Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pursuing equality

The race agenda progresses slowly under Tory patronage. Labour when coming into power in 1997 sought immediately to advance the race agenda through highlighting the Stephen Lawrence case and the consequent MacPherson report which focused on institutional racism within the police. There was published almost immediately thereafter a Parekh report which was put together by a strong panel of academics, policywonks and media commentators. It was rubbished on publication by the likes of the Daily Mail because it contained one or two points that perhaps pushed the envelope. Both of these reports however were in pursuit of advancing the race agenda. Then came the Ouseley report. This was commissioned by Bradford Council after some financial irregularities were highlighted in the local Racial Equality Council – though there is much more to this story. Ouseley was brought in as a former Commission for Racial Equality head and he put together at the head of a comparatively weaker committee a report which was ready by April 2001, but which was then published immediately after the riots. Its conclusion as popularly remembered is that the fault lies with certain overly religious communities that do not wish to integrate.

The report had some impact at the time and Cantle proceeded on behalf of the government to develop an analysis that focused around ‘community cohesion’ (see the Cantle report). The race agenda was turned on its head, the problem was not institutional racism but certain obstinate communities. A unit on ‘community cohesion’ was set up in the Home Office only to be disbanded a short while later. A new ‘faith and cohesion’ unit has now been set up which combines the ‘community cohesion’ (religion as bad) and ‘faith communities’ (religion as good) units. Only recently, the Home Office has reverted to its previous institutional racism perspective as it seeks to document and monitor the various developments across the public services.

This shift in policy was made against a comparison with France. The opponents of multiculturalism would point across the channel to a model which they suggested was more succesful in integrating its minorities. This was through a fom of secularism that solely recognised the atomised, indivisible citizen. The inadequacies of a system which claims to ignore race and religion because it can only recognise the merits of the individual have now been exposed. Now, neither multiculturalism nor hard-line secularism seem to work.