Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
Before the last election, the on-again-off-again leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, took part in a Channel 4 documentary to announce that his party was ‘colour blind’ and that, if he could, he would get rid of ‘much of’ our existing anti-discrimination laws.
Although he rowed back from his comments, the thinking of Farage was apparently that he didn’t believe that conscious racism was prevalent in the UK, and that this was therefore an example of unnecessary red tape for businesses. Even if this was true, it isn’t an argument to make it permissible to racially discriminate. Perhaps if no one in the UK was murdered, Farage should have considered whether he would argue that prohibiting murder is an unnecessary law?
I was shocked by his comments, and wrote a column about my thoughts at the time. However, what Mr Farage failed to consider, as many often do, is the unconscious discrimination that people from minority groups suffer from on too regular a basis.
This fact has been recognised by David Cameron, and was the basis of an excellent section of his conference speech this year. He made clear that our party cannot sit idly by while the potential and progress of many talented individuals in this country is blocked and stymied.
The Prime Minister understands this issue, and most importantly, he sees this as a Conservative mission. It is celebrated that we no longer live in a country where businesses put up signs saying “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish” and, despite what some might have you believe, we must always remember that we are one of the most tolerant nations on earth.
Over the last few decades, Britain has truly delivered a fairer society, a more equal society, a society with much less discrimination. However, that does not mean that we have solved the problem and can rest on our laurels. Certainly not when there is so much more that we can and should do.
Despite the best efforts and intentions of everyone, there is still undeniable inequality in opportunity. The Prime Minister pointed out in his speech that people with ‘white sounding’ names are twice as likely to receive an interview when applying for a job, and he cited instances of black people changing their names just to find work by ‘whitening their CVs’. With a name like Zahawi I understand these concerns, as I too cannot claim my ancestors took part in the Battle of Hastings.
For some, this speech was just window dressing, they believed this was just to adjust our image, and there would be nothing concrete to follow.
However, the modern Conservative Party is much more than that, and the Prime Minister is passionate about delivering on this agenda. He knows, as the father of two daughters, the injustice of the thought that they might earn less, or have fewer opportunities, just because they are female. The work that Cameron has put in since 2005 is why the Conservative Party’s MPs now include more women, more people of ethnic minorities, and a bigger variety of backgrounds than ever before.
We have started to set out how we intend to right these wrongs. Firstly, the Prime Minister ordered the Police to record anti-Muslim hate crime as a separate offence, as anti-Semitism already is. This will enable us to properly track and tackle the attacks on our Muslim communities, and in addition new funding will be made available to enhance the security of mosques.
These measures will deal with overt racism which, thankfully, is still rare in our society, however the extra steps the Government are now taking deal with subconscious discrimination.
The Government has already agreed with the largest graduate employers, who employ more than 1.8 million people, to make their applications name-blind, and we are introducing the same system for recruitment into the Conservative Party. David Cameron announced last week that from 2017 applications made through UCAS to get into university will also be name blind.
It is indefensible that top universities currently make offers to 55 per cent of white applicants, and only 23 per cent of black applicants, but I do not believe this is a conscious action. I am sure those who judge University applications act with entire propriety, with due diligence and to high moral standards; however, the Prime Minister believes there is an unconscious bias here and I believe the evidence must lead us all to agree.
Making University applications name-blind will remove the subconscious psychological nudge that names provide us with, of ‘familiarity’ and ‘normality’. This proposal is not about positive discrimination or disadvantaging the applications of white university applicants. All that is changing is that the applications will be judged on their own merit, without being linked to a name.
Every Conservative should celebrate these measures. We all know that the best route out of poverty is to work hard, get a good education, enhance your employability and skills by going to University or becoming an apprentice, and then get a good job.
Unfortunately too many people, despite working as hard as possible, are needlessly shut out. This is wrong. A One Nation Government must work every day that we are granted in power to ensure that no one is denied their right to opportunity, their right to realise their talents. This is not just a loss to an individual and their family, but it is a loss to our economy and our country. We cannot have equality of outcome, but we must have equality of opportunity. The Prime Minister has shown that he is committed to this, and I’m delighted.