JUST LIKE IT IS: Black Tory leader?
My interest in the politics of Britain started with my arrival in London in 1963 when I joined the Labour Party. It continues with no deceleration to this day.
During my first sojourn there up to 1970, anti-black immigrant sentiment, bigotry and rampant racism were as prevalent and well known as the national dish, fish and chips. The vociferous voice in the forefront of the movement was the distinguished academic and conservative Member of Parliament Enoch Powell.
A master orator, in his most famous speech he predicted hyperbolically that the River Thames would flow with blood if black immigration continued. More sober commentators, like leading fellow Conservative parliamentarian Michael Heseltine, described the racist tone of his predictions as an “explosion of bigotry”.
British society was thoroughly pervaded by institutionalized racism formally identified years later by a High Court judge following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in south-east London. The police were on the cutting edge of overt anti-immigrant actions.
As a young diplomat in the Barbados High Commission, I was a victim of the bigoted attitude of the police who, after arresting me for allegedly driving through a traffic light at 3 o’clock in the morning, later towed away my car on a regular basis from next to the office. That only ended when I warned them in graphic language of drastic retaliation.
When I returned to London in 1995 as High Commissioner, the racism and bigotry were not as open and vile. Gone were such signs as greeted me in 1967 when looking for somewhere to live: “No niggers, no dogs”.
Unlike the 1960s, there were also black members of parliament, the most prominent Guyanese Bernie Grant, Jamaican Diane Abbott, and Ghanaian Paul Boateng. I cannot remember any black Conservative MPs and only one member of the House of Lords. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, three black baronesses with Caribbean backgrounds were appointed. One led the Lords and another became attorney general. Boateng (married to a Barbadian) became the first black cabinet minister.
Against that extensive background, it therefore came as a major shock to read recently in the Sunday Times the front-page headline Black MP Is Hot Tip To Be Next Tory Leader. The story reports a secret operation to propel Adam Afriyie, MP for highbrow Windsor and self-made multimillionaire, as a surprise successor to party leader David Cameron.
The son of a white English mother and Ghanaian father, he grew up in poverty in Peckham, south-east London. Moving from the first black MP elected in 2005 to challenge for leadership of the right-wing Conservatives represents a sea change in British politics reminiscent of President Obama’s genealogy and rise to fame.
With the polls showing Labour with a 22 per cent lead, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition having continuing problems and the prospect of turning around its waning fortunes hardly propitious after a projected 2015 defeat, Mr Afriyie may emerge as the most likely leader of the Conservative Party, the very thought of which must make Enoch Powell skin cuffins in his grave.
To try to capture the non-white vote, it is interesting that Mr Afriyie has recruited the former head of the Equality And Human Rights Commission, a well-respected Guyanese Labourite who thinks that except for his blackness, he is the perfect person to lead the Tories.
This is a clever move. In the last United States election rapid growth in black, Asian and Latino voters put victory beyond the Republicans. Conservative grandee and major funder Lord Ashcroft, in a recently published report, warned of the “gulf” between ethnic minorities and the Tory Party.
With demographic growth generating electoral pressures, it is not surprising that the Conservative Party may turn to a mulatto to try to rescue its sinking fortunes.
Time ripe for observers?
I always welcome feedback to what I write in this column, especially when it faults me for sins of omission or commission which would have improved its content.
Last week I congratulated fellow Barbadians for an incident-free election, noting that unlike other Caribbean countries, there were no regional or international observers on the ground.
Like so many other Barbadians I expressed concern at reports of the buying and selling of votes, noting the evolution from biscuits, corned beef and rum to liquid cash of varying amounts. What was particularly bothersome: some people who witnessed cash exchanges did not call the police.
My friend called to advise that to carry the point to its logical conclusion, I should have said that perhaps it is time outside observers monitor our electoral process in an effort to bring this threat to the destiny of our democracy to an end, concomitantly sullying our national reputation.
This sordid practice must not return. The ball is in the court of the political class.
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat.