22nd April 2021
The below letter is in honour of Stephen Lawrence and his family, on the 28th anniversary of his murder, in the spirit of continuing the fight to end structural and institutional racism in Britain, as the Runnymede Trust has done for more than 50 years.
Since 1968, the Runnymede Trust has acted as a custodian of the aspirations and values associated with genuine racial equality in this country, striving for more than half a century to advance the case of equality and justice. There have been bumps along the road that have pitched us against the governments of the day, both Labour and Conservative. And we have acted without fear or favour – but always with the intention of achieving consensus.
Britain has come a long way since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech in ‘68, and our CEO, Dr Halima Begum, has made clear her view that, as arguably the best country in the world to live as a Black or minority ethnic citizen, the UK has so much to be proud of as it continues on its journey towards becoming a truly post-racial society.
The Charity Commission and Runnymede’s response to CRED
It is therefore disappointing that yesterday, the Charity Commission received a letter from 20 Conservative MPs urging it to pursue regulatory action against the Runnymede Trust for our work in support of racial equality and social justice, including the Trust’s response to the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED).
Runnymede notes that the Charity Commission’s regulations give a clear mandate to charities to campaign on issues related to their core areas of expertise. We look forward to engaging with the Charity Commission and are confident we have acted properly, effectively and fully within our charitable mission.
It should not be surprising that an organisation whose expertise lies squarely in the field of racial equality chooses to express significant and legitimate concerns about the CRED and its findings - which include deeply troubling denials about the prevalence of institutional racism in the UK issued by the CRED and its chairman - both before and on publication of the report. We do not indulge in personal insults or attacks.
From the outset, we fully supported the Commission for Race and Ethnic Disparities, coordinating the work and submissions of 30 organisations to the CRED, meeting with No. 10 in a collaborative effort. Evidence was provided by Runnymede and others that structural racism continues to be a major problem in the UK and that the recommendations of the Macpherson, Marmot, Williams and Lammy reviews have not been implemented, despite most of these reporting in recent years.
As regards the CRED, we refute any allegation that the Runnymede Trust has made ad hominem attacks against individual commissioners. On March 31st the CRED report was published and read closely and fully by the team at Runnymede along with other social justice charities and many concerned individuals across the country. That evening, we convened an open online event for anyone in the country who wanted to discuss the report, including ministers and MPs.
We called that event at short notice and almost 2,000 people joined to share their views on the report and, within days, more and more organisations came forward to voice their concerns with its findings. Runnymede then joined with other leading civil society organisations to construct an open letter, in the best traditions of British democracy. The letter signalled the many concerns with the report, focusing on the evidence, detailed recommendations and issues. No individual commissioner, official, politician or adviser was in any way singled out in that letter.
While noting what appears to be a highly orchestrated response to Runnymede’s work on the CRED report, we also note with considerable concern the inconsistency in the fact that the Trust, with its 8 full-time members of staff, appears to be the only organisation to have been named and attacked in parliament. This is despite the scores of civil society groups and bodies that have expressed their shock and anguish at the findings of the CRED report.
While respecting the principle of parliamentary privilege, it is deeply regrettable for an MP to use the floor of the House of Commons to launch personal attacks on individual members of Runnymede’s staff. The UK is a vibrant democracy and we believe that a plurality of views should be tolerated, but MPs and ministers should be aware that such attacks have consequences. As a small organisation with only 8 full-time staff, we have received a significant increase in hate mail and threatening phone calls since the CRED report was published. Our staff should not have to conduct their work in fear for their safety.
The virulent and highly politicised nature of the conversation around our work only serves to embolden those who would act with extreme prejudice; Dr Sewell and his commissioners, like our staff, have also been subject to outrageous and wrong personal threats. We completely condemn this. We do not suggest in any way that this was the intention of any MP, but ill-considered comments can have serious and unintended consequences.
Ongoing Dialogue and Collaboration
As regards our work specifically, Runnymede takes a wide-ranging and evidence-based approach to its charitable objectives, which relate to education and the insurance of evidence, rigour and academic excellence. To this end we collaborate with some of the best universities in the country, and we engage with government policy and practice across different public institutions that have a daily impact on the lives of the UK’s Black and minority ethnic communities.
Most recently, we are very proud to have successfully worked with the government and campaigners to advance COVID vaccine rates in our communities, while supporting government, the JCVI and other agencies in their understanding of the vulnerabilities of BME populations to this terrible disease. We remain focused on this work.
The Runnymede Trust will also embrace the opportunity to collaborate with the Charity Commission as part of our constant efforts to improve our operations. We believe we have always operated within the Charity Commission’s rules. Certainly, given the public conversation that is now going on about the issue of charities and their right to campaign, we would consider it highly constructive to work with the Charity Commission to achieve some practical clarification of the regulations.
We would also hope to share a dialogue with the Charity Commission about how it can provide clarity and support for the anti-racism objectives of charities in the UK generally, including those other beloved British institutions that have found themselves under scrutiny in the last year solely for their efforts to confront racism, including the National Trust and Barnardo’s.
We note that, during her speech in parliament on 20th April 2021, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch did acknowledge that both she and the government do not deny institutional racism. The Runnymede Trust welcomes this move and shift in narrative, and we are proud to see our work and role in the sector contribute to this shift.
In summary, as we have done for more than half a century, we look forward to continuing our work with government and, in that spirit, I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch to meet with myself and our CEO in a spirit of cooperation to discuss how we can mutually advance the cause of racial equality in the UK.
Sir Clive Jones
The Runnymede Trust