UK politics reaches a point where it can no longer rely on old, outdated assumptions & stereotypes

This stems from a new unworkable policy that ramps up the rhetoric against migrants under the political cover of trying to deal with the curse of human trafficking. Despite the promotion of Debate Not Hate in the run up to the local elections in 2 months time.

The lectern slogan with the flag in the background says it all.

As does this unprecedented statement on the face of the Bill proposed:

clause in the Bill

The recently-developing political phenomenon is this: People who are defined by or self-define as being within the protected characteristic of Race as under the Equality Act 2010 who hold ministerial public office are now fronting some of the most inflammatory rhetoric and policies introduced by central government, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the early 1980s.

And it’s nauseating.

Yet it was the outcome of a long term plan by the Conservatives to target people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

“The Conservatives have traditionally struggled to win over ethnic minority voters. In 2010, the party won just 16% of the black and minority ethnic vote compared with Labour’s 68%.”

Chris Game is Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Local Government Studies. Likely from 2015.

If we take the two leading proponents, Rishi Sunak MP and Suella Braverman MP, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary respectively, both are from the intake of the 2015 general election. The former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and former Home Secretary Priti Patel are from the 2010 general election intake.

“Labour performed better than the Conservatives amongst ethnic minority groups. Ipsos MORI estimates Labour won the votes of 64% of all Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters, while 20% voted for the Conservatives and 12% for the Lib Dems.”

House of Commons Library 21 Feb 2020

That four percentage point switch from Labour to Conservatives could have been the difference between winning and losing seats back in 2019.

Labour can no longer treat communities as monolithic cohorts that will supply a compliant candidate who if/when elected will do as their told by the party machine.

This was one of the criticism of the pejoratively-named ‘Blair Babes’ era of the late 1990s. Despite the massive increase in the number of women returned by the electorate, it did not reflect the number of women in prominent ministerial offices.

“…while progress has been made across government and parliament in the last decade, women remain underrepresented in both Houses of Parliament, the cabinet, the senior civil service and among ministers and special advisers.”

Institute for Government, 2022


“While quotas get women through the door, the weight of evidence is that they do not sufficiently address the cultural and working practices in Parliament and local government that remain significant barriers, nor do quotas assure the future progress of female representatives.”

Prof Sue Maguire, IPR, University of Bath, 2018
“An awfully inflammatory policy just to try and save some seats at looming elections?”

That’s what some – even inside the Conservative Party are saying.

“”It is a joke – an attempt to go into general election with clear blue water between us and Labour. Propose hardline law, have it stopped by EU and courts, blame lefty lawyers and Labour for being soft on immigration” – Former Conservative Minister”

Via Cllr Brian Wernham 05 March 2023

It is a pattern that we’ve seen repeated before. And when asked to tone down the rhetoric by former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, the Home Secretary was having none of it.

And it is something that inevitably gets lapped up not just by the print press, but by the new generation of phone-in-TV stations, both digital and internet-only based. Yet we’ve been here before. We’re still there. Here’s Richard Peppiatt back in 2011 to one now former proprietor of a tabloid.

“[If you] still allow your editors to use inciteful over insightful language, then far from standing up for Britain, you’re a menace against all things that make it great.”

Richard Peppiatt, The Guardian 04 March 2011

The same proprietor was also involved in the property scandal that resulted in the former Housing & Local Government Secretary Jenrick being shamed over trying to overrule a local council on a very expensive property deal. That same former Cabinet Minister has since come back as the effective deputy to the Home Secretary as the Minister of State for (of all things) Immigration.

“Can this policy be seen in the narrow bubble that ministers are making out? Or is it bad history as much as bad politics?”

The latter.

And this pre-dates Iraq War II in 2003 & beyond. The UK’s colonial policies have a very, very long half-life. The creation of a planet dependent on oil is fairly well-known in environmental circles. What isn’t well known is how a technological change resulted in the UK completely changing its foreign and industrial policies towards oil and away from coal.

Britannia ruled the waves….ages ago.

The story is brilliantly told by Robert K Massie in Dreadnought, the Anglo-German Rivalry & coming of the Great War. Essentially the Royal Navy at the end of the 19th Century was powered by coal-fired engines, and there were major coaling stations dotted around the world – the Falkland Islands being one of them. With technological developments, Admiral Jackie Fisher, a favourite of the new King Edward VII and his Danish consort the popular Queen Alexandra, took it upon himself to modernise the Royal Navy in response to the growing threat from Kaiser Wilhelm II”s expanding German Navy. (Wilhelm was the eldest son of Edward’s elder sister, Vicky the Princess Royal who married Frederick the Crown Prince of Prussia, later Friedrich III). Fisher made the case for the new generation of battleships to be oil-powered. This made sense from an efficiency perspective as according to Massie, the fuel was much easier to handle, required far fewer crew to move it, and the engines were less noisier. But unlike coal, Britain didn’t have nearly enough of the fuel to keep the Royal Navy going. Which explains why the UK at the peak of its colonial powers got involved in the Middle East – back then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, a longtime ally against the Russian Empire. (Think the Crimean War – it was the threat to the Ottoman Empire and UK trade routes that got Britain and France involved).

