Samer Bagaeen: Labour and the Greens in Brighton and Hove are not so “woke” on candidate selections

7 Jul

Cllr Samer Bagaeen is a councillor for Hove Park Ward on Brighton and Hove City Council.

The news that the Labour Party’s selections for the Brighton & Hove City Council elections next May have been taken away from the local party over anti-semitism and lack of diversity comes as no surprise.

It follows years of dysfunction in the Brighton and Hove Labour party since the last council elections in 2019, which have seen the party lose control of the Council to the Greens after three of its councillors were suspended for alleged anti-semitism.

The Labour Group itself has proven unable to resolve this situation by itself and move on, going round in circles. This year, it readmitted one councillor, who was then promptly suspended by the national party again, in the process causing a fourth councillor to go Independent in protest.

Explaining the root cause of the difficulties, one former Labour candidate is quoted by Brighton and Hove News as saying that the local party has been effectively taken over by Momentum, a pro-Corbyn group within the party.  This might explain why at the Council, the Labour party has struggled to have an independent voice, with it signing up to a coalition-style arrangement with the Greens the run the city.  As you can imagine, Brighton and Hove has suffered enormously from this extreme Greens-Momentum Labour alliance, and many Labour voters have been left disillusioned as they have seen their party become ‘yes-women and men’ to the Greens’ every wish, from not weeding pavements to introducing extreme education policies.

For these reasons a takeover of Brighton & Hove Labour by the national party is not unexpected at all for what must be the most dysfunctional of Labour Party branches in the country.

However there is another aspect to this takeover that needs attention, which shines a light on a further major deficiency of the Labour/Green collective in Brighton and Hove. The article about the Labour Party’s selections states that while the takeover was mostly driven by the anti-semistim problems, it was also partly driven by concerns in Labour that black and ethnic candidates were not selected for winnable seats, instead being shunted to safe Green and Conservative wards.

The outcome of the last Brighton & Hove City council elections in 2019 election (and the subsequent by-elections) has proven this to be the case again and again, not only for Labour but also for the Greens. Of the 54 member Brighton and Hove City Council, Labour and the Greens have zero ethnic minority councillors.

In fact, the only ethnic minority representative on the council is yours truly, a Conservative. I was elected in 2019 and am a current recipient of the Conservative Councillor Association Bursary Scheme (2021-2), which encourages applications from under-represented groups such as those from ethnic minorities, to assist their re-election.

The lack of ethnic minority representatives is obviously embarrassing for a Green/Labour Council that styles itself as the capital of woke and likes to lecture residents and spend its time virtue signalling and making policies on ethnic minority matters.  The Green/Labour Council has devoted much of its time over the past three years to introducing a controversial anti-racist council policy, which has included a contentious education policy in Brighton & Hove schools for young children based on US critical race theory, as explained in a previous contribution by my colleague Alistair McNair. The more and more that the council dictates these policies, the more it jars that there are no ethnic minority councillors in the Labour and Green groups.

To save face the Greens and Labour have improvised. Over the last few years they have introduced ‘co-optees’ on some of the council’s powerful decision-making committees – unelected activists who are supposed to speak for and represent ethnic minority interests. Appointed by the Greens and Labour, these co-optees do not have voting rights, but are committee members in their own right.  We have found that cooptees selected by Labour and the Greens can be highly political activists. A Labour-appointed cooptee on the council’s most important committee, for example, has a history of campaigning against the Conservatives, including tweeting about wanting to see Conservatives become extinct. The irony of course being, that if Conservatives became extinct at Brighton and Hove City Council, there would be no ethnic minority Councillor representation at all.

These unelected cooptees may provide a fig leaf to Labour and the Greens’ ethnic minority selection problems, but they are ultimately distorting democracy at Brighton and Hove City Council by changing the composition of elected committees. Decisions should be made first and foremost by elected Councillors. Cooptees can sway the debate by interjecting – and often do to support the Labour/Green alliance and this is undemocratic. Ideological activists selected by Labour and the Greens are also by no means representative of ethnic minority communities in Brighton & Hove or their concerns. If anything, this is a clear indication that the city and its political leadership needs to take a hard look at how it addresses ethnic minority representation, from participation in public consultation processes on coastal redevelopments to the city downland estate management plan which should belong to every resident in the city of Brighton and Hove. Under the Labour and Green administrations, this representation and participation by the city’s ethnic minority communities has eroded.

The City and its ethnic minority communities would be better served if Labour and the Greens instead looked to diversify its candidates and stopped shunting ethnic minority candidates off to unwinnable seats.  Then after the next election there may be a more representative council.

For now, Britain’s capital council of woke at Brighton & Hove continues to be its least diverse – and that is not good for our local residents.


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Ameet Jogia: Let us replicate our success in Harrow across the country

31 May

Cllr Ameet Jogia has been a councillor in Harrow since 2014. He is also the Co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of India.

Overnight Harrow became the flagship council for the Conservatives in London – becoming the only Conservative gain across the country. Having been overlooked for years, the Party tended to look up to other London councils as beacons of inspiration which best reflected Tory values. However, the recent local elections changed the political landscape in London, with Harrow having one of the largest Conservative majorities in the capital.

This is therefore a pivotal time for the Party in London and across the country to understand how and why trends are changing, and what we can do to stay ahead of the game. The results in Harrow were not a pleasant coincidence or freak of nature. They were the result of a number of factors, which I am sure Harrow Conservatives would be happy to share to multiply similar success across the country.

Harrow is one of the country’s most diverse areas. Our victory in Harrow is a great success story for our Party, reflective of our engagement with diverse communities. A story which reflects our ability to champion our Conservative values which we are so proud of, and successfully convey our message to different faith and cultural groups.

