Labour leader Gordon Brown writes exclusively for OBV about Labour’s policies for BME communities.
Labour is the party of fairness and equality and we are proud of our record on fighting discrimination and racism. We believe that Britain’s diversity is not a source of division, but a source of strength, and that we are all richer – culturally, economically and socially – as a result of the contribution that our BAME communities make.
Our record since we took office in 1997 demonstrates our commitment to fighting racial prejudice and helping people from all backgrounds make the most of their talents and abilities in all walks of life. From introducing a duty on all public bodies to tackle racial discrimination and promote equality and good race relations in 2000 to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act in 2006 – we have not shied away from toughening up the law to tackle discrimination on grounds of race or religion both in and out of the workplace.
We have also pursued targeted measures to improve outcomes from ethnic minority communities across key policy areas such as health, education and employment. We put race at the heart of primary care services through the “Race for Health” programme to tackle specific problems such as diabetes, heart disease and cervical screening within minority communities and targeted initiatives in schools have helped narrow the gap between the educational attainment of Black and minority ethnic children and the national average at primary school narrowed sharply between 2006 and 2009 from 12% to 7.8%.
We have also sought to empower and raise the aspirations of men and women from our minority ethnic communities through projects such as REACH which supported the achievement of young Black men and boys and the Muslim Women’s Advisory Committee which examines important issues such as education, employment and cultural barriers.
We set up a task force in 2007 which encouraged ethnic minority women from all around the country to consider becoming local councillors. A high level mentoring scheme is now up and running as a result of that work and I’m proud that OBV have been a key partner on this exciting and important project.
Establishing the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007 was another important development in our determination to fight discrimination and promote equality. This independent body’s role is to monitor, scrutinise and challenge discrimination in all areas of society – and that rightly includes government policy. The Commission has so far conducted investigations into race and the construction industry; successfully challenged the British National Party to change its policy on membership; and challenged the police on stop and search.
Although proud of our past record, we know that more progress must be made and we are determined to do more. We know that while society has changed for the better in terms of how people from different ethnic backgrounds are treated, there are still barriers to break down and opportunities to be opened up.
The Labour Party believes we best meet these challenges in greater partnership and collaborations that listen and empower local communities and individuals to be agents for change.
Providing the right foundation to better deliver equality is also key. Our new Equality Act – which the Tories voted to block – does that, and we are rightly proud that it is on the statute book. But let us be clear, it will be down to the next government working with all communities to ensure this legislation becomes an effective tool for change. The question is – which party has the commitment to equality to make a reality of the Equality Act?
The Equality Act not only simplifies, clarifies and modernises our anti – discrimination laws, it introduces strong, new measures which will make Britain a fairer society. It will, amongst other things, make companies publish what they pay men and what they pay women; it outlaws unfair discrimination against older people; and it will require government department and public bodies to narrow the gap between rich and poor.
It also contains important new legislation to help make life fairer for people from Black and minority ethnic communities. All employers will be allowed to use positive action to recruit and promote ethnic minority candidates if they want to diversify their workforce and we know that there are many business reasons for why they may want to do that. This will help private sector companies and also public sector employers like the police. The Conservatives have said that if they were elected they would not bring the pay transparency or positive action parts of the Act into force.
When government and local authorities use public money to buy goods and services, they should consider how the power of procurement can be used to help promote equality. For example, if a major new building contact is awarded by a local authority in an area with a diverse population, one of the conditions could be to use more black or ethnic minority apprentices.
There will be a new Equality Duty on all public bodies and government departments which, as well as protecting people from racial discrimination, will be extended to cover religion or belief.
The tribunal system will also toughened up where employers are found guilty of racial discrimination. If they do not take the recommended action to address the systemic nature of discrimination within their company or organisation, they could face stiffer penalties if someone else brings a similar claim.
As we approach the General Election, people from all communities will be concerned about how we ensure the economy recovers after the global recession; how we cut the deficit in a way which protects vital public services and jobs and how we create a future which is prosperous and fair for all – not just a privileged minority.
But I also know that many people will also be interested in our commitment to tackling discrimination and racism – especially with the rise of the far right.
Labour has always been clear – there can be and will be no place in our society and in our politics for the poison and division of the BNP and other extremists, and we will work with faith communities, trade unions and community organisers to defeat their threat.
We know we need a new kind of politics in this country. As part of that, we need more Black and other ethnic minority men and women to get involved in British politics at every level. This is an area I am determined to see more progress on. If we accept that that the citizens of this country are Black, Asian and from minority ethnic communities then we should accept that for the House of Commons to command greater public confidence and more legitimacy it needs to be more representative of this country than it is now.
And how can anyone doubt the importance and power of diversity of representation after the election of Barack Obama?
We are proud that at the end of the last Parliament we had 12 ethnic minority MPs which is six times more than other parties put together but we need more. I helped establish the Speaker’s Conference – a year long parliamentary inquiry looking into how to make Parliament more diverse. All party leaders were called to give evidence and the conference has recently concluded its work. Labour are taking seriously what the Speaker’s Conference concluded and the Equality Act contains two important measures to help improve things;
- Political parties will have to monitor and publish data on their candidates from Black and ethnic minority communities in order to improve transparency. If you cannot see the information, you cannot make progress.
- The Equality Act will also allow political parties to significantly increase the positive action measures that they can take to better support political candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds at local and national level. This means that a party could decide to have a shortlist of almost all ethnic minority candidates which is something they may choose to do in an area where there was a diverse local population.
We in the Labour party are proud that we have a talented new generation of political candidates from ethnic communities from across the country standing in the forthcoming election. On close of nominations, 12% of candidates in seats where a Labour MP has stood down are Black, Asian or from an ethnic minority background – if Labour wins all of these seats, we will have 23 BAME MPs, nearly doubling our number. I know that these candidates will make fine MPs, make a great contribution and provide a strong voice for all of us in Parliament.
You have a huge choice to make at forthcoming election about the kind of future you want for you, your family and for Britain. There’s a stark choice ahead: between the Conservatives who have consistently opposed our attempts to deliver equality; or the Labour Party, a party that is driven to deliver fairness, dynamism and a great sense of pride for everyone within the UK.
I hope you will join our struggle for the future, a future fair for all.
By Gordon Brown
The Labour party BAME manifesto can be read here.