Like many others, I have watched, in horror, the scenes taking place in cities across the US. It is axiomatic that violence begets violence and politicians and law and order agencies have a moral and legal responsibility to avoid inflaming the situation at a time when tensions are already high. It is clear that President Trump has failed in that respect as have representatives of a number of law enforcement agencies During recent Prime Ministers Questions, Labour leader Keir Starmer, urged the Prime Minister to convey the UK’s abhorrence when he next speaks to President Trump.
Those responsible for the killing of George Floyd should feel the full force of the law. Governments in both the United States and this country need to examine the systemic racism which permits such barbaric behaviour to occur in countries which regard themselves as liberal democracies. In the UK, we have witnessed an increase in overt xenophobia ever since the EU referendum which has again been very evident in relation to people of East Asian origin following the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic.
While criticising what is happening in the United States, we cannot ignore the long history of racism in this country, across many institutions, not least our police and criminal justice systems. It’s 21 years since the Stephen Lawrence enquiry and Sir William McPherson’s memorable coining of the term ‘institutional racism’. I can recall 20 years before that, my own experience of arguing for systematic monitoring of the ethnicity of young people in the criminal justice system. We knew perfectly well that young black men were grossly over represented but the lack of monitoring meant there wasn’t the evidence to confront the issue, thus allowing those who preferred to turn a blind eye, to do so.
The overwhelming lessons I draw from these events are that we must recognise the persistent and pernicious nature of racism in all its forms; those of us in any position of responsibility have a constant duty to speak out against racism; and, we need systematic monitoring of racist activity, particularly that occurring in institutional settings so that we can take appropriate action.
We can’t allow George Floyd to just become another name and statistic. His shocking death must be a catalyst for change. As a Labour Member of Parliament, I am committed to standing up against racism, in all its forms, both here and across the world.
Many people have contacted me to express concerns regarding the export of control equipment to the USA following recent events and the killing of George Floyd. This week, Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry has written to her opposite number, Liz Truss MP, demanding the suspension of exports, of such equipment, to the USA pending a review of whether or not it has been used in response to the ongoing ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in American Cities. The Department of International Trade, last year, licensed the export of a variety of riot control projectiles and other equipment to the USA, including anti-riot guns, tear gas and riot shields. Under the current arms export control regime, the government must not grant licences for the export of arms and equipment that might be used for internal repression.
I strongly believe that, at a time, when President Trump is threatening to use the US military to crush legitimate protests taking place across America, it is quite wrong for the UK to supply him with the arms and equipment he needs for such brutal, dictatorial behaviour. Our historic alliance with the United States is supposed to be based on values of tolerance, freedom and liberalism, values we claim to share with the American people. Consequently, it would be intolerable for the UK government to supply the arms and equipment which Trump uses to attack his own people.
I am concerned at government attempts to delay publishing the Public Health England report into coronavirus and BAME communities and pleased that a combination of public and political pressure forced the publication on 2nd June. It confirms what we largely already knew, members of BAME groups are twice as likely as white Britons to die if they contract Covid-19. In Birmingham, there is particular concern about the impact on those with Bangladeshi heritage who are among one of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in the city.
What I find shocking is that this report is essentially a statistical analysis without any explanation of the reasons for the stark disparity in outcomes. The government have so far failed to outline what steps they are going to take to tackle this injustice. The report fails to address the shocking numbers of BAME healthcare workers who have died from Covid-19, and doesn’t properly consider victims occupations, exposure to the virus and availability of PPE as risk factors.
It is also quite disgraceful that the report appears to have been censored to omit third party submissions, many of which highlighted issues of structural racism.
What we need is an action plan to tackle these issues, not a reiteration of statistics of which we are already aware. My colleague Liam Byrne MP (Birmingham, Hodge Hill), Labour’s candidate for West Midlands Mayor, has established a regional taskforce to establish what happened and how many deaths could have been prevented. I will be working with my colleagues to demand a better response from government and agree with the Equality and Human Rights Commission that we need a comprehensive race equality strategy to tackle such inequalities.
Some constituents have asked what I have done to combat racism in the UK and what legislation I have passed. I was proud to be part of the last Labour Government which established the Equality and Human Rights Commission through the Equality Act 2006 and passed the subsequent Equality Act 2010 which addressed the issue of discrimination in the workplace. I was also a member of the Labour Government which established the McPherson Enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Prior to entering Parliament, I was responsible for implementing the first ‘racism awareness’ content on the student social work programme which I taught in the late 80s and in the early 80s, part of a criminal justice group which helped establish the first ethnic monitoring of young people in the criminal justice system. At that time we knew perfectly well that young black men were over represented in the system but the absence of monitoring meant we were deprived of the evidence to make our case and so the abuse was allowed to continue. These events seem a long time ago but remind me that racism, in all its forms, is a persistent and pernicious human rights abuse and that we all have a responsibility, but especially those of us in public positions, to confront it.
As you will be aware, Labour have not been in government since 2010 which means that I have not been in a position to support legislation which I believe is necessary but that hasn’t stopped me from repeatedly challenging the Government on their ‘hostile environment’ and pushing for a review of anti-discrimination law, given the changing face of hate crime and the impact of social media. I have also used my position as Chair of the All Party Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers to promote interests in the needs and rights of young people in the care system who are part of the BAME community.
There is much still to do to tackle institutional racism across the UK, it is unacceptable that black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. As a Labour Member of Parliament, I am committed to standing with black and ethnic minorities, to listening and learning from their experiences and to confronting racism in all its forms.
Steve McCabe MP
Birmingham Selly Oak