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party Chairman, has been pivotal in championing our approach to engaging with faith communities. This has been witnessed by members who have seen him engage with ethnic minorities up and down the country – including twice in Harrow during the campaign trail!

Having grown up in a diverse place such as Harrow, I have always been a believer that ethnic minority communities are naturally conservative communities. People who have come to this country for a better start in life, who aspire to get on, work hard and act as advocates for education, family, entrepreneurship, and law and order. These are Conservative shared values.

Engaging with ethnic minorities should not be divisive. Instead, the focus should be on uniting communities through shared values. In this case, shared Conservative values. The focus of the debate should therefore be on effectively communicating our message to all ethnic minority communities, as opposed to introducing different policies for different communities.

Naturally, our engagement with various communities is at different stages. The recent local election results reflected this, especially our success in Harrow, home to the largest British Indian community in the country. Support from the British Indian community has been growing considerably for the Conservatives in recent years, which has been spurred on by Labour’s increasing anti-India stance.

The key is therefore accessing communities and relaying our message successfully. Finding supportive voices and candidates within communities is therefore essential in accessing communities. In Harrow, having community leaders standing as candidates was extremely effective in getting our message across on mass to communities.

Visibility is essential. This means active engagement with communities, visiting churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. High profile visits, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s recent visit to a local Temple was very effective in galvanising the local community.

Engagement and alignment is also needed on an international level. In Harrow, the Prime Minister’s recent visit to India was a great hit with the borough’s large British Indian community. The Prime Minister’s trip to the Indian state of Gujarat – the ancestral home of the largest proportion of British Indians – resonated particularly with Harrow’s Gujarat community – the largest in the UK.

Diversity also needs to be reflected nationally. Our engagement drive is shown on the top table where the highest offices of state are held by – Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Suella Braverman, and Kwasi Kwarteng. This is an incredible achievement and a dream come true for many Conservatives. This Cabinet table is more diverse than all Labour cabinets put together. This diversity and inclusiveness has played a key role in portraying that the Party is the natural home for ethnic minorities.

There is of course no substitute for hard work, and this has been demonstrated by our excellent MP Bob Blackman who pounds the streets of Harrow every single weekend meeting local residents. He is an excellent example to councillors and activists who he encourages to join in engaging with the local community.

Harrow’s victory is a template for good community engagement in other seats with large ethnic minorities such as Leicester East, Brent, Bedford, Coventry North West, Oldham East and Saddleworth and other key marginals.

For us, it is therefore no coincidence that the ethnic minorities in Harrow – particularly the British Indian community – are voting Conservative. It was destined to happen because of the shared values of the community and the Party. The Conservative vote share has seen a steady increase in recent years in both the national and Mayoral elections. This was due to Harrow Conservatives focusing on local messaging – not in response to national polling – but to play on our strengths, that only Conservative councils can deliver a cost-effective and highly deliverable council services.

Perhaps this is something which other councils felt too obvious to mention. However, in Harrow the local messaging was hammered that only Conservatives had a plan to budget effectively rather than raise taxes, and focus on everyday priorities which matter to people, such as street cleaning, combatting fly-tipping and filling potholes, rather than wasting money on pointless schemes such as Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes.

It was therefore no surprise that Harrow buckled the national trend in the recent local elections. Harrow was a great success story locally with important lessons we can use nationally. Let us replicate Harrow’s success across the country in what we do best – standing up for conservative values. After all, this should always be our greatest strength.

Noshaba Khiljee: The Government is making big strides towards addressing health inequalities post-Covid

29 Apr

Dr Noshaba Khiljee is a Consultant Nephrologist and Physician at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, and was a parliamentary candidate in 2019.

In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, published its long-awaited report. It looked at four main areas: education and training; employment; crime and policing; and health.

In terms of health, the release of the Government’s response to the report has mostly been welcomed by healthcare professionals in the UK like myself. It is greatly appreciated to see the Government addressing such issues within ethnic minority groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected ethnic minority groups, with higher death rates in Black and Asian communities. On top of this, minority groups have historically tended to be worse affected by chronic medical conditions and have lower access to healthcare services.

Furthermore, minority communities are more likely to experience living and working conditions that predispose them to worse healthcare outcomes.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that deaths from Covid-19 in the black and Bangladeshi communities was over four times that of the white population.

In addition, intensive care data also revealed an alarming picture. Although ethnic groups constitute 17 per cent of the UK population, they made up to a third of patients admitted to intensive care units during the pandemic.

Similar trends were also seen amongst staff working in the NHS. Some reports showed over 50 per cent of all deaths were from health workers born outside the UK, who represent less than 18 per cent of the workforce.

Furthermore, doctors from ethnic communities make up 44 per cent of doctors working in the NHS, yet 95 per cent of Covid-19 deaths occurred in this group. The first 11 deaths all belonged to ethnic groups, sadly including a prominent senior consultant working in my own hospital.

Amongst nursing staff, 60 per cent of all deaths occurred in ethnic minority groups who make up only 20 per cent of the workforce.

The Government’s report, Inclusive Britain, is looking to identify the causes of such health outcome differences, and to focus on prevention by looking into ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and geographical factors.

This report, launched by Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister, outlines a solid plan of action on how to address these issues on health, education, employment, crime, and policing as well as enterprise.

This is something many healthcare professionals like myself have been campaigning about – to understand the cause of such disparities and finding solutions – I am pleased to see this report address these issues.

We had seen a low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine amongst the black and Asian community, including healthcare professionals. This may have been caused by a legacy of deep-rooted mistrust in vaccines and health services because of historic discrimination.

Recognising this, the Government has worked with key stakeholders, such as in collaboration community leaders, to halve the rate of vaccine hesitancy in black adults.

