As the government prepares to appoint a chairperson to the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), anti-racist organisations have backed calls for the successful candidate to be a bridge-builder and to clearly command support among communities and groups fighting discrimination.
Big-hitters Lord Herman Ouseley (the former Commission for Racial Equality chairman) and Ben Summerskill (director of Stonewall) have both recently spoken about the need for the new CEHR chairperson to be able to unite the different 'strands' which will make up the super-commission.
Neither person is understood to be a candidate for the top job, but their views are respected across the equalities fields. The 1990 Trust, the National Assembly Against Racism, and Operation Black Vote said they backed the call for a consensual approach which unites different communities and stressed the need for the candidate of a new and untested body to command the widest possible support from communities and organisations currently opposing discrimination and inequality.
The anti-racist organisations supported the views of Lord Ouseley that the ideal candidate must:
* Be fully independent of government, and be seen to be independent;
* Have the confidence of communities facing discrimination and inequality;
* Have a commitment to enforcement of discrimination law.
Conversely it would be a disaster for the CEHR and for equalites if the appointee was a divisive figure unable to unite the seven strands of race, gender, disabilities, age, sexual orientation, religion and human rights. The successful candidate's record in championing equality and fighting discrimination had to be able to speak for itself.
David Weaver, chairman of The 1990 Trust, said: 'This is an extremely important position which will determine the future direction of equalities, including race equality, for the next decade. I agree wholeheartedly with Lord Ouseley and Ben Summerskill that the CEHR chairman must be a bridge-builder.
'This is not about personalities, but it is about making sure we have the right candidate for the people, not just for government. It would be unacceptable to have anyone who was seen to be following a government agenda, or who didn't command the confidence of communities.
‘The question of enforcement of discrimination law is critical. We need someone who is committed to supporting the victims of discrimination, supporting cases and challenging bad employers. They cannot be ignored in favour of media events.’
Milena Buyum, Co-ordinator of the National Assembly Against Racism said: ‘As the appointment of the Chair of the CEHR approaches, we are concerned at the possibility that the serious structural problems of this body will be amplified unless it is led by someone with a strong track record of challenging discrimination. It is also important that the chair has the confidence of black communities and anti-racists.
‘One of the most palpable way to evidence such a track record is to examine the candidates' experience in pushing the boundaries of legislation and advocating on behalf of the victims of discrimination in all arenas, but most of all in the courts. Major legislative improvements have always happened because such legal action was pursued.
‘Furthermore, the Equalities Review's Interim Report was a disaster in terms of understanding racism and working out how better to tackle discrimination. Its analysis cannot be the way forward for the CEHR.'
Ben Summerskill told the Blink website that the CEHR chairperson should have a 'demonstrable recent track record of building bridges between and across [different] communities.'
Lord Ouseley told the same site that the winning candidate must have 'full independence of mind' someone not attached to any political party who was 'able to say “butt out” to the government if what they want is not in the interests of equalities.'
The peer said the CEHR chair should have the 'confidence' of people, and must be 'committed to enforcement' of anti-discrimination law.
For interviews with The 1990 Trust call 020 7582 1990 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org For interviews with the National Assembly Against Racism call 020 7247 9907 or email email@example.com