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Will race come back on the agenda?

Will race come back on the agenda?


The London Mayoral elections have come and gone and several commentators have tried to analyse it within the wider performance of the Labour Party in Scotland, Wales and England, the issue of race however reared its ugly head in what should have been an election about policies and programmes that would make London a better place to live, work and visit.Sadiq Khan must be congratulated for winning an exceptional and massive victory. Whilst his main competitor, Zac Goldsmith, wanted all Londoners to buy into an agenda that appealed to a narrow band of already prosperous people in London, Sadiq Khan stayed focussed on the issues that concern Londoners most: jobs, transport, housing and strategic planning of London as an international city. He set out a vision of prosperity for all London and promised to allow the many voices to help shape that vision and in so doing satisfy the aspirations of the many communities that make up London.

There was no excuse for this contest to degenerate and for Sadiq Khan to be tarred with the brush of an extremist. Yes, he is Moslem but he is also a born and bred Londoner, an exceptional candidate who had served his ward and constituency before campaigning for this position as mayor of all London.

Londoners must be applauded for proving to the whole world, as Obama did in America some 8 years ago, that the most qualified candidate can win an election despite racist undertones of a campaign.

The racist rhetoric may have helped to strengthen the resolve of many Black Asian and Minority Ethnic people in London that they must mass behind Sadiq Khan and prove that the power of the ethnic vote can no longer be taken for granted.

But just as we were recovering from these dog whistles and code words, the European Referendum provided another platform for more of the same, more blatant than before, unbridled and shameful messages trumpeting to the whole world that immigrants of all colours are not welcome in this country.

Whilst in London, the people did not fall for these divisive messages and voted to remain in European, in the rest of the country, people who felt that they had not been listened by the establishment decided that they would succumb to the poisonous pressure. So a campaign that was meant to discuss several issues about our involvement in Europe and our economic partners and co-operators on other fronts was turned into a vote on immigration, and a very nasty one at that.

The political, economic and social ramifications of the vote will reverberate for some time to come, but rebuilding that trust that Back Asian and Minority Ethnic communities are actually welcome and do make substantial contribution to this country must start now, and London that is the melting pot of diversity must that voted to remain should as good a place to start this.

Though 8 years may be too short a time, Sadiq has to use his power as mayor to tackle the issues of race so as to ensure that there is true equality of opportunity in London within the mix of the diverse communities. This is important because if he misses this unique opportunityracism will persist and the inequalities in London will become wider.

In the old days of the GLC, when BAME people were the minority of the London population, there were several positive action programmes that identified and recognised what would help BAME have a better life in the capital.

The Ethnic Minorities Unit implemented several initiatives of supplementary education projects for youth, encouraging small business people to set up with grants, helping fledging creative industry organisation to be properly established, helping to provide recreational facilities for young people.

But these measures stopped short at contract compliance that would use the purchasing power of the council to ensure more fairness in the employment place. In the early days of the GLA, the BAME community was no longer a minority in London and yet discussions of race were emotive and conflated with migration, welfare benefits, criminal justice.

Race discrimination meant no work or low pay and despite all the reports that pointed to remedial action, nothing much has been done to address the issue of racism in such a way that the events that surfaced in this campaign will not be repeated.

More research is required on the needs of the black and minority ethnic communities in London. There are differences within the communities based on where they have come from, their reasons for migration, their cultural preferences that are often transmitted to their children, their needs and wishes, their motivations and aspirations their preferred route and how they can be best assisted to integrate.

The results of these studies will point to what measures can be reconfigured to enable all in London to benefit. The research may also throw up some conflicting and contradictory issues; that is the complexity of race and a recognition that one size fits all approach will need to be reconsidered to inform decision making on bringing all the communities together to move forward.

Race matters, and equality of opportunity is extremely crucial in a place such as London with a very racially diverse terrain, diversity must not be about ticking boxes, the impact of measures need to be monitored and implemented, it is as much about getting people to change attitudes as it is about admonishing people and organisations for doing the wrong thing.

The journey that Sadiq Khan started during his campaign with listening to the views of Londoners on education, transport, housing, health and wellbeing, leisure and amenities must continue now that he is mayor, the nearly 40% of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic residents mostly born and bred in London need jobs at all levels of the economy, and also need to benefit from services that are to be delivered.

But if the Mayor is to leave a lasting legacy on how he would have transformed London, then he would have to extend his conversations to different communities and be vigilant on race issues. The things that should be banished forever are the things that hold BAME back from the opportunity to contribute to the fortunes of London and benefit from its diversity.

Ade Sawyerr, a management consultant with Equinox Consulting focusses on social, economic and political advancement of minority communities in the UK devising engagement and involvement strategies. He can be reached at He also comments on diversity third world issue

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The Matters Arising blog is a collection of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces sprinkled with some blue-sky thinking on pertinent issues affecting African communities both in the diaspora and at home. It includes articles on culture, politics, social and economic advancement, diversity and inclusion, community cohesion topics. It is also a repository of the political history of Ghana, traditions of the Gadagme people of Ghana, and the Pan-African politics of Kwame Nkrumah. Read, enjoy, like, share, and join!


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