Coming from an ethnic group myself, I was pleased to see the Government, with the help of many trusted voices such as local faith leaders, influencers, social media and many volunteers, turn this into one of the most successful vaccines rollouts in the world.

We should also not forget that Britain was the first country in the world to administer the first dose. To date, 141 million doses have been administered, equivalent to more than 70 per cent of people fully vaccinated in the UK.

The Government has used extensive communication campaigns, both at local and national levels, to build trust and hence increase the vaccine uptake in ethnic minority groups markedly. Such efforts have been welcomed by medical experts, who themselves have campaigned vigorously to address such concerns.

The levelling-up agenda has also addressed the unacceptable health inequalities in society, particularly amongst ethnic minorities. This includes inequalities in areas such as housing deprivation, tobacco and alcohol use, diet, and physical activity.

The report also looks at the need for ethnic minority groups to participate in clinical trials and research, such as promoting the INCLUDE Ethnicity Framework. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is looking at the potential bias caused by the design of medical devices and its impact on patients from different ethnic groups.

This could potentially affect diagnosis and treatment in such patients but awaits the findings of Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead’s report in 2023.

The Government’s report has also put in place how the health and social care regulators will measure workforce diversity and inclusion in all their inspections. For instance, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will look at how hospitals are addressing the experiences, progression, and disciplinary actions in respect of ethnic minority staff in their workforce.

The pandemic has helped the government to learn lessons regarding ethnic minority groups. Their report has been welcomed and will help to build trust in our health institutions.

This will be vital in tackling the stark disparities in health outcomes across the UK, to ensure everyone can have the opportunity to live long, healthy lives wherever they live.

Although I can’t say this will tackle all inequalities, the Government has definitely taken some steps taken in the right direction and only time will tell.

Claire Coutinho: In defence of this week’s race and disparities report

3 Apr

Claire Coutinho is MP for East Surrey.

Racism exists in this country; of course it does. And we must do all we can to combat it. However, if we want to close the gaps between how different ethnic minorities succeed in the UK then it is not enough to tackle racism; we must also take a clear-eyed look at why different racial outcomes happen.

The Sewell Report, from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, provides a data-rich analysis of ethnic minority disparities in Britain today. Overall, the scorecard is unquestionably one of progress. The Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, has repeatedly said that the UK is one of the best countries to be a person of colour and this is shown to be true.

The report references a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2019 which shows the percentage of British Black respondents who reported experiencing harassment is the second-lowest in the EU, less than half that of our neighbours in Ireland.

We also have the lowest percentage of Black respondents experiencing discrimination in housing, employment, education, health services, and restaurants, shops and bars. In education, the engine house of social mobility, ethnic minorities are now achieving extraordinary success, outperforming the national average in most cases. As we rightly look at what more we can do, it is important that we celebrate where we have made progress.

The data also shows us that the drivers of racial inequalities are complex. It is not the case that all racial inequalities are driven by racism or even that racism is the biggest driver of racial inequality. It tells us that the Government is right to ditch the catch-all term ‘BAME’. Simply being ‘non-white’ is no longer a major predictor of life chances and masks completely different pictures amongst different minorities.

Even within the category ‘Asian’, one of the clumsy ‘big five’ race labels of ‘White, Black, Asian, Mixed, Other’, outcomes are massively different for Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian people. Even amongst ‘Indians’, the urban middle-class Gujaratis and rural Mirpuri will again see extremely different outcomes.

If companies are filling their ‘BAME’ quotas with Indian and Chinese graduates from high-socio economic backgrounds, we should question whether they are in fact delivering the access to opportunity they are claiming. Because the data shows, it’s not the colour of your skin that is most likely to define your life chances in today’s Britain, but your geography, socio-economic background, and family.

The report is far from universally positive. When it comes to racism, both historic and current, it does not allow us to rest on our laurels. It acknowledges repeatedly that racism is a ‘real force’ in the UK and that ‘bias, bigotry and unfairness based on race may be receding, but they still have the power to deny opportunity and painfully disrupt lives.’

From prejudices in the labour market, to biases in facial recognition technology to incidences of racial hate crimes – which have dramatically fallen but are still too high, the Commission challenges us to use all the levers at our disposal to root out racism. It particularly highlights the rise in vile online racist abuse that Thierry Henry, Alex Beresford, or indeed many of the Commissioners of this report will know only too well.

Both the Left and the Right must show leadership here. Keir Starmer’s selective perception of racism doesn’t seem to extend to condemning Labour MPs linking the Sewell Report’s Commissioners to the Klu Klux Klan, but it should. It also shows us that we still have a damaging trust deficit to tackle in our criminal justice and health systems due to ugly legacies of discrimination. It calls for today’s perceptions of racial biases to be met with robust investigations so that we can rebuild trust where it previously has been broken.

However, if not all racial inequalities are primarily caused by racism, then we also need to look carefully at the other dominant factors. Having an accurate evidence-based diagnosis matters. It is the only route which will lead us to the policies that best help those who are falling behind.

It will affect policies designed to close the attainment gap in education that exists for Black Caribbean students, but not for the Black African students that share their classroom. It will affect how we break into the ‘snowy peaks’ in the civil service, NHS, and boardrooms, despite a wealth of ethnic minority talent. It will affect how to address why the average hourly pay rate is £11.87 if you are white British and £9.62 if you are Pakistani or Bangladeshi. It will affect how we address the mortality gap that exists for Black women of all socio-economic backgrounds in maternity services but not for breast cancer.

Different disparities will require us to design different solutions depending on the evidence. Take an example in education. The two lowest performing groups are Black Caribbean students and white working class boys. If family values of education and parental income and educational achievements are the dominant factor, as the evidence suggests, then we should spend more time on strengthening families, parental engagement, and focused programmes around these particular students.

