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British Democracy failing Black Britain

by Simon Woolley

SIMON WOOLLEY of Operation Black Vote says MPs need to stand up and be counted on where they stand over the biggest change to race relations in 40 years.

Simon Woolley with Rev'd Al Sharpton
Simon Woolley with US civil rights leader Rev'd Al Sharpton

The Government is embarking on an unprecedented campaign to register Black people to vote. I agree.

It is estimated that in London alone more than one in four is not registered.

This means in some boroughs tens of thousands of Black people have no voice and almost no control on how their local communities or wider society is run. And boy do we need a say and some control over how our lives are governed.

How many of us, for example, are sick and tired of dealing with our local authorities whose management is almost exclusively white led -even predominantly Black areas – that treat our concerns such as in-house racist practice, poor housing, few resources for Black groups, as though we were an irritant?


How long can individuals such as Alex Owalade and Raymond Stevens, and others fight for justice before they become exhausted and burnt out?

Equally, on a national level the same battles for a voice and for justice continue.  One such battle in which we must not lose is the fight to keep the CRE and ensure we have a Race committee within any new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

Ironically it is 40 years since the first piece of anti-racist legislation. What is at stake today is the corner stone of Britain’s commitment to good race relations. Let’s be clear.

Without a CRE, and/or Race committee within the CEHR the ideal of tackling racism will remain just that. We know from many Local authorities, and other public sector bodies and private companies that they all have race relation policies that are the envy of the modern world.

Yet how these policies are implemented leaves much to be desired.  Fact is that without a race body that unequivocally focuses on the implementation of these policies with the necessary resources and the political will to drag institutions to the courts if need be, these policies are frankly meaningless.


Desire and insistence to tackle race discrimination may seem close to one another, but in truth they are a million miles apart.

Just how far apart Government and politicians desire for race equality is in contrast to Black communities insistence  is no better highlighted than the workings of the recent Parliamentary Standing Committee of MP’s, put together to discuss the implications for the CEHR.

The Committee consisting of MP’s from all sides of the House was put together on the 29th and would meet over three times over ten days. The public were only informed  one day, before it started who the committee members would be.

As it was almost our last chance to lobby MP’s groups such as The 1990 Trust, NAAR OBV and others mounted an unprecedented lobbying campaign.

In this very short space of time MP’s on the committee were emailed, telephoned and spoken to directly so they could at least discuss the communities views.


This was also backed up by national article on the issue  by Diane Abbot MP and vast coverage from the Black press. To the astonishment of Black groups not one MP on the committee mentioned the ground swell of concerns coming from Black people.

In perhaps one of the most important debates about race in the last 20 years we were once again cast aside as an irritant to parliamentary business.

This catastrophic failure for the democratic process to listen, much less act, demonstrates the gulf between them and us. Part of the problem of course is the lack of Black political representation.

Of the sixteen committee members only one was Black Parmjit Dhanda MP, and he was ‘forced’ to silence because of his role as party ‘whip’.-His role was to herd Labour members to support the Government line.

All this brings up many questions. Can white MP’s every understand the insistence to effectively tackle racism? What role for a Black MP’s if they do not have the courage to speak on Black peoples behalf?

How can Black communities have confidence in British democracy when its failings mean we are not only denied equality but race hate and race crime are ever increasing?

There are no easy answers. One thing is for sure, the future prospects for Britain’s Black communities depends not so much on politicians but upon us being active.

That includes registering to vote, not because the Government tell us to, but rather we need the political clout to vote in or out politicians Black or white who will listen and serve our communities. Sadly,  40 years since the first piece race legislation, the struggle continues.


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CRE response to DTI Statement on Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Equality and Diversity Forum welcomes the progress on a Commission for Equality and Human Rights

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