Sunday, 13 November 2011

A black day for Boris Johnson.

ListRa Dawn Gilzene protesting  Boris's hijacking of the conference
It was an eerie atmosphere as we waited for delegates to arrive at yesterdays Boris Johnsons “Not the London School & Black Child” Conference.  As we held placards and fired up the megaphone preparing to engage and explain, it quickly became apparent that black people had voted with their feet and decided to boycott the event.
Lee Jasper

In previous years this important conference (the brainchild of Diane Abbott MP) was a standing room only, sell out event. Usually held at the Queen Elizabeth Centre it attracted over 3,000 attendees. Yesterday at the Institute of Education, barely 150 people attended.

The eerily empty conference - black people voted with their feet and stayed away

It was ever going to be thus. The political dynamics behind this once major black education conference provide an insight into the soul of City Hall and its attitude to black Londoners. Reported to me by a senior city hall insider it reveals a shocking degree of political cynicism, informed by a deeply patronising view of black Londoners.

How the event was stolen from Diane Abbot MP.

Speaking to an insider after the conference, I was provided with a fascinating insight into what actually happened on the top floor of City Hall. My authoritive source reported a poisonous and paranoid atmosphere at City Hall.

 “The long shadow of Lee Jasper still haunts the 8th floor any mention of your name sends them into complete panic.”  I found to that to be very amusing and was somewhat reassured that my criticism of the Mayor was at least hitting home.

Moving onto how the Mayor forced out Diane Abbott MP from her own conference, this is what I was told:

“The arrogance of Boris and his team of advisers led them to believe they did not really need Diane. Given they were funding the conference they assumed that they could call all the shots. They wanted to remove race as a component of the conference and demolish the idea of institutional racism in education.”

A protester spells it out clearly for Boris Johnson
How Boris failed London’s black communities.

Boris advised by his electoral guru the Australian Lynton “race card” Crosby, was told he needed to win back the black London vote and that private polling indicated this had virtually evaporated. This must in part be explained as a direct result of his failure to deliver on his manifesto policy on youth violence and his failure to introduce policies that addressed racism and our broader concerns.

Huge rises in stop and search rates of London black youth, 100% increase in suspicious black deaths in custody, massive rises in black youth unemployment, the August riots, increased levels of youth violence, abolishing London’s civic black cultural programme, the debacle over his mentoring scheme that has become mired in controversy all now constitute a solid critical black political narrative.

The mentor scheme has attracted serious accusations of cronyism and nepotism. These are some of the policy/issue based areas where Boris has not only failed to deliver but where his failure to act has contributed to making things immeasurably much worse.

Boris was told that the conference presented a perfect opportunity to stem the collapse of support across London’s black communities. 

My source continued,

“Lynton and Edward Lister (Chief of Staff) told Boris that he should use the conference to begin the process of shoring up the black vote. Boris handed this off to Munira Murza (Mayoral adviser) who then met Diane and demanded complete control of securing speakers and the conference database. Despite attempts by Diane to compromise they were having none of it. In the end Diane decided to walk”

“What was most shocking in the whole thing was the way in which Munira Murza treated Diane. She was particularly vicious… treating her with a degree of public contempt that was frankly gobsmacking!”

Boris summarily dismissed the longest standing black elected women in Europe Diane Abbott MP and stole her conference idea. A conference that she conceived and built up to be one of the premier conferences on London’s black political calendar.

London Schools and all our children conference.

As for the conference itself it was interesting at times: an amusing mixture of patronising guff and brilliant inspiration.

Boris’s usual “sunlit uplands” speech was received with embarrassingly tepid applause.

Surprisingly Boris made several references to me.  What had upset him was the Mail Online article that appeared that day. In it I accused him of “culturally cleansing the capital of all race specific initiatives”.

Eton glare.

I noticed both he and the Secretary of State of Education who sat on the stage in the small auditorium were glaring at me for long periods of time as I sat in the audience. I thought it was the Eton equivalent of an intimidatory stare as Boris fixed his steely blue-eyed gaze on me. I can only assume that this was some genteel Eton version of intimidation. To be honest I found their sustained gaze hilarious if not a little embarrassing.

Racially insensitive Boris puts his foot in it.

Boris responded to the article and seeking to explain why he removed the word “black” from the conference title told the majority black audience that as far as he was concerned “I don’t give a monkeys “about the name change. It was a huge mistake. The audience clearly thought so and a loud murmur erupted in the auditorium as they viscerally reacted to his arrogance and racial insensitivity.

Gove speaks to black people like simpletons.

What was to follow was worse. Michael Gove treated the audience as if they were complete and utter fools.

“School starts at 9am, make sure your child is on time!  “Uniforms are important” he went on and on and on… "Homework?  Make sure your child does it ". You could tell from the patronising nature of his remarks that he thought the audience were a bunch of black simpletons.


Institutional racism dismissed in favour of black division.

Image Detail
Tony Sewell: divisive
 Tony Sewell enhanced his reputation by seeking to divide the black community by negatively comparing Jamaican and Nigerian cultures. Tony’s view was that Jamaican culture had lost it discipline and no longer valued education.  According to him it is that, parental failure and peer group pressure which explained why black boys of Caribbean descent were failing in schools. In contrast West African children were doing well in schools and that he argued was because of the positive culture of Nigerian and West African families.

I found this most offensive. It was a concerted attempt to dismiss the extent of institutional racism and drive a wedge between black communities and as such was unforgivable. More worrying Sewell is set to head up an independent inquiry on behalf of the Mayor into London schools.

What always makes me smile with Tony is the fact that he is his own biggest fan’ He told the Mayor in relation to choosing him to head the inquiry “Mr Mayor I have to tell you that you made the right choice.”

Boris simultaneously alienates and divides London’s black communities.

Boris had managed to reduce a once major policy conference on race and education, attended by thousands into to a right wing ideological assault on the concept of institutional racism in schools and Caribbean culture. No wonder hardly anyone turned up.

The Mayoral electoral team have destroyed an event that, had they left alone, and worked in partnership wit Ms Abbott MP could have been an excellent opportunity for the Mayor to demonstrate his balanced commitment toward improving the educational performance of black children in London schools.

Instead he achieved the exact opposite and has now completely alienated himself from all but a small cadre of loyal blacks and those on his pay roll.

If you ask me, and this won’t be easily understood by many or the Mayor’s Office itself, but yesterday was a significant indicator that whatever black support Boris enjoyed in the past, has now collapsed through a combination of ignorance and inactivity on the issues that matter.

Incompetence and the failure to implement schemes such as the mentoring project, the rise of black deaths in custody and stop and search rates, massive rises in black unemployment and youth violence, failure to moderate Coalition cuts to London frontline public and voluntary sector services, eviscerating black cultural events, all go to represent Boris’s blindness on race issues. All have now led him to this pretty pass.

By Lee Jasper

All photographs by Lester Holloway.