Written by:
Nannette Youssef

Half-hearted commitments and harmful rhetoric

Read time:
5 minutes

Half-hearted commitments and harmful rhetoric 

Rather than proposing decisive action to tackle racial disparities, the recent Conservative and Labour party conferences merely provided vague promises and provocative statements. The Runnymede Trust’s Nannette Youssef reports. 

This autumn the Labour and Conservative party conferences both took place under close scrutiny from communities of colour. In recent years, we have seen a series of draconian legislation brought forward by the incumbent government. From massively expanding police powers via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act to disenfranchising millions through the new voter ID scheme, these challenges to our human rights disproportionately affect people from Black and minority ethnic communities. 

Fed up with being siloed and used as political tools for division, communities of colour are increasingly calling for a transformative approach to tackling the structural racism in our institutions and systems. From policing and criminal justice to the climate emergency, they are arguing that any meaningful efforts to combat racial disparities must take a whole-systems approach that addresses the root causes of inequalities and disadvantage. 

Yet that was not on the table at either conference. In fact, a senior Labour figure told the Guardian that there was a conscious decision to avoid using words such as ‘bold’ and ‘radical’ at their party conference, which was defined by its uneventfulness and, at times, appeared devoid of policy detail. 

In her conference speech, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Anneliese Dodds referred to Labour’s planned ‘Race Equality Act’, which, she said, would ‘tackle structural racism at its source’. But questions are being asked about the scope and sway of this act. Would it work cross-departmentally and be able to influence high-level policy on issues such as healthcare and housing, with powers and roles created to implement structural changes? Or would it be an acknowledgement of institutional racism and a general commitment to anti-racism and tackling structural racism without a concrete action plan? The answers to these questions are far from clear. 

‘Such claims are fundamentally untrue, deliberately provocative and dangerous for people of colour’

In contrast to the Labour Party’s vague promises on anti-racism, the Conservative party conference was marked by cruel and harmful rhetoric from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who warned of a ‘hurricane’ of mass migration and insisted that under a Labour government people would be ‘scolded for rejecting that they are beneficiaries of institutional racism’. 

Such claims are fundamentally untrue, deliberately provocative and dangerous for people of colour. As the home secretary, Braverman has a responsibility to protect and respect all communities and individuals, a responsibility she and her party are failing to meet. Such dog-whistle racism has long been a part of Conservative rhetoric and policy, from the introduction of the hostile environment – which, by the government’s own admission, disproportionately impacts people of colour – and the resulting Windrush scandal to the party’s raging institutional Islamophobia.

Instead of half-hearted commitments and actively harmful policies and rhetoric, our political parties must focus on the very real problems facing communities of colour. From an increase in the scope of aggressive policing tactics to a cost-of-living crisis that leaves Black and minority ethnic communities more than twice as likely to fall into poverty, the next government must prioritise policies and action that prioritise people of colour. 

Nannette Youssef is a policy officer at the Runnymede Trust. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Runnymede Trust.

‍Join the fight for racial justice: support the Runnymede Trust’s work by making a donation.

Photo of the Conservative Party Conference 2023 © Dominic Lipinski CCHQ/Parsons Media. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

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