaction, conspired to effectively exclude black community organisations from influencing Government policy.

Both are Lib Dem Ministers who to their discredit remain the only mainstream party not to have black MPs. The Lib Dem track record on promoting race equality and engagement with black communities is frankly abysmal. This despite the rhetoric of Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Vince Cable who promised that race equality was central to their vision of a fair and inclusive multicultural Britain.

This degree of acute political marginalisation across all Government Departments and Ministries reflects the degree by which the issue of race has disappeared from the political agenda. What is true for central Government is doubly true for local Government where the political scene is one of compete devastation and where local black communities are being left to freefall into a social abyss of poverty, absence of opportunity, ill health and crime.

Such marginalisation does not come without cost, both political and economic. If black organisations don’t have the necessary resources to ensure poor communities are empowered to engage in civic society then alienation, cynicism and anger will increase. The consequences of this discriminatory process are I believe very clear and evident in recent events. The summer riots, the catalyst for which was the issue of black men dying in police custody, could I believe have been prevented, saving lives and millions of pounds: had the Government and Mayor of London not dismantled strategic black police community consultation forums, or discounted the need to ensure that they employed a diverse range policy advisers or civil servants who would have been equipped to respond to these issues and engage with communities.

I described the relationship of police and black communities in London as being at “boiling point” at the time of the death in police custody of Smiley Culture (aka David Emmanuel), and warned of such unrest but was duly dismissed as seeking to “exploit a tragedy for political gain”. This was a particular heinous accusation at the time and as events have shown, rather than seeking to shoot the messenger more time should have been invested in dealing with the collapse of community confidence in the police.

Both the Mayor and Government should have been sighted on these issues and effective community liaison strategies put in place. Particularly at the backdrop to these events, we saw huge increase in the use of stop and search powers in metropolitan areas, and drastic public sector cuts in some of the most deprived communities in the UK. These factors contributed to a growing feeling of anger and politicisation of black communities.

This Government’s lack of interest in race equality and racism more generally may be electorally popular with some in the short term, but it will result in tragedy, increased levels of racism and in the long run will ultimately cost the tax payer and the country millions of pounds.

By Lee Jasper