03:03, April 02 53 0 theguardian.com

2018-04-02 03:03:04
I want equality: so does Theresa May. That’s why I am going to work with her

As an activist with 25 years’ experience of campaigning for social and racial justice, I have learned that you have to seize the big opportunities that can offer dramatic change.

I remember early 1997: the general election campaign was in full swing, Tony Blair was characterised in a poster by the Tories as snake eyes, and John Major was appealing to the black vote by proudly calling himself the “Brixton boy”. Back then, we at Operation Black Vote (OBV) received a call from Jack Straw asking to address one of our meetings. “We want to announce that if the black electorate votes for Labour, one of the many things we’ll undertake will be to have a public inquiry into the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence,” he said.

Straw kept his promise. The Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the subsequent change in race relations law would be transformative to British society.

Fast forward 20 years, and another one of those opportunities has presented itself to OBV again, but this time from a Conservative government headed by Theresa May. While she was at the Home Office, May acutely understood the injustice of racial profiling within the practice of stop and search, and the pain of families who have lost loved ones in police custody. To better understand if policy works or not in tackling racism, we suggested a race audit within the Home Office, which May delayed, but then took right across government once she became prime minister.

Earlier this year, the government laid bare its findings after a year of research. The “uncomfortable truths”, as May put it, would force government departments to explain the disparities, or change policy to close persistent inequality gaps. For example, more than 32% of all those individuals and families who are deemed “statutory homeless” are from a BME background. The BME population overall is around 13%. When it comes to unemployment, black people are twice as likely to be unemployed. That negative disparity remains even when we compare black graduates with white graduates. Perhaps most shocking were criminal justice findings in the Lammy review, which highlighted racial penalties at every juncture.

The prime minister has now embarked on stage two: finding solutions. As part of that programme, which includes £90m of funding to get disadvantaged youths from BME and white working-class backgrounds into work, she has also announced a race disparity advisory group, which I will chair. There have been and will continue to be areas of politics, such as immigration, where the prime minister and I won’t necessarily see eye to eye; I have had strong differences of opinion with all party leaders. But the goal is to deliver big on what we strongly agree on. What’s important for the group is to seize this particular opportunity.

Many companies, local authorities and big institutions want to be more inclusive, and recognise that in many ways diversity is one of their biggest assets. Part of our role will be to find some of these best practices and share them, and help these entities to turbo-charge change.

If we begin to get this right, there will be greater pathways for black and white working-class talent to go to top universities as never before. We also want top companies to see talent beyond Oxbridge or the Russell Group universities. The race disparity unit, which manages the live data also known as Ethnicity facts and figures, will continue to collate and organise data that will allow those concerned to confront the challenges.

Of course, there will be some who think that this data collecting is nothing more than identity politics, and should not be tolerated. Some even suggest we should adopt the French model, which rejects ethnic data collection because everyone is French and everyone is equal. I would say to those critics: go to France and ask minorities of colour if they feel they are treated equally.

Our goal, our ambition, is to use this unique opportunity to sew a golden thread in government business and education. Ambitious? Maybe. Achievable? Absolutely.

Simon Woolley is director of Operation Black Vote

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