Why we are doing this?
It hurts individuals, all too often physically, sometimes fatally. It hurts society. It leaves people’s lives devastated, wastes talent, creates social problems where they need not exist, divides communities, sets one group against another.
Our party political leaders are the key shapers of political debate before and during general elections. If they win, they will lead the government. Asking to be entrusted with the right to affect the lives of all in Britain, they have a primary responsibility for challenging and eradicating racism.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Race Relations Act. Every Parliamentary party leader has supported the consequential legislation passed by Parliament in a continuing effort to root out prejudice and discrimination.
Despite this, British politics continues to be infected by racism, by prejudice and by the exploitation of prejudice for political advantage.
In past general elections, political leaders signed up to a similar appeal launched by the former Commission for Racial Equality. They disciplined those of their candidates who acted in ways that could stir up racial prejudice. Building on the ‘fair play’ approach that is such an important part of British public life, they helped to create a consensus against such behaviour.
Yet, the coming general election is being held in a context where some are looking to play upon fear and misunderstanding. Others may succumb to the temptation to follow suit.
We may, and will, differ on many things, but on our opposition to stirring up prejudice and exploiting ignorance or misunderstanding, we can agree.
We want more debate, not less.
Racism lives in the shadows and feeds on ignorance. The cruelty of discrimination survives only when facts are hidden and people’s real experiences are not allowed to come into the open.
There are no things that cannot be said about race when fact and not prejudice is the issue. Britain has more information about the experience, the life chances and the nature of different groups than almost any other society. We have worked hard over several decades to reveal the ways in which rank prejudice, misunderstanding or inappropriate systems and practices inherited from the past have distorted the way our public and other services work to the disadvantage of different groups.
Our party political leaders, public institutions and media should be using that body of knowledge to generate wider debate about the solutions needed to the problems the people of Britain continue to face.
Our job is not to provide the answers, but to help create the atmosphere in which effective solutions can be found: one where prejudice takes a back seat while informed discussion occupies pride of place.
What we hope will happen
This is a charter for public citizen activity. The call is the property of those who support it, who commit themselves and their organisations to abide by the principles it sets out, and who want to see those who are asking for the right to run the next government demonstrate how they can engage in passionate debate without playing on prejudice.
A wide range of individuals and civil society movements have endorsed the call. We will work to expand that number as far as possible. We hope that all who support its principles will publicly endorse it and help create the widest possible public consensus against the exploitation of prejudice.
Among the initial supporters, a group of individual members of the House of Lords have asked the leaders of the Parliamentary parties to endorse the statement, to agree to abide by its principles and to publicly demonstrate that they are doing so.
We hope that the statement will direct the attention of public bodies to their responsibilities under equality legislation and will give confidence to those voluntary sector bodies representing or working for individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to the consequences of racism to help place the facts of the experience they deal with every day before the electorate as a whole.
Those who have drawn up the statement in the first place will not be the judge and jury over how well others follow its principles. That is the responsibility of voters, of citizens, of individuals concerned that prejudice is the enemy of good debate and of the freedom of speech that underlies an effective democracy.
Those who have concerns over whether or not political parties and others are fulfilling these principles should address those concerns to the leaders of the parties directly and to the media.
This is not a statement directed toward the media, but we hope that the media will use its principles to help the electorate scrutinise the activities of political parties, candidates and campaigners over the coming weeks. Some electors may wish to use the principles set out in the statement to evaluate the performance of the media itself.
In the different contexts of politics and political parties in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we hope that others will take up this approach in ways appropriate to those particular situations.
We have not approached the leader of every party involved in the coming election campaign. Some have publicly set their faces against the approach embodied in this statement. Others are welcome to sign. If they do so, we hope electors will use the statement’s principles to judge whether their actions justify their signature.
Who we are
The call has been prepared by Race Equality Matters (REM), a network of policy experts, lawyers, academics, journalists and campaigners who came together to promote equality and good race relations. REM seeks to do this by:
• raising awareness of law and policy which impacts on good race relations and equality
• developing policy analysis
• monitoring the effectiveness of equality law
• using our collective expertise to influence and inform the policy of government, public bodies and leading organisations in British society.
Who has supported the call
Members of the House of Lords