Year 2000 No. 116, July 20, 2000

Minorities Demand a Future which Guarantees the Rights of All

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Minorities Demand a Future which Guarantees the Rights of All

Seamus Mallon Accuses Peter Mandelson of "Political Chicanery"

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Minorities Demand a Future which Guarantees the Rights of All

Tony Blair on July 6 gave a keynote speech to the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance at their "Faith in the Future" Conference.

What faith in the future could the Prime Minister offer the African and Caribbean national minorities in Britain? For even Tony Blair had to point out that in the present, "you don't have to believe in positive discrimination to know that negative discrimination goes on in Britain; that sometimes two kids with the same qualifications, one black, one white, don't get the same chances in life."

Tony Blair’s answer begins from his assertion that the problems in society are caused by technological, economic and social change that present challenges which have to be met by building "strong communities based on opportunity to all; and responsibility from all". He went on to say that what he called "the black community" and the state should work together as "Government and civil society in partnership", and claimed that what he wants to achieve as Prime Minister "is to deliver opportunity for all the people of this country, irrespective of their background."

The Black Majority Churches, and generally the African and Caribbean communities, may be forgiven for thinking that the government is putting rather too much of the onus on them to deliver faith in the future – to deliver a solution to the attacks on the vulnerable, the state-organised racist attacks and the negation of the rights of minorities, including the national minority communities. If "government and civil society" are supposed to be acting in partnership, then perhaps the government should accept its share of the responsibility for solving the problems in society. After all, it is the government which controls the state Treasury, which enacts the laws, which directs the police force and the army, which is responsible for education and the health service, not to mention that it is forever promoting the "values" that society should adopt. If the Prime Minister is so desirous to "deliver opportunity for all the people of this country, irrespective of their background, to tear down the barriers to merit and hard work, to make this a country where success in education leads to a good job, where hard work gets its just reward, where what matters is who you are, not where you're from," he has to give a serious explanation as to why this is not being achieved.

It has to be said that the reason the government cannot make any headway on these matters is that its whole conception of society is anachronistic. It explicitly stems from a conception of "civil society" and "opportunity for all" in which the rights of minorities were not recognised, but only those of males who held private property. A modern democracy, in contrast, has as its distinguishing mark that minority rights are guaranteed.

Thus Tony Blair can only give ludicrous examples about what progress in bringing about "opportunity for all" would entail. He says, "I say to young black people: it is bad that Colin Powell felt he could say, if he'd joined the Army here, he'd have ended up a sergeant, but in the US he became the country's top soldier; think of joining the Army and know there is nothing to stop you going to the top, just as nothing has stopped David Case becoming our first black Air Commodore. I say to young black people: I want to see black Ambassadors, black permanent secretaries, but it will only happen if more of you try to join and work with us to take down the barriers that hold you back."

The issue is that what all people of national minority origin demand is that they should be able to participate in the affairs of the polity as equals who stand second to none. It is an insult to them to suggest that they are in any way responsible for the "barriers that hold them back", just as it is an insult to suggest that they would be satisfied with today’s society but with the difference that the Ambassadors, the top soldiers – even the Prime Minister, to follow Tony Blair’s argument – are black.

Tony Blair would do well to reflect on the centuries of racism and colonial exploitation – and indeed the inhumanity of slavery – which is so deeply embedded in the values of the English bourgeoisie, in the prevailing bourgeois ideology, that even the citizenship of the country is defined in relation to nationality and national origin. These values, and the attacks on the cultures of the national minority communities, are causing the devastation which is affecting these communities, giving rise to a grave crisis of the identity of these nationalities, in which it is the youth who are particularly confused and oppressed.

The "multiracial meritocracy" Tony Blair has in mind is nothing more than a platitude in the light of these deep-rooted causes of disadvantage, discrimination and inequality. Such pious talk will do nothing to end the marginalisation and ghettoisation of those of African and Caribbean origin, nor other minorities in Britain. Nor does he even mention the responsibility of a modern society to people of different backgrounds, in terms of assisting their national languages and cultures and protecting all those who are most vulnerable.

According to the Prime Minister’s speech "the key to the door of opportunity is education", yet the government refuses to invest in education in general and has taken such measures as introducing tuition fees in higher education that are making it increasingly a privilege for the wealthy few. It is in this context that Blair is calling on what he refers to as "faith communities" to "pioneer their own schools", as if this was a solution to all the problems that have been created in the education system. Similar anti-social measures are being taken in the health service and elsewhere, so that such social provision, which should exist as a right and be developed to the highest possible level, is increasingly geared to the needs of the monopolies not those of the people.

What is vital to turn things around is not that "young black people" should "gain from going into politics". It is that the minority communities affirm their rights, inscribe on their banner the defence of the rights of all, and join with all those fighting for a new society that recognises and guarantees the rights of all.

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Seamus Mallon Accuses Peter Mandelson of "Political Chicanery"

The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill is currently working its way through Parliament. It was introduced in the House of Lords on July 13. Following in the wake of the Patten Report, it will rename the RUC and determine the objectives for the new "Police Service of Northern Ireland".

According to Peter Mandelson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, when a new stream of recruits is admitted next year, the force will "be a police service with a new name, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, with a new uniform, with a new outlook – an entirely fresh beginning for the police in what is a new era". It is being questioned by nationalist and Republican forces whether such a "new outlook" can be achieved.

Last week, Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, accused Peter Mandelson of arrogance which was only surpassed by his inability to understand the situation in northern Ireland. In the debate on the Bill in the House of Commons, Seamus Mallon accused Mandelson of "political chicanery". Meanwhile, Martin McGuinness, who is minister for education in the Northern Ireland executive, has called on Mandelson to "stop bluffing" and implement the Patten report in full.

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