Wednesday, 5 October 2011

London Riots: The fire next time…

When it comes to understanding or meeting the needs of London black communities the predominant policy response from the Mayor of London can be described as both discriminatory and wholly inadequate. Mayoral policy on race reflects the view of Government that has simply abandoned race equality as a policy priority.

For example the withdrawal of funding for a wide range of important black cultural events that acknowledged multiculturalism and the positive contributions of black communities to the life of the capital have been brutally scrapped. London’s Black History Season, Africa Day, Transatlantic Slavery Memorial Day, and the anti racist Rise festivals have lost their funding from the Mayors Office. This has resulted in the marginalisation of London’s black communities from the centre of the city’s cultural life.

The Mayor has degraded the multicultural life in the capital and in doing so has sent a clear message to London’s black communities that we are, in his eyes, completely marginal to the life of the city. This banishment of London black communities to the equivalent of a cultural gulag is matched by the degree of our political marginalisation. The recent high profile resignations from the entire board of directors of Notting Hill Carnival citing the lack of financial support from the Mayors Office and Tory councils in the run up to the Olympic year is indicative of this lack of respect for black culture.

Not content with eviscerating the black cultural life of the city the Mayor has failed to include any black people in his core team of advisers. For a city that claims the title of the most diverse city on the face of the planet this failure to recruit a senior full time black adviser is an omission that represents a significant political weakness.  Ray Lewis the most high profile black person close to the Mayor has no real power or authority in the Mayors Office and is himself the target of vicious discord that infects the Mayors inner circle. He is not a full time paid adviser, he has no office at City Hall and others in the Mayoral team revile him, some of whom regard him as a dangerous folly.

More broadly Mr Lewis is increasingly seen as that “black guy” wheeled out to deflect criticism and give the mayor superficial credibility on race issues. As we approach the Mayoral elections and in the absence of tangible evidence that that the Mayor has delivered his promised youth and anti violence agenda Mr Lewis will be seen as nothing more than a symbolic fig leaf for mayoral policy indiscretions and failures.

This leaves the Mayor without any real insight or understanding of the nature of the black experience on London or how to effectively respond to the major challenges we now face.

Analysis of the major social and economic policy responses from the Mayors office over the last three years in the areas of education, employment and crime reinforces the Mayors complete blind spot on race issues.

Take the issue of serious youth violence that plagues the capital. Boris’s plans to tackle youth violence have simply failed to materialise.

In 2008 the Mayor promised us Mayoral Academies in addition to the roll out of sporting clubs offering boxing and the like providing constructive opportunities for young people. These clubs would build self esteem help young people learn the value of team work and discipline. All of this was to be funded by his much vaunted Mayoral Fund raising millions of pounds from his rich chums in the city.  It never happened and what we have seen is the closure of frontline youth services right across the capital.

The fund has been a miserable failure spending large sums of money bizarrely and almost exclusively in Shoreditch offering cash to existing projects to simply add the Mayoral logo to their promotion material. Any examination of the Funds annual account reveals that everything has been done to mask the huge sums of money spent on consultants and administration. The fund should publish its detailed annual accounts and explain its utter failure to achieve its stated objectives.

As youth unemployment continues to surge we have seen increasing rates of youth violence and gun crimes in the capital. Children have been shot on our streets and knife crime continues to claim innocent lives. The Mayor has sought to reassure communities with warm words, headline grabbing policy announcements that have amounted to nothing more than a series of cheap publicity stunts. A series of ill thought out headline grabbing policy announcements and highly controlled ‘community conversations” on this issue cannot hide the brutal truth. The Mayor has miserably failed to deliver on one of his major policy platforms tackling youth violence.

The much needed funding to local youth unemployment and training organisations through the now defunct London Development Agency has gone and with it the realistic last hope of many living in the most deprived areas of the capital of securing employment opportunities.

The latest wheeze from the Mayors Office is the promise, now over three years in the making, of a Black Boys Mentoring Programme. This is a three year project to match 1000 black men to young black boys in need of mentoring. A great idea you would say but consider this. The Mayor has taken over three years to try and deliver this basic mentoring programme. The scheme is mired on controversy after the wining black led consortium bid was unfairly rejected after political interference from the Mayor and awarded to white led consortium that was led by London Action Trust of which the Mayor is patron and for which is there is no registered deceleration of interest.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) relationship with black communities is the worst it’s ever been in the last 30 years. This deterioration of these relationships has gone largely unnoticed by the Mayor and the MPS as both have allowed race to drop off the policy agenda. 
Central to maintaining community confidence in policing is the need to ensure that the MPS looks like the city it polices. The Mayors Office is on record as saying that they believe that representation is not critical to building public confidence in policing. As a result the number of black officers in the MPs is falling at a dramatic rate and recruitment of black officers has stalled.

