Tony Sewell and Boris Johnson Tony Sewell and Boris Johnson. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

The facts show the pro-Tory report is in wilful denial about structural racism in the UK, writes Sean Ledwith

When Dr Tony Sewell was appointed to lead the government’s response to the Black Lives Matter protests last year, several anti-racist campaign groups bodies objected, including the Runnymede Trust and the National Union of Students. They noted Sewell, a New Right academic, already had a track record of denying the reality of institutional racism and has made offensive comments about LGBTQ people and black boys supposedly “being feminised” by their single mothers.

Another key member of the government-appointed group is Munira Mirza, one of Johnson’s Downing Street spin doctors who has similarly argued in the past that institutional racism is more “perception than reality”. Last year Diane Abbot MP shrewdly predicted:

“A new race equalities commission led by Munira Mirza is dead on arrival. She has never believed in institutional racism.”

Other members of the Commission on Racial Disparities include an economist who claims the UK gives too much to Africa in foreign aid and the chief executive of an academy chain which excludes 20% of its pupils! We should not be too be surprised therefore that on Wednesday the Sewell Commission published its ridiculous finding that there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK. Sewell writes:

“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.”


Halima Begum from the Runnymede Trust speaks for millions of incredulous people hearing about such a conclusion:

“Frankly by denying the evidence of institutional racism and tinkering with issues like unconscious bias training and use of the term BAME, I think they have insulted every ethnic minority in this country-the people who continue to experience racism daily.”

Sewell and his team also heaped patronising scorn on the hundreds of thousands of multiracial protestors who took to the streets last year in response to the George Floyd killing, claiming the “well-meaning idealism of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence.”

As if this was not offensive enough, the report bizarrely even suggests we should seriously think about  putting a positive spin on Britain’s historic collusion with the slave trade:

There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African Britain.

Predictably, the report also denounces the growing campaign in classrooms to decolonise the curriculum. These appalling ideas and the backlash they have prompted have already led one senior black advisor to the government to quit less than 24 hours after publication! Sam Kasumu has stated tensions inside Downing Street regarding issues of racism have become “unbearable” and that the Tory party is pursuing “politics steeped in division”.

Hardwired racism

Sewell and his acolytes have absurdly submitted a report denying the reality of institutional racism to a PM who has condemned Muslim women as looking like “bank robbers” and once described black people as “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. They have consciously sought to downplay the impact of a scourge on British society which is created by the very establishment they faithfully serve.

Racism has been hardwired into the mentality of the British ruling class since they commenced their blood-spattered expansion, first in Ireland and then across the globe. Although the empire has retreated, the bigotry and prejudice which fuelled it remains an essential ingredient of those who control the levers of power in the UK. Only a New Right ideologue like Tony Sewell could deny the overwhelming evidence of a political system that is racist to the core:

  • The Windrush scandal exposed endemic racism in the Home Office
  • 60% of NHS staff who died in the first wave of the pandemic were black or Asian
  • Covid infection and death rates are higher among black or Asian people
  • Black men are twice as likely to die in police custody as white men
  • A quarter of young black men in London have been stopped by the police during lockdown
  • Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people
  • The UK incarcerates a higher proportion of black men than the US
  • Black boys are five times more likely to be excluded from school than other groups
  • 60,000 racist incidents were reported in UK schools in last 5 years
  • 97% of school headteachers are white
  • Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women
  • Pakistani men are paid on average 15% less than white men
  • 30% of Bangladeshis in the UK live in overcrowded housing
  • Tasers are eight times more likely to be used against black people than white
  • BAME peoples have to send 60% more job applications before they get a positive response

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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