Or take a different example in health. Low vaccine take-up in the black community has partly been caused by a legacy of deep-rooted mistrust in vaccines and health services because of historic discrimination. This cannot be overcome by Government alone and indeed it has been the collaboration and hard work of community leaders which have helped to halve the rate of vaccine hesitancy in black adults – although we still have more to do.

It should be noted that all but one of the Commissioners on the Sewell Report are from ethnic minorities, with expert in the fields of health, policing, and education..To express your expert view on how to make progress in inequality should not be a matter of courage, but it has become that. We owe them a debt of gratitude because their research has given us the springboard to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

If we can accurately diagnose the causes of racial inequality, we can design the policies that will help bring an end to it. As Conservatives, we need to unabashedly defend an evidence-led approach on racial inequality and relentlessly focus on improving outcomes. We owe that to the people and communities in this country whose ability to succeed is defined by anything other than their own hard work and talent.

Maria Miller: Death and rape threats, abuse, revenge porn. It’s time for Government to get tough with the social media giants.

28 Feb

Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.

I want 2021 to be the year that we finally grasp the nettle of online abuse – to create a safer, more respectful online environment, that will lead to a kinder politics too.

The need has never been greater. Abuse, bullying, and harassment on social media platforms is ruining lives, undermining our democracy, and splintering society.

As an MP, I have had to become accustomed to a regular bombardment of online verbal abuse, rape, and even death threats. In this I am far from alone. Female colleagues across the House are routinely targeted online with abusive, sexist, threatening comments. As Amnesty has shown, black female MPs are most likely to be subjected to unacceptable and even unlawful abuse.

And while women and people from an ethnic minority background are more likely than most to receive abuse online, they are not alone. Hate-filled trolls and disruptive spammers consider anyone with a social media presence to be fair game: one in four people have experienced some kind of abuse online and online bullying and harassment has been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

While the personal impact of online abuse is intolerable, we must not underestimate the societal effect it is having. Research by the think-tank Compassion in Politics found that 27 per cent of people are put off posting on social media because of retributive abuse. We cannot have an open, honest, and pluralist political debate online in an atmosphere in which people are scared to speak up.

Which is why I am working cross-party with MPs and Peers to ensure that the upcoming Online Harms Bill is as effective as possible in tackling the scourge of online abuse.

First, the Bill must deal with the problem of anonymous social media accounts. Anonymous accounts generate the majority of the abuse and misinformation spread online and while people should have an option to act incognito on social media, the harm these accounts cause must be addressed.

I support a twin-track system: giving social media users the opportunity to create a “verified” account by supplying a piece of personal identification and the ability to filter out “unverified” accounts. This would give choice to verified users while continuing to offer protection to those, for example whistle blowers, who want to access social media anonymously.

The public back this idea. Polling by Opinium for Compassion in Politics reveals that 81 per cent of social media users would be willing to provide a piece of personal identification (passport, driving license or bank statement most probably) to gain a verified account. Three in four (72 per cent) believe that social media companies need to have a more interventionist role to wipe out the abuse on their platforms.

Of course, this approach would need to be coupled with enforcement ,and I believe that can be achieved by introducing a duty of care on social media companies, along the lines suggested in the Government’s White Paper.

For too long, they have escaped liability for the harm they cause by citing legal loopholes, arguing they are platforms for content not producers or publishers. The legal environment that has facilitated social media companies’ growth is not fit for purpose – it must change to better reflect their previously unimaginable reach and influence. Any company that sells a good to a customer already has to abide by health and safety standards, and there is no reason to exempt social media companies. Any failure by those companies to undertake effective measures to limit the impact of toxic accounts should result in legal sanctions.

Alongside a duty of care, we need more effective laws to give individuals protection, particularly when it comes to posting of images online without consent. Deepfake, revenge pornography and up-skirting are hideous inventions of the online world. I want new laws to make it a crime to post or threaten to post an intimate image without consent, and for victims to be offered the same anonymity as others subjected to a sexual offence, so we stop needing the law to play continuous ‘catch up’ as new forms of online abuse emerge.

Finally, the Government should make good on its promise to invest an independent organisation with the power and resources to regulate social media companies in the UK. All the signs suggest that Ofcom will be asked to undertake that role and I can see no problem with that proposal as long asthe company is given truly wide-ranging and independent powers, and personnel with the knowledge to tackle the social media giants.

In making these recommendations to Government, my intention is not to punish social media companies or to stifle online debate. Far from it. I want a more respectful, representative, and reasonable discourse online. So, let’s work together over the coming 12 months to make this Bill genuinely world-leading in the protection it will create for social media users, in the inclusivity it will foster, and respect it will engender.

Frank Young: Why we need to get rid of the term ‘BAME’

18 Nov

Frank Young is Political Director at the Centre for Social Justice

A generation ago, virtually all ethnic minority groups in the UK were more disadvantaged than the White British population, by almost any measure. Today, disadvantage is no longer black and white.

Too often, we have viewed ethnic minorities through lumping everyone who is non-white into a crude “BAME” category, grouping their experiences as if there are no meaningful differences between them. It is time to get rid of this useless “BAME vs. White” approach and dig a little deeper into the facts.

Outcomes for virtually all ethnic minority groups have been on a positive trajectory over the last few decades. Many ethnic minority groups are now performing better in education and the labour market than the White British group.

Before we tipped our economy upside down, official earnings data showed that young people from Black African and Bangladeshi backgrounds no longer had lower earnings than their White British counterparts. This is most likely because African and Bangladeshi children are outperforming the national average in bagging good GCSE grades.

When it comes to the home life that sets the template for adulthood, there are vast disparities in family structures across ethnic groups. Only 10 per cent of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are headed up by a single parent; for Caribbean households with children the figure is nearly half. We shouldn’t be surprised that children’s outcomes are so varied when the homes they return to each day are so different.

