Reading the G2 article today about how much race is an issue in the US elections I found myself coming to a surprising conclusion.
There is a sort of unspoken assumption here in the UK that we are enlightened, liberal and tolerant in matters of racial politics. The US, on the other hand, is barely 50 years away from having officially sanctioned segregation, with large sections of the population looking back on the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, ‘coloured-only’ drinking fountains and segregated buses with fond nostalgia.Â The unthinking conclusion is that the redneck tendancy could win the day making the US look backwards and unsophisticated compared to us.Â We can be quite smug about this, in a very unspoken way, but I am not so sure about it.
OK, there were some distinct signs that race is an issue and that many voters will not vote for Obama on purely racial grounds regardless of whatever the policies might be, but on the other hand… they actually have the choice.Â We might congratulate ourselves that if we had a black candidate for PM it would not affect the way we vote, but its easy to assume that when there is no prospect of it happening.
Regardless of whatever the eventual outcome will be, the US elections will have a black presidential candidate.Â We have never had a party leader who is black or from any other ethnic minority, and currently have nobody in any of the main parties from any ethnic minority who is anywhere near to leading them.Â I can’t even remember us ever having had anybody from an ethnic minority in any senior cabinet or shadow cabinet position – although if any bona fide political anoraks want to correct me I will stand corrected.
The United States, on the other had, have had Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, and Powell was previously the National Security Advisor and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – so he served under Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes.Â At one point he was close to being America’s first black presidential candidate himself (and for the Republican party).Â We had Paul Boateng as Chief Secretary to the Treasury for three years. So which country is more liberal and enlightened now?
Why is it that there are so few prominent black or Asian politicians here?Â That is a genuine question and not a rhetorical one: I really have no idea.Â I can’t believe that its the result of racism at a personal, specific level but is there a form of institutional racism at work?Â That is probably too strong a term.Â Institutional discrimination might be better.Â In both Horsham and Crawley Labour parties the numbers of ethnic minority members falls far short of the percentage in the general population.Â It would be wrong to extrapolate that across other parties and other places, but if it is typical then it explains a lot.Â If a particular section of society is not joining at the bottom of the party then they won’t be getting to the top will they?Â To a lesser extent the same thing happens with female members and politicians.
My boss has a possible explanation.Â Nobody wants to make sweeping generalisations about entire racial groups or groups of racial groups, but he says what if its just that most members of ethnic minorities are just like him and have far too much sense to want to get involved in politics…