Festus was the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for West Ham constituency at 2015 General Election. He runs his own business and also works in Parliament.
The Prime Minister recently appointed David Lammy, a Labour MP, to head his review into why it is “more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university” if you are black, and why “it seems you’re more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime than if you’re white” having committed the same crime.
I have heard some suggest that black people are more likely to commit certain crimes, or that ethnic minority people tend to live in our larger cities which tend to have higher crime levels – hence more arrests.
However, the issue with these arguments is that the statistics from the Ministry of Justice compares a like for like scenario which is that – an ethnic minority person in the dock is much more likely to receive a custodial and longer sentence for committing exactly the same category of crime when compared to a white person.
Consider this: Britain’s ethnic minority population is approximately 14 per cent, but the same group make up about 25 per cent of its prison population and are about thirty times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.
Surely, this should make any fair minded person wonder why, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister has taken this step.
The decision to take a closer look at this apparent unfairness in one of the bedrock institutions of a democratic and open society is huge.
A few days ago, I was speaking with a very vocal figure within the black community whose vitriol against the ‘racist Tories’ is legendary. I swear this guy has memorised the entire ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell as Exhibit ‘A’ to prove his theory of Tory racism.
Towards the end of our respectful discussion, I asked him how he felt about a Conservative Prime Minister making equality one of the big agendas of his last term in office. I referred him to the Prime Minister’s speech at the last Party conference, outspoken comments about Britain’s terrible record on social mobility, and now, ‘The Lammy Review’.
He conceded that in over a decade of Labour being in power, they only cared about worshipping at the altar of big banks. He shook his head and said: “Fancy a bloody posh boy putting these issues on top of the news agenda. Labour are finished!”
While I don’t take the cynical view my comrade friend took, as a Conservative, I believe that rooting out systemic injustices and any institutional obstacles to a level playing field for all is a very Conservative thing to do.
For example, how can a market system truly function optimally, where institutional social exclusion prevails? A criminal record could be the difference between full participation in society and in our costly revolving door prison system.
I sincerely hope that Lammy uses this review to also look at the root causes of the seemingly high and disproportionate levels of ethnic minority population in our prisons.
Were he to ask for my views, I’d tell him that the ridiculously high rate of young black kids growing up without a father around is a big problem. Additionally, a lack of sufficient exposure to wider life opportunities beyond the realms of sports and music is worth addressing.
I do not suspect that these are unique to the black community, or that the structural obstacles identified are germane to the ethnic minority groups only. White working class boys, especially, are facing an increasingly difficult uphill struggle too.
To my view, Britain is a great place to live and work. I came here as an immigrant from Nigeria aged 13, studied to Master’s degree level, started in business when 16 years old, and now employ over 50 staff. I’d say much progress have been made in building a more equal and open British society, but there sure is much more to be done.
In launching this review into our justice system, I believe the Prime Minister is doing the right thing by openly acknowledging prima facie that there is a problem, and it needs urgent attention. Surely, such a step aimed at promoting a fairer and more just society is integral to building a One Nation Britain.