None of this is intended to suggest we take a pollyannaish approach to ethnicity – there are real problems we need to tackle. But if we want to take them on properly we need to dig a little deeper into what is going on between and within ethnic groups with very different backgrounds, cultural expectations and experiences of the world around them.

The gaps are not just between White Brits and ethnic minority groups. There are huge gaps within broad ethnic minority groups too. For instance, Indian people of working age in 2018 succeeded in closing the employment gap between themselves and the White British population, and now earn more than White British workers, on average. Meanwhile, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people have consistently had the highest unemployment rates – more than double that of the Indian population – and have some of the poorest earnings.

The differences between Black Caribbean and Black African individuals are also stark. Black African GCSE students achieve higher than average in school, whilst their Caribbean peers have some of the poorest attainment rates. Disadvantaged African students perform better, not worse, than more advantaged Caribbean students.

Simply reporting “Asian or “Black” outcomes is deeply unhelpful – let alone reporting “BAME” outcomes. You won’t hear that in the news too often, let alone reports from bureaucrats who love to lump people into groups.

It might be tempting to just blame this on “poverty” or some imagined “structural disadvantage” but the fact is some groups seem to beat the odds. Poorer Indian students (those eligible for free school meals) achieve just as highly as relatively wealthier White British students in their GCSEs. Similarly, disadvantaged Black African students achieve better GCSE results than their more advantaged Black Caribbean peers.

At the CSJ, we have always tackled the most difficult social issues head on. All the above statistics come from our newly published report, Facing the facts: ethnicity and disadvantage in Britain. We need to improve the way we understand ethnic differences by binning the nonsense term “BAME” and instead turn our attention to tackling poverty at its root causes, making sure we get those out of work into a job, preventing families from breaking apart and making education an escape route from a poorer future. The Prime Minister is tip-toeing into this area with a new commission but more ambitious action is needed.

There’s a lot to be really proud of in our country and in many ways we are a hugely successful multi-ethnic democracy. We don’t need a crude approach to ethnicity anymore than we need it in tackling poverty. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has been a catalyst for re-examining how ethnicity affects “life chances”, but it is being held back a lack of nuance.

Governments love to say they are led by the evidence, it’s time to look at the evidence on ethnicity in plotting a better future for families growing up in our poorest areas. The first step is get rid of the pointless phrase “BAME” and get a lot more interested in the lives of real people, which will show up in the data when you look carefully.

Chris McGovern: Black History Month must be rescued from patronising tokenism

13 Oct

Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. He is a retired head teacher and a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street.

Do we need to call time on Black History Month? Should this October’s be the last? This is not a popular question to pose. We are, after all, in the midst of its celebration. Schools are submerged by it, the media is awash with it, and our political leaders are publicly embracing it.

Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, is particularly enthusiastic:

“Iconic figures like Mary Seacole, whose heroic service as a nurse during the Crimean war inspires us today in the fight against COVID-19.”

Seacole has been voted the Greatest Black Briton. Sanctifying her must seem like a sure-fire political winner for politicians. Undoubtedly she displayed some heroic qualities. In 2016, indeed, these were commemorated by an impressive statue of her that was erected in the grounds of St. Thomas’ Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Her un-woke views, though, hardly chime with the spirit of our age. Seacole (1805-1881) was, after all, prepared to put her life on the line in defence of a British Empire that is now much maligned. In her autobiography she classified Turks as ‘degenerate Arabs’ and opined that, ‘the fleas are the only industrious creatures in all Turkey.’ She, also, dismissed ‘the cunning-eyed Greeks and ‘the lazy Maltese‘.

Her guide in Constantinople she addressed as ‘Jew Johnny’. Add to this, her deployment of the n-word and her reference to the ‘dirty skin’ of foreigners and we can see that her views on race were not much different from Churchill’s and of most other people at that time.

Too much Black History is tokenism, and this will not suffice. Black History should be taught, where relevant, across twelve months, not one. Norwegian-born anti-racist and Guardian columnist, Afua Hirsch argues my case with persuasive logic:

“Why should the focus on black figures of historical significance be confined to one month of the year? If they are important, they should be entered into the mainstream of the rest of the curriculum and, outside school, into cultural events. If they aren’t significant, then there is no greater justification for focusing on them in October than there is at any other time of the year.”

She is right. The danger is that we end up distorting history by filtering it through a lens of political correctness.  Abundant filters have been applied to the past, of course – Tudor, Whig, Tory, Marxist, Liberal and so on. PC history provides a new distorting mirror. Black History should be integrated into history teaching across the year, where it is relevant. It does not merit special or privileged status. Nor should its subject matter be filtered.

An important lesson from the past that children need to learn is that people have similar characteristics and behaviour patterns, regardless of their racial background.

Slavery, for example, was widespread in Africa and in central America, including the Caribbean area, before the Europeans turned up.  Nor was human sacrifice unusual in those parts of the world. The Aztecs, for example, practised it on a large scale.

In the historical kingdom of Benin, too, part of modern-day Nigeria, human sacrifice was a component of the state religion until stamped out by the British in the late 19th century, just as the Sati or suttee – widow burnings – was suppressed by the British in India.

The presence of Africans in the Roman army that was stationed in Britain is becoming a must-teach topic of Black History, and so it should be. Children are unlikely to be taught, however, that the African legionaries were here in Britain as part of an army of occupation and enslavement. In addition, the African Emperor Septimius Severus, decreed genocide against those living north of Hadrian’s Wall but died in York (Eboracum) before his command could be implemented. This is a nasty but necessary truth of Black History that needs to be taught.

Anther necessary truth is that the African-Caribbean dimension has little part to play on these islands during the thousand or so years of what historians describe as the Middle Ages. It becomes increasingly significant for British history in modern times with the growth of empire and so, of course, needs to be taught. The history of other racial groups and other parts of the world, though, has an equal claim on curriculum time.

