Sunday, November 09, 2008

Philips Right Track, Wrong Target

Equality watchdog, Trevor Philips, ruffled feathers claiming "institutional racism" in the Labour Party stood in the way of a British Obama as prime minister. But his remarks were taken out of context and masked genuine concerns.

The Labour Party was right to swiftly dismiss such absurd suggestions.

In a wide ranging interview in the Times, Phillips, chairman of the equality and human rights commission, raised more than a few eyebrows when he said: "If Barack Obama had lived here, I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour Party."

Those kind of comments, if they stood alone, would be an insult to the grassroots Labour Party which, as with other main political parties, have done their best to root out racism and break down barriers to fair and equal political opportunity.

It is equally galling to the large number of black and asian MPs who have risen through the ranks through hard work, determination and a good sprinkling of political nouce.

Race or colour of skin should not and indeed does not matter in UK politics but culture does. Raising the spectre of racism is not at all helpful to the debate of the wider issues of political power and control.

Parliament generally has its share of politicians representative of the population at large - with one very big exception. On the basis of representation, the House should be split 50-50 men and women and there it is clearly a man's world, despite the efforts of the Parties to redress the inbalance.

Philips had fallen into the trap like many politicians who had jumped feet first onto the Obama bandwagon. But reading the whole article gives a bigger and more insightful picture, particularly over the Obama phenomenon, trying to take the hugely complex social and racial issues in the US and give them relevance across the Pond.

Later Philips clarified his remarks, underscoring systemic bias: "My point is that it's very difficult for people who don't fit a certain mould - and that is to do with gender, it's to do with race and it's to do with class - to find their way into the outer reaches of politics."

His remarks in that context are profound. It is the creation of that political elite, to the exclusion of those, as Philips says, "don't fit a certain mould".

It is the emergence of this political class, the new ruling elite, so perceptively examined in Peter Oborne's 'Triumph of the Political Class' and this new form of government that lies at the heart of the current problem. "A political class that looks after is own, demolishes with ruthless vigour anyone who threatens its pre-eminence".

Oborne takes his cue from the eminent political anatomist, Anthony Sampson (visit the bookshop below) and argues the political class is "extremely well-entrenched not merely in Westminster but in all the institutions of the State and is growing ever more accustomed to handling the machinery of power."

The Orange Party wholeheartedly agrees and suggests that is what first Sampson then Oborne and Philips are warning about. Belonging to that particular political club is not a question of the colour of your skin.

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