And thus the UK has been involved in the Middle East ever since.

Above – have a browse of the Middle East Crisis from 1957 (with all the caveats that come with old books on politics). Even with the processes of political decolonisation fully underway, this book reflects the very long political half-lives of colonialism – and also of the Cold War too.

Inequalities and austerity

The other side of the coin – or another face of the political dice, are the domestic policies of recent Chancellors of the Exchequer that have enabled the very rich to get richer, and the poorest to struggle even more. Up until 1970, the population earning less than the average wage received just over 20% of national wealth according to the Equality Trust below, having risen very slowly from just under 14% in 1900. In contrast, from their low point in 1970 of just under 27% of wealth, the holding for the top 10% rose to nearly 39% by 2013 before the hit from the EU Referendum result hit.

Above – Wealth Distribution 1900-2020 by the Equality Trust

Furthermore, by cutting back on local council services and allowing huge inequalities to grow within our towns and cities and across the countries, inevitably some people will look for someone to blame. For ministers it’s easy to point the finger at a cohort of people rather than take the political hit for their failures on things like substantially reducing tax avoidance, and getting rid of the loopholes that enable large corporations to minimise their tax liabilities to the extent that those on very low incomes end up paying more (including via VAT on services they pay for, or import duties on things they by online) than big firms. Furthermore, we’ve seen the miserable pay and conditions in the face of the cost of living crisis at multinationals like Amazon.

“Don’t let them divide us” has to be more than just a slogan on a placard, or a chant at a street protest”

Which is why the consultations from political parties on general election manifestos taking place now (such as Labour’s on communities policy that I wrote about here) are ever so important – and ones that at the looming local elections should be things that people should be encouraged to ask candidates about. What will the national parties propose on radically overhauling existing structures? Because otherwise we end up in a familiar situation as we saw at the latest Cambridge City Council South Area Committee meeting where a new election candidate (in this case Dr Thomas Ron for Labour in Queen Edith’s) reports back from the thankless task of door-knocking and canvassing with the familiar items of potholes and broken things like smashed bus stop panes.

Above – Dr Thomas Ron (Cambridge Labour candidate for Queen Ediths, to South Area Cttee 06 March 2023 – from around 15mins in)

That’s nor a slur on Dr Ron – it’s a reflection of how our structures are so broken that 1) the local council committee doesn’t have policy responsibility to deal with pot holes (we have a two-tier council in Cambridge) and 2) the county council) of which county councillors can speak but not vote) have such limited capacity due to austerity with neither having revenue raising powers to maintain basic infrastructure. It’s gotten so bad that Cambridge no longer has a permanent tourist information office. We are a city with a global name governed like a market town. And for whatever reason the Conservative Party seems content with that.

Cambridge is a changed city – and more than a few of our newer residents will be very disturbed by the rhetoric coming from ministers in the face of the absence of workable solutions to an international crisis

Since my childhood our city’s population has grown by over 50%. One of the things that struck me about the new homes on Trumpington Meadows is that I know nothing about their community. (See their action group here).

Above – Paul Colbert of Trumpington Meadows Group

“We arrived from other parts of the UK and were disappointed there was no real infrastructure or community in place… …and [our group] was tasked with dealing with things like poor build quality [from mass house builders]”

Cambridge South Area Cttee 06 March 2023

You can read more about the Trumpington Meadows Delivery and Action Group here. This is also how I felt and still feel about the new estates in Marleigh, Clay Farm, Great Kneighton, Darwin Green, and Orchard Park. Ditto the more recent developments off Mill Road at the Mill Road Depot and Cromwell Road. I dread to think how more recent arrivals from abroad – including refugees, are feeling about the rhetoric coming from the Home Secretary.

What’s all the more harder to deal with when it comes to the generational differences is that you have people from mixed heritage backgrounds and/or those whose grandparents or great-grandparents moved to the UK decades or more ago, and for whom the UK is home. There is no somewhere where we can ‘go back’ to. Which then makes me wonder how various MPs can on one hand say they support Debate not Hate while at the same time ramping up the rhetoric that divides communities and puts specific cohorts at risk.

Again we’ve been here before.

Here’s a former Tory MP who was asked a decade ago on Channel 4 news what an illegal immigrant looked like (from 50 seconds in).

MPs and ministers should know better.

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