If children are allowed to scratch the surface of Black History, they will find that what racial groups have in common, outweighs their differences.

In October 2018, the Royal Historical Society published a report entitled: ‘Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History’. It was supportive of calls for greater diversity in the curriculum. It noted, however, that what amounts to a non-stop force-feeding of slavery and deprivation was putting black children off history. The “seemingly relentless focus” on the exploitation and abolition of slavery can be “intellectually limiting and, at times, alienating” for black pupils, it concluded.

Black History month needs to concern itself with more than the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition. Here are a few other Black History topics that children need to learn about; some already do:

  1. The defeat of Hitler’s German/Aryan master-race theory by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
  2. The reasons why, in addition to the fact that,  so many Blacks volunteered to fight in two World Wars for the British Empire.
  3. Nelson Mandela’s donning of the South African Springbok rugby shirt – the symbol of white supremacy and apartheid – at the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in Johannesburg.
  4. Why almost every former territory of the British Empire has chosen to be part of the Commonwealth of Nations.
  5. The Rwanda genocide.
  6. The image of Patrick Hutchinson, a black man, carrying a white man to safety during the first Black Lives Matter protest in London in June 2020.

My choice of topics is there to be argued over. That is, after all, what history should be about.

Black History Month, sadly, can too easily descends into patronising tokenism built solely on the concept of an exclusive victimhood. This is dishonest. The ghosts of a million or so UK citizens who died of starvation across a few years in 1840s, for example, might feel they are missing out.

The lesson of history is that there is no colour-bar on human wickedness and suffering, just as there is no colour-bar on human achievement. Black History and non-Black history should be taught across every month of the year – warts and all, good and bad, wicked and wonderful!  Most certainly it should not be regarded as yet another opportunity for virtue signalling by manipulative politicians of whatever political persuasion.

David Skelton and Sam Bowman: Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth should be replaced with a Commonwealth hero

6 Aug

David Skelton is author of ‘Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map’. Sam Bowman is Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute.

The latest piece of modern art hosted on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth left many people bewildered when it was unveiled last week.

Called ‘The End’, it is a large plastic sculpture of whipped cream with a cherry, a fly and a drone on it. Whatever it is supposed to mean, it is vapid and ugly. Given this is one of Britain’s most important public spaces, we can do better.

One way might be to install a permanent statue of one of the many black, Asian, and minority ethnic people who have made contributions to Britain throughout her history. In particular, the contribution of Empire and Commonwealth soldiers to the British war effort in the First and Second World Wars was immense, and has only recently begun to get the attention it deserves, such as with the Commonwealth Memorial Gates at Hyde Park Corner, put up in 2002.

At a time when existing statues have led to debate and division about the representation of ethnic minorities in public monuments, a statue of a Commonwealth war hero on the fourth plinth could be a fitting tribute to the millions of people who helped Britain to triumph in those struggles and a sign to all that they will never be forgotten.

One such hero is Khudadad Khan, the first Indian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Khan, born in the late 19th Century, in what is now Pakistan, served as a machine-gunner during the First World War in the 129th Baluchis.

He was at the front-line as allied forces were desperately trying to protect the ports of Boulogne and Nieuwpoort from the advancing German forces. Both ports were crucial to the Allied war effort. At various points, the German advance looked relentless, with many of the defensive forces being pushed back and the Baluchis being outnumbered five to one. Khan’s machine gun team, though, along with one other, was able to continue the fight until eventually even they were overrun, with all the members of Khan’s team being killed.

Khan was able to play dead until the Germans had gone, when he made his way, badly wounded, back to the regiment. The heroism of Khan and his fellow Baluchis meant that the Germans were held off long enough for Allied reinforcements to arrive, and the ports were kept out of German hands.

His story is a remarkable one, but not as isolated one. In the First World War, some three million soldiers from across the Empire and Commonwealth became involved in the war effort, including 1.5 million from India, 600,000 Canadians, 400,000 Australians, 180,000 from East and West Africa, 100,000 Kiwis and 15,000 from the West Indies. Over five million Commonwealth troops were involved in the struggle against Nazism during World War Two. These were invaluable contributions in these conflicts.

A permanent commemoration of the valour and bravery of Commonwealth troops over the centuries would be a fitting use for the fourth plinth. This could be unifying, reminding people that those who want Nelson’s column to fall are a tiny minority, and that most Britons are proud of the contributions their ancestors have made to the country’s history. It would recognise the contributions of people who have hitherto been given less credit than they deserved.

All of this would be far more meaningful and inspiring than the art that has occupied the fourth plinth since the late 1990s (it had been empty until then). Recent occupants have included a large blue cockerel (“a feminist sculpture”, according to its creator) and ‘Really Good’, a giant bronze thumbs up, which the Guardian described as “a sly parody of the emptiness of public art”. The problem with art like this is that the rest of us have to look at it.

Trafalgar Square should be about commemorating the valour and bravery of British and Commonwealth troops and their contribution to great military victories, not ugly, shallow gimmicks. You might call this campaign “Whipped Cream Must Fall”, although the current occupant should still see out its normal term on the plinth…

But once that’s over, we could take that moment to recognise the sacrifices made by Commonwealth soldiers throughout Britain’s history, saying to them that they deserve pride of place in Britain’s most important celebration of its military past.

A statue of Khudadad Khan, or another hero like him, on the fourth plinth would be the perfect reminder of the sacrifices that so many troops from around the Commonwealth made for our freedom, and a chance to put up a new statue instead of tearing one down.