In terms of community relations, utter chaos at the top of the MPS and the imminent abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority have lead to a very bad situation getting worse.  The recent massive increase in the number of black men dying in suspicious circumstances in police custody, the shooting of Mark Duggan and the abject failure of the MPS to effectively communicate with black communities, the subsequent riots and the hugely disproportionate policing and sentencing that followed, demonstrates the Mayors abject failure to understand the issues of race and policing on London.

That failure comes at a massive cost. These recent disturbances could have been effectively avoided if the Mayor had understood the importance of the issue of deaths in police custody and historical significance in policing terms of Tottenham. Boris Johnson public persona as a jovial rather fun character at time of such crisis is revealed as a one-dimensional one trick pony.

The MPA at least had a focus on race equality in policing. The transfer of democratic accountability for policing to a Mayors Office that does not see race equality as a policy priority will has been and will continue to be a real disaster for London.  Once the MPA is gone there will be no city wide mechanism for community consultation dealing with race equality policing issues.

That does not bode well for the capital. Boris Johnson sanctioned massive rises in stop and search rates over the last 3 years. In relation to black communities this has resulted in hugely increased numbers of young people in particular being routinely stopped and searched. The quality of these interactions by and large is frankly abysmal leading to large scale alienation and increased tensions.

Worryingly today in London in terms of the MPS workforce profile we have the highest number of inexperienced probationers and the lowest number of experienced officer. As recognised by Lord Scarman in his inquiry onto the disturbances of the 1980’s such an acute imbalance between experienced and probationer constables is a dangerous combination. That imbalance is higher no than at any other time in MPS history.

These factors along with the tragic rise in the number of black men who have died in extremely suspicious circumstances in police custody have left of black communities deeply alienated and very angry at the resurgence of racist policing thought to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. The recent riots seen in the capital can in part be explained by these raised tensions.

Black youth and adult unemployment, already at critically high levels in the capital, is now on the increase at an alarming rate. Add to this the disproportionate effect of public sector cuts resulting in thousands of black women working in the public sector facing redundancies. These are often mothers struggling to keep their families heads just above the poverty water line. Increasing black unemployment will plunge black families into unprecedented levels of income and child poverty.

With the abolishment of Education Maintenance Award grants combined with the historical reluctance of employers to hire young black people thousands of families are staring into the terrifying abyss of a bleak future devoid of all reasonable hope and opportunity.

Where black communities have sought to deal with these issues themselves both Boris Johnson and this Government have promised much and delivered very little. Despite a number of high profile applications to Government seeking to establish free schools that could provide real educational opportunities to ensure our children are afforded the very best educational opportunities none have been granted by Government. Instead we are offered 25, “military style boot camps” with the Mayor once again promising additional funding from the ‘city” in much the same way as he did in relation to the failed Mayoral Fund.

The message for black communities in London is clear and unambiguous from both Boris Johnson and this Government.  This is my summary of their message

“We neither value or need your political support. Your cultural and economic contribution to the City of London is negligible and unworthy of recognition. The majority of you and your children are criminals and we will police you accordingly and at times with deadly force.

You are not trusted by myself as Mayor or this Government to look after the education of your own children who are largely incapable of learning.  We will slash your local services and throw thousands of you onto the dole by cutting public spending and sacking public sector workers. We will then blame you and your inadequacies as a community for all the problems that subsequently arise.”

As we approach the London Mayoral elections there must be forensic scrutiny on the Mayors record on race and the ultimate cost of that failure to London. We have already seen that such failures have cost the capital dear.

We know that Boris Johnson cannot secure our children’s future precisely because he refuses to take race issues seriously and that critical failure comes at enormous cost.  The remedy to this inaction is for the London black communities of inner London to ensure a massive turnout at the next Mayoral elections. If this inner London vote can be mobilised and turn out significantly increased this will lead to reprioritisation of race equality as a distinct policy priority. Otherwise wise can expect thing to get considerably worse for black communities in London a prospect that will ultimately condemn large numbers of our young people to a pretty bleak future.

Lee Jasper