Dr Tony Sewell CBE chaired the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities and founded the education charity Generating Genius.
It was an honour to be asked last year by Boris Johnson to join the House of Lords. I am not a party-political animal. I’ve only ever been a small ‘c’ conservative. But I’m excited to take up the Conservative whip in that august house later this month so that I can get stuck into the serious business of policy debates and examining legislation.
I’m often asked why there are not more black conservatives. The truth is we are many – but there is a heavy price to pay for sticking your head above the parapet.
As chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), my reward for openly stating that, while racism still exists, Britain as a whole is not a racist country, was opprobrium rather than approval from the cultural establishment.
The Commission’s report found that ethnic minority success was evident almost everywhere – and, where it wasn’t, that this was more an effect of class than race. Family was the most important driver of outcomes.
Conservatives should not underestimate the level of opposition to our more optimistic and analytical approach to racial equality. The abuse I received on social media in the wake of the report, often racist itself – and including from Labour MPs – was at times quite shocking. In the wake of that abuse, my own former university withdrew its offer of an honorary degree.
Worst still was that many of those who instinctively should have been on our side, looked away wondering why we were “rocking the boat” or “engaging in culture wars” by examining the evidence and telling the truth on race in the UK.
The most significant exception was Kemi Badenoch, then Minister for Equalities. She was – and still is – one of the few prepared to confront difficult issues, especially when it comes to race, from an evidence-based perspective.
It does not surprise me that many conservatives, especially black ones, choose not to speak up on race and sensible approaches to tackling racial inequality. Why should we when some of our most natural supporters won’t back us up as soon as the going gets tough? But the alternative is worse: our silence will ensure that the entire agenda is owned by the Left.
The report produced by CRED was the most substantial and wide-ranging review of racial disparities in over 20 years, and it resulted in a new government approach and policy agenda on race. I was very proud to be its Chair and together with the nine fantastic commissioners – each bringing expertise and experience to their role – we spent many long and important hours interviewing numerous researchers, analysts, stakeholders, and members of the public to ensure the final report was fair and robust.
Many of you will recall the often absurd response to the report, but it is worth instead focusing on the successes CRED has had in the nearly two years since we reported: a new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to boost ethnic minority health; moving the Social Mobility Commission into the Equality hub to consider place as well as race in levelling up; a new national framework for using police powers to build community trust; and a new, more inclusive history curriculum.
In addition, institutions are moving away from the unhelpful ‘BAME’ acronym, and the Office for Students has challenged Universities to deal with low-quality subjects and drop out rates, which CRED found impacted black students disproportionately.
These wins are all evidence that, with the social media noise having died down, an increasing number of reasonable people are now engaging with the report and rightly see it as a significant policy document. The Government’s Inclusive Britain strategy shows that there is more to come.
There has never been a more important time to restate the benefit that conservative values can bring to policy-making. I was encouraged listening to Rishi Sunak’s speech last week. It seems extraordinary now to hear a Prime Minister mention family in his landmark address to the country – let alone doing so 14 times. This gives me hope that we are finally turning a corner and being honest with the country on what needs to be done to truly level up.
For those who complain that there is no point in having a Conservative government, look no further than the current Labour Party, which is already agitating for a new racial equality act because they do not believe the Equality Act goes far enough. Labour’s entire approach denotes a wider problem of the Left: a refusal to look at the evidence and confront hard truths. If elected, their policies will likely promote the wrong solutions that we know aren’t working. Further entrenching a culture of grievance instead of graft. Racializing things that have nothing to do with race – and everything to do with family values, class, and culture.
I look forward to supporting the Government in delivering what works through its Inclusive Britain strategy which is based on the report my commission produced. But I make this appeal to all conservatives – even now, there are many who seek to discredit the good work that has been done and to demoralise young people on the right, especially those who are ethnic minorities. I urge you all to not be cowed by the Twitter-warriors and the Left’s outrage mob, to support each other, and to speak up when necessary. Most of all, follow the evidence. We have everything to fight for.