|Michael Howard keeps an eye on the Black and Asian media
Howard was blasted by race campaigners last week, including Karen Chouhan chief executive of The 1990 Trust, after the Tory leader claimed he would ditch any plans for police officers to monitor street stops by ethnicity.
The public inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence recommended that such monitoring was necessary to identify patterns of race discrimination, and Howard’s comments were interpreted as “disrespecting the legacy of Lawrence.”
In the speech on Tuesday, delivered in Middlesborough where ‘Robocop’ Ray Mallon was elected mayor on a zero-tolerance platform, Howard described as 'politically correct' proposals to monitor police stops on race in order to detect racially discriminatory patterns of behaviour.
In a statement to Blink, Howard said: “We will not implement the recommendation in the McPherson Report that the police keep a record of every stop they make, but the police should, of course, continue to keep records of anyone they stop and search.”
Then just a day later, Howard said teachers should be left alone to exclude as many unruly pupils as they wish without interference from the state. African-Caribbean children already four times more likely to be excluded, and a growing proportion of Muslim children also being expelled.
Howard has spent the last year trying to court Black and Asian voters, including selecting a record number of minority ethnic candidates to fight the next general election and embarking on a series of diversity speeches.
Sensing a backlash against his comments, Howard mounted a rearguard action to woo the Black and Asian media. But this failed to save the Tory leader from a savaging, with The Voice, New Nation and the Asian Times laying into him.
|Howard's efforts have been undermined by his silly mistake. If he wants the Black vote he should talk to us first
|Karen Chouhan – The 1990 Trust
Howard made an impromptu visit to The Voice offices in Brixton, to claim he had been misunderstood. He said: “There was a lot of misunderstanding of what I was saying. I was not talking about stop and search.
“Every time they stop someone it takes an average of seven minutes to fill out a record. If the police have to take seven minutes to fill out a form they are going to think twice before stopping someone.”
But this failed to impress. The paper’s editorial said: “The Tories’ retrograde thinking on the issue has undermined all the efforts liberal-minded members of his party have made to court the black vote.”
And the New Nation editorial said: “Last week the friendly, inclusive façade they have so carefully erected came crashing down as their leader went back to his roots and announced that if he came to power he would support more stop and search and that ethnic monitoring of the policy would be consigned to the history books.”
Karen Chouhan of The 1990 Trust said: “The efforts Howard has been making have all been undermined by his silly mistake. If he wants the Black vote, before he makes statements like this again he needs to come and talk to us first. That way, he will realise the impact such words will have on Black communities.
“It seems inevitable that his comments would provoke the reaction it did. We are pleased that he is now confirming that he is not talking about abandoning race monitoring of stops and searches.”
But Len Duvall, chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said that recommendation 61 of the Lawrence report was “not about political correctness.”
He said: “The issue should not be mistakenly associated with political correctness – it is about regaining the trust and confidence of all our communities.
“Young Londoners of all backgrounds told the MPA during our recent Stop & Search Scrutiny that they are worried by current practice which, in their eyes, appears unaccountable and hostile.”
Since becoming leader last year Howard had gone further than any previous Tory leader in making a full scale bid for the Black and Asian vote. Shedding his hardman image, cultivated as Home Secretary between 1993 and 1997, Howard has been regularly seen at minority ethnic events.
|Michael Howard attacking the BNP in Burnley earlier this year
In February Howard launched a stinging attack on the British National Party during a keynote address in Oldham.
And under his leadership the Tories have selected a number of minority ethnic candidates to fight the next general election, including Adam Afriyie in the safe Tory seat of Windsor, and Shailesh Vara in North West Cambridgeshire, which is also seen as a true blue seat.
Howard has recently suffered from poor poll ratings and growing disquiet on his own benches that he was not capitalising on the governments’ difficulties. Howard recently admitted he had ‘a long way to go’ to overturn Labour’s majority at the election.
But Howards' supporters claim he remains committed to winning the Black vote.