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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Equal opportunities

The outspoken Conservative Assembly Member for Monmouthshire, David Davies, jumps in with both feet again with his absurd claim that the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is a "recruiting sergeant" for the far-right British National Party. Now I have no brief for the CRE but the claim that they are "creating resentment by refusing to recognise the problem of racial attacks against white people" is both unsubstantiated and ridiculous. In my experience the CRE have always tackled racism in whatever form they find it regardless of the ethnicity of the alleged victim. David's problem of course is his strong and passionate hatred of political correctness. This can often cause him to form judgements that are widely at variance to those of other people. I have to say that David's comments also demonstrate a lamentable misunderstanding of how the BNP operates and of why people are attracted to them.

There was an incident in yesterday's Education Committee in which I found myself having to defend him. We were questioning the Children's Commissioner about his annual report when David asked about single parent families in a way that had some Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs jumping up and down in outrage. I had to make a ruling that David was not out of order under the terms of the Standing Order that applies to discriminatory and offensive language. If they had asked my opinion about David's first question on the rights of the unborn child however I might have had a different view. He was seeking to establish whether the Children's Commissioner's brief should include protecting unborn children from the desire of their parents to abort them. The question was so off the wall that I was severely tempted to rule it out of order. The Commissioner however, handled it with an admirable and stoical fortitude.

Going back to David's interview with Dragon's Eye and the article on the BBC website there is an obvious question that arises. David is the Welsh Conservative's Spokesperson on Equal Opportunities (yes I know, it is hard to believe, even for the Conservatives). He spends a large amount of his time in that role making statements that embarrass his colleagues and which leads his group leader to disassociate himself from them. If that is the case why leave him in that position? More importantly, how can Nick Bourne argue that David is speaking in a personal capacity when David is making statements in relation to an official portfolio that Nick has allocated to him? It just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Actually, there was a good deal of truth in David Davies' comments. The CRE is one-sided in its attitude to race issues.

The CRE demands that all public bodies should have a workforce that reflects the ethnic makeup of the population in their locality, but fails to practice what it preaches. Three out of thirteen Commissioners for Racial Equality are white as are c.30% of its employees - compared to 92% of the workforce as a whole, or 75% in London where it employs the majority of its staff. If another public body showed such a disproportion, the CRE would be demanding "action plans" and "targets" for the employment of the underrepresented group.

It portrays racially-motivated crime as something that is largely done by white people to non-whites, yet the British Crime Survey indicates that overall, there are more racially motivated offences against white people than against non-whites.

Trevor Philips himself admitted in a recent Daily Telegraph interview that the CRE had supported "hundred of cases" (his words) in the past which were without merit. Unfortunately, a few weeks later he continued this tradition of grandstanding by calling for the prosecution of Robert Kilroy-Silk over his article in the Sunday Express.

Finally, there is the CRE's own very poor record as an employer. Numerous staff have brought claims of wrongful and unfair dismissal, and even, ironically enough, racial discrimination, against the organisation. This is not a record that inspires confidence.

Sean Fear 2 March 2004
I thought hard before I allowed the comment by Sean Fear to stand but in the end decided that the purpose of this blog is to promote discussion. However, I do disassociate myself from the remarks therein.

There is no evidence that the CRE is one-sided in its attitude to race issues nor does CRE demand that all public bodies should have a workforce that reflects the ethnic population in their locality. CRE is a statutory body and works within a legal framework. It does not make laws, they are made by Parliament. There is no law on the statute book of this Country that promotes quotas or positive discrimination, nor does CRE advocate that. Their role is to tackle racism regardless of the colour or ethnic origin of the victim. Their concern is to make sure that the best person gets the job regardless of his or her colour, race or creed. I suspect that they apply the same criteria to their own organisation.

It is the role of the Police, not CRE to deal with crime. Equally, how a crime is classified is also a police matter. If anybody is guilty of grandstanding then it is Sean Fear. His dislike of CRE seems to go beyond a dislike of political correctness, after all if CRE is there to put right and avert wrongdoing then why object to it?

My main objection to David Davies' comments was in his suggestion that CRE were acting as a recruiting sergeant for the BNP. In my experience many people vote for the BNP as a protest as they feel that the main political parties no longer represent their concerns and are not listening to them. Their feeling of being neglected and ignored is reinforced by scare stories in tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mail, who promote the view that asylum seekers and refugees have some sort of special status that entitles them to privileges not available to others. Despite the fact that this is invariably wrong, parties like the BNP feed on the subsequent resentment. Organisations like the CRE are portrayed as part of the establishment that the BNP and others are asking voters to reject. Their work record is distorted and taken out of context and they are considered to be part of the problem. By reinforcing that message and embracing this popularist view of the CRE David Davies is inadvertently driving people towards the BNP himself. That is why I said that he does not understand how the BNP operate, because I know that that is the last thing David would want to do.
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