Sunder Katwala: Gandhi does not quite fit the bill of recognising ethnic minority Britons on our currency

4 Aug

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

There is a certain irony in Mahatma Gandhi being the dominant face of India’s currency. There was talk from the moment of independence of Gandhi replacing the image of the king on the money of the new Republic, though it took some decades for that plan to come to fruition.

A special commemorative 100 rupee note was produced as part of the centenary celebrations of Gandhi’s birth in 1969, but it was only during this era of India’s post-liberalisation boom after 1996 that the austere home-spun Mahatma became routinely the image and watermark of modern India’s new high-security banknotes. It is still only Gandhi who appears on Indian banknotes, reflecting both his role as the spiritual father of the nation, and the lack of consensus whenever additional figures have been proposed.

Now Gandhi may be set to achieve an unusual double, following reports that the Royal Mint proposes to feature him on British currency too. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is supporting a call to recognise ethnic minority contributions in those celebrated on our currency.

Sunak wrote to the Royal Mint that “Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities have made a profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom. For generations, ethnic minority groups have fought and died for this country we have built together; taught our children, nursed the sick, cared for the elderly; and through their enterprising spirit have started some of our most exciting and dynamic businesses, creating jobs and driving growth”, in requesting that they bring forward proposals to reflect this on coinage.

The Chancellor’s intervention was a response to the “We Built Britain Too” campaign, coordinated by former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi and Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, of which I am a supporter. The campaign had hoped to persuade the Bank of England to feature the first ethnic minority Briton on a banknote.

Despite broad cross-partisan political support across right, left and centre, the Bank of England took a perfunctory and dismissive response to the campaign. The Bank’s remit includes “recognising the diversity of British society” in its choices, but it has considered this primarily through the lens of balancing artists and writers with engineers and scientists.

It seems entirely possible that we will have reached the post-cash society before Britain’s ethnic diversity enters onto the Bank of England’s radar. The support of the Chancellor and the Royal Mint will make a crucial difference to this happening on coins first.

It is not quite the case that no ethnic minority face has ever featured on British coinage. For example, the first black British army officer Walter Tull featured on a special £5 coin, part of a limited edition first world war centenary set in sterling silver and 22 carat gold, for the First World War Centenary.

But no ethnic minority Briton has featured on legal tender, or on the notes or coins that any of us might spend at the shops. The campaign is not proposing any specific individual – wanting to see a process of public engagement and debate – but suggestions including Noor Inayat Khan, Mary Seacole and black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, the first black British voter in the 1774 general election, have been suggested.

Gandhi does not quite fit the bill for the campaign’s aim of recognising ethnic minority Britons. Though he did not live almost of his eight decades of life as among the king’s subjects, though the central mission of his life was that this should cease to be the case. He saw India become independent, and the trauma of Partition, but was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu supporter of the far right RSS within six months.

To the British public, Gandhi is a famous name, one of the great figures who shaped the 20th century and of very few names that would mean at least something to most people. Standing alongside Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as British leaders are a handful of international figures: Hitler and Stalin as the villains of the last century, while Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are cast as its secular saints. No other figure from the end of Empire – including Nehru in India, or any other figure from Ireland, Asia or Africa – has any similar level of public recognition.

So Gandhi’s iconic image is claimed for many causes. An image of integrity, to contrast with the politicians of our time; an image of simplicity and sustainability, perhaps now to be seized by environmentalists; an image of activism, “to be the change you want to be in the world” used for myriad causes.

A simplistic deification of Gandhi risks losing the complexity of the man and his times. He was a pacifist, who helped Britain to recruit Indians in the First World War as a strategy to earn Dominion status, and whose philosophy could drive the British from India but lacked answers to address the menace of Hitler and the Holocaust in WWII.

His arguments with Nehru over India’s post-Independence path illustrates how part of Gandhi’s appeal as an icon in the West can reflect a problematic romanticisation of Indian poverty. Gandhi was a crusader against caste and for India’s untouchables, and developed his strategies in campaigning for Indian rights in South Africa, but held dismissive prejudices against the black Africans, as his leading biographer Ramachandra Guha has set out. “Gandhi’s blanking of Africans is the black hole at the heart of his saintly mythology”, as Patrick French wrote in his review of Guha’s Gandhi before India.

So Gandhi too has been challenged by anti-racist campaigners. We should recognise that there are no flawless heroes. The school curriculum should interrogate every controversy, so that we understand them, warts and all. Yet we can not set standards for the recognition of past achievements that not even Churchill or Gladstone, Gandhi or Mandela can attain, or we would surely have no statues at all.

That Gandhi’s statue now stands in Parliament Square – joining the statesmen of previous ages, along with the suffragette campaigner Millicent Fawcett – is modern Britain’s way of acknowledging the justice of Gandhi’s and India’s cause. It places his campaign against British rule as part of the story of British democracy, whose traditions and arguments were used by Indian Nationalists to tell the British that it was time to go.

The statue was welcomed across the British party spectrum, though it was David Cameron and Sajid Javid who unveiled it. The proposal to feature Gandhi on coinage may also be considered an important gesture of Global Britain’s commitments to the Commonwealth – and the warmth of its bilateral relationship with a rising India today – but this is a different, parallel proposition to the case to recognise British ethnic minority contributions.

This timely change would be one simple response to the growing appetite to deepen the public understanding of the history of race in Britain, and how that has shaped the country that we are today. Most people don’t want that to turn into a culture war over the history of our country. If the focus is almost entirely on who might be removed, we risk neglecting to ask contributions we want to recognise better.

This constructive campaign to reflect significant ethnic minority contributions to British history on national symbols, like coins, symbolises how our generation can contribute to broadening Britain’s national story in an inclusive way. Zaidi says her hope is that “it helps build cohesion, inspires young people and unites us as a nation that we all have an equal stake and contribution in society.

Having as open as possible a process of public debate about the potential candidates would maximise the educational value of this positive, symbolic change.

