I have great admiration for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on every level – personal, political, journalistic, cultural, aesthetic. I also tend to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty in terms of his achievements – after just one year they have been impressive.
However, one area where greater change is needed is the 'equalities policy' at the GLA today. Nervous about this controversial area, the Conservative administration in City Hall have been shamefully allowing Ken Livingstone's ideology of quotas, interest groups, thought crime and racial separatism to remain largely intact. Conservatives should have the courage to embrace a true equalities policies – a colour blind approach where individuals are judged on merit, not according to race or other arbitrary criteria.
Richard Barnes, the Deputy Mayor, is in charge of equalities policy overall and has led on the development of the new strategy, "Equal Life Chances for All", which will be launched on Thursday at City Hall. The draft has promised a commitment to "eliminating institutional discrimination", which includes "unwitting prejudice." It states that Mayoral appointees will "reflect the diversity of London." It promises "responsible procurement". In the past, Barnes got stuck in with great rigour resisting Livingstone's proposal for an Uxbridge Road tram. Has he asked similarly challenging questions over this new subject?
What is the "right level of representation" for ethnic groups in the workforce? What is 'unwitting prejudice' and is this a fair basis for race discrimination cases? Does 'responsible procurement' create a burden for businesses who have to produce race equality assessments etc?
My London Assembly member, the Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse, leads on policing and helped set up the Met's Race and Faith Inquiry, which will be published in September. It is chaired by Cindy Butts, the independent member of the MPA. An old mate of Lee Jasper's (they are friends on Facebook still). Previously she was a researcher for two Labour MPs, Clive Soley and Melanie Johnson. The panel itself seems rather one-sided.
Anthony Browne, Boris's policy director, leads on London Development Agency matters. The trouble with Browne is that he once wrote a couple of articles for The Spectator about race and immigration which although non racist were quite outspoken and unfortunately expressed. So he is now paradoxically craven about challenging Livingstonian assumptions.
The LDA currently sets targets for organisations wishing to bid for funds to deliver projects or programmes to reach certain disadvantaged groups. For example 60% of beneficiaries of one programme in Hackney had to be 'BAME' (Black or other ethnic minority). Would not socio-economic background be a more accurate indicator of need.?
The LDA has a Race Equality Plan 2005-8, produced under the old administration. This sets targets for 'BAME' employment within the LDA and GLA, usually at around 25%. This hasn't been updated yet under the new administration, and as far as I know, there has been no public discussion about the direction it will go in.
Treating unemployed black youths and unemployed white youths differently is damaging for both groups. For the blacks youths there is the "soft bigotry of low expectations" – "as you have the disadvantage of being black you need special help". To the unemployed white youth – you won't get special help because you are white. If you don't like it vote BNP.
Some things have got better. For the sake of cost-cutting, they've cut posts like the Women's Advisor, and also some annual events like Capital Women. They've also, over time, managed to stop funding some of Ken's favourite groups like the National Assembly Against Racism, Muslim Safety Forum, etc.
So far there has been no serious challenge at City Hall to the ideological assumptions of the past. There is nothing in any of the new administration's strategy documents about irrational targets, burdensome HR practices, the problems with terms like 'institutional discrimination', the negative effects of "responsible procurement" on businesses, etc. Nor is there a programme for change; just a slightly toned down version of what went on before.
At best, this is a missed opportunity, at worst, it reinforces the view that there is no political debate to be had about this stuff – "After all, if even a Tory administration continues with the same approach, what is the problem?" etc.
London Schools and the Black Child is a body which was set up by Diane Abbott MP in 2004 and it was funded by the GLA under Livingstone. The new administration continues its support and Boris made a speech at the event. On the basis that white working class kids do pretty badly in school too, it might be better to do a general conference on educational failure.
One of the speakers at this same event was Rosemary Campbell-Stephens. In her speech she states, "continued exclusions on the scale that government figures describe, amounts to nothing short of ethnic cleansing within a morally bankrupt education system.' She asks, "why are so many of the interventions, forensic or otherwise, purporting to be about raising levels of attainment, focused on the students and prefaced on deficit models of them and their families and not on the teachers and the dismantling of destructive and inequitable school processes?" There was the assumption that black boys fail because of white teachers' racism. The GLA is giving a platform to these views without any serious debate.
The Labour MP Tom Harris recently called on Gordon Brown to stand down. Harris said it was "unfair to expect the Prime Minister to volunteer for some kind of personality transplant." It is similarly unfair to expect the 11 Diversity Officers in City Hall recruited by Livingstone (plus assorted policy officers, press officers, etc, etc) to renounce their past allegiances. They are ideologues, not professional functionaries. Conservatives need to be robust in denouncing racism and in ensuring that no group is excluded from fully participating in life in the capital. But we will not defeat the Livingstone smear machine and grievance mongering by appeasement – or by keeping his minions on the public payroll.