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Black groups abandon equalities super-body

by Lester Holloway

ANTI-RACISM CAMPAIGNERS threatened to boycott the single equalities body after the government refused to bow to MPs calls for race to be included.

Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott: black communities will be 'hopelessly marginalised' in equalities merger

Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz mounted a scathing attack on the governments plans to set up a new super-commission merging seven different equalites issues together.

Equalities minister Meg Munn was repeatedly challenged to explain why disability was being given a its own committee and board member, but not race.

In a fumbling dispatch-box performance Ms Munn failed to explain the disparity and further angered MPs by continuing to oppose amendments calling for a race committee for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Furious Black campaigners called an emergency summit of national and regional community leaders to agree a strategy in the aftermath of last nights debate.


Ms Munn's offer to hold talks with The 1990 Trust, Operation Black Vote and the National Assembly Against Racism was spurned until the summit took place.

Tony Blair and Meg Munn have a conversation about the big issues.

In a joint letter to Ms Munn the organisations said the government had failed to listen to Black communities and would “not be engaging in consultation as proposed by the minister.”

During heated exchanges in the Commons yesterday Ms Abbott said the government determination to exclude race from the CEHR structure risked allowing the fight against racism to “fall to the bottom of the agenda.”

She said: 'Unless we debate representation and put in place the structures and the law to ensure it, we will find that the majority of people best placed to empathise with the issues are somehow, magically, always white males. Time after time, that is the practical outcome.

'My fear is that unless we get the legislation and the structures right, the commission will embody what I have seen so often, whether at local authority, non-governmental organisation or Government level: lowest common denominator equality, which is no good for anyone, [and] sells every equality strand short.


'Sadly, it is my experience that if race is merged with other equalities issues, without sufficient thought and care about the structures, race inevitably falls to the bottom of the agenda.

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz: governments equalities agenda has failed in the eyes of Black communities

'That is why, when the Government set up a working party to look into the matter, out of 28 people there were only three visible minorities.

'When we say that we want not just assurances but legislation and structures, we are not looking in the crystal ball, we are reading the book.'

Ms Abbott said ministers had failed to listen to the unanimous view of Black communities and that not a single credible Black organisation supported the government on this issue.

Mr Vaz told the Commons that Britain's Black communities felt let down by the government. 'I think that we have failed in terms of the equality agenda after eight years. I expected more from our Government than we have given. We need to do more.


'We need more than good speeches about more black people here and more Asian people there. We must have bodies that will be able to allow the communities to be able to represent themselves. I am sorry that that is not happening. That is lamentable.'

Mr Vaz said words were cheap and that “cast-iron” guarantees where needed that there would be a race committee and board commissioners.

Despite intensive pressure Ms Munn would only upgrade her rhetoric from saying she hoped there would be fair representation to insisting “there will be” a race committee and Black commissioners.

But she still refused to agree any amendments which sought to change the CEHR structure as set out in the Equalities Bill, or specific what action she would take if the new commission – which is due to start work next year – fails to live up to her expectations on diversity.

Ms Munn offered a minor concession in the shape of a 'transition commissioners' representing each of the existing commissions covering race, gender and disabilities which will be axed and merged into the new body.

Ms Munn sought to deflect some heat by shifting blame onto CRE chairman Trevor Phillips. She said the CRE had not been in favour of a race committee until recently and in meetings with them the CRE had not flagged it up as an important issue.

Reacting to last nights debate, Lee Jasper, senior advisor to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, said: 'Yesterday an Equality Bill was passed in the Commons that undermines the institutional levers we have for tackling racism in the UK.

'Doreen Lawrence and other leading activists in the black community warned the government about taking the race agenda backwards, stressing that their community should not be an
afterthought to those in power. But their fears and concerns have fallen on deaf ears.'

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