Chandra Kanneganti: The Coronavirus challenges I’ve seen as a doctor and a councillor

31 Jul

Dr Chandra Kanneganti is the Chair of North Staffordshire’s GP Federation, and is a Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor.

It’s been almost six months since we have been dealing with Covid-19 pandemic. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that we could have handled the health crisis better.

We should have imposed the lockdown much earlier, and made sure we had enough PPE to support and protect our health care workers. We could have communicated better the precautionary measures that should be taken. As we move forward, it is critical that we evaluate our Covid-19 response. However, such assessments should be defined by empathy and humility.

I am a GP of 14 years’ experience. As medical professionals, we were never trained to handle a health crisis of this magnitude. Like military exercises during peacetime, the healthcare professionals never conducted nation-wide pandemic-response exercises during normal times. Much less, many health care professionals never even attended a single workshop on pandemic response during their careers.

This is not surprising, since we have never seen something like this in our country or for that matter, no country has ever anticipated a crisis of this magnitude. Our health care infrastructure was tested and stretched by this once in a generation health crisis. Our people and the health care professional community have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the combat against the deadly pandemic.

Over the past few months, my colleagues and I worked every weekday and many weekends in GP practices, in Covid Hot clinics and extended access clinics. Many of us had at least 40-50 contacts of patients every day as a GP. During the breaks, which were always few, we would ruminate on the experiences narrated by the pandemic infected patients, and we would think of the safety of our loved ones at home.

But there was always extraordinarily little time to pause, and we had to get back to patients to work with clinical precision. In the midst of all this, I had to respond as Chair of British International Doctors Association (BIDA), and have led campaigns to scrap the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS workforce and for research with actions into disproportionate BAME Covid deaths and infections.

As a Conservative councillor, being there with the residents in my ward provided me with the opportunity of experiencing the remarkable ‘British resilience’ up and close. I had the privilege of working with the local church to start a voluntary group that helped in distributing medicines as well as food and shielding patients. It was heartwarming to see people supporting each other in the communities. A resident in my ward collected food and kept it outside every week for anyone to come and collect it.

I am sure there are many such good Samaritans in all communities. The lockdown also provided us with an opportunity to get potholes fixed in my ward by the council. Keeping up the local business in lockdown was also an important priority. I worked with the local authorities to deliver grants to businesses quickly and offered help to vulnerable people.

While there were PPE problems in some parts of the country, Stoke On Trent and North Staffordshire never faced such issues. This was largely due to innovative solutions created by people working collaboratively to supply PPE to general practices and care homes. Indeed, one of our administrators made visors for doctors working in Covid hot clinics. Further, these clinics to see Covid-suspected patients were opened in record time. We must note with some pride that Stoke had one such clinic, which was first of its kind in the entire country.

It is essential to recognise the achievements in our pandemic response, as it will help us to build a more robust health care infrastructure. Based on my work as a medical professional and as a councillor, let me share with you four important accomplishments.

First, in terms of infrastructure, hospitals have come up with Covid wards in record time with well-trained staff ready to serve. Our health care staff was trained quickly to shield vulnerable people and protect them. Today, there are thousands of intensive care beds, ventilators ready to be used along with Nightingale Hospitals across the country. There was no problem in accessing an intensive care bed and ventilators during the pandemic in our country. Thankfully, we will be spared the experience of Italy, where doctors, unfortunately, had to choose patient’s for ventilation and treat the patients in corridors.

Second, with regards to processes, general practices have been trying to digitalize for ages. Within one week of Covid pandemic, GPs across the country shifted to remote consultations, using various digital tools and continued to be there every day for their patients. Whenever there was a perception that the decision-making process was erring in its policies, there were quick corrective measures. For instance, all doctors’ associations have united in one voice to support BAME NHS Staff who are disproportionately affected. Eight GP colleagues and a Practice Manager in Greater Manchester prepared a risk assessment tool called SAAD tool in memory of a GP colleague who unfortunately died of Covid.

Our democratic political process and the elected, as well as accountable leadership, are important assets that we have. We are one of those few countries in the world that reported Covid deaths with complete openness and transparency.

In fact, the fatality rate may have been over-reported. I have seen a number of reports of deaths, particularly in care homes that were reported as Covid deaths, based on care staff and paramedics observations without any valid medical test results. Our democratic ethos and administrative frameworks do not permit us to push inconvenient numbers under the carpet.

Third, the response of our political leadership has been brilliant throughout the pandemic. Boris Johnson has been in ICU with high flow oxygen and has recovered. The Prime Minister gave us hope and showed considerable fortitude in crisis. Rishi Sunak was fantastic, and all my constituents have nothing but praise for him. Matt Hancock’s knowledge of the issues and his engagement with scientific and medical advisors showed a mature health secretary with a reassuring presence in the hour of crisis.

We are at the forefront of vaccine development with contracts of millions of vaccines in place, which is marked contrast to some of the developed economies which are yet to sign a contract with vaccine producers.

Fourth, there was a robust societal response. The British public has demonstrated remarkable generosity with the wonderful campaign of Sir Tom Moore. His campaign collected £32.79 million. I had the first-hand experience of the British kindness, as I was able to collect 17,000 in a short time through British International Doctors Association (BIDA), and distributed this to number of stranded doctors for their living expenses. Through various symbolic measures, such as clapping, our society has shown immense appreciation to all the key workers for the work that they are doing.

Despite these achievements, we must never forget the fatalities that we registered due to the pandemic. Death is not a statistical data point, and the loss of life of a mother, a father, a child, and a key worker can never be filled. There are concerns that there may be a second wave of coronavirus in the winter. There is no time to rest. We must continue to help each other and support the government. We are in this together – and will come out of this much stronger as a country.