Will Black History Month 2020 achieve any changes?


This tweet appeared a day or two ago and it demonstrates that there is at least one senior member of the Conservative Party who strongly believes that non politicians in the public sector and within education and media industries should take part in unconscious bias training. The question one would ideally like to ask Daniel is what about his colleagues in his own political party and indeed the rest of the political range of MPs who are making decisions for all of us on an almost daily basis. It was only a few days ago as I wrote here that Sir John Hayes MP who is also a senior member of the Conservative party was speaking up on behalf of group of other Conservative MPs on Radio 4. They are apparently all opposed to participating in an unconscious bias training arrangement that has been proposed for MPs to take part in. One of their concerns which is understandable is the cost of the training which is due to cost over a £1,000 per MP based on what has been announced. However that is only one small element given how much each MP costs our nation and it is possible that their increased understanding of bias issues could make our whole nation a great deal more aware of the issues that get hidden and ignored far too often. Along with John Hayes reference to the cost of the training which none of them have participated in, another of the MPs or indeed it could have been John himself stated

“I would rather gouge my eyes out with a blunt stick than sit through that Marxist snake oil crap”

Given that we are now at the beginning of Black History Month and as racial issues are a fundamental part of unconscious bias training, that now may be a good time for MPs and indeed the whole of our Government to focus on. I did a quick check on references to the Black History Month in Parliament. Although it appeared a few times from 2002 onwards (61 in total) most of this is in written question and answers in both the Lords and Commons. The first time it was referred to in a debate was on 14th October 2004 by Louise Ellman (Labour) who stated

I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Minister for leading this debate during black history month and UNESCO’s international year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition. 

At the end of the following year Diana Johnson (Labour) referred to it in the plans for her area in the following year and then in January 2007 a question and answer references arose from John Hayes who asked the Government “what the cost to the Department [of Education and Skills] was of celebrating Black History Month” and the response was that they had spent £375 which one suspects even then was a relatively modest sum of money. Then in March that year Stephen Williams (Lib Dem) said as part of a much longer speech

The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 is arguably the first blow for human rights by any national Parliament on behalf of the peoples of other countries. In opening the debate, the Deputy Prime Minister referred to the teaching of history in our schools, as did other Members. I have spoken on black history month a couple of times since being elected a Member of Parliament, and I share with Ms Butler, who is not currently in her place, the hope that black history issues will be integral to the new history curriculum, and I am assured that that has been the case in Bristol schools for many years. I shall invite all the schools in my constituency to come and see the exhibition in Westminster Hall. Cabot school in St. Paul’s in my constituency has already had an exhibition and commemoration of present-day and historical black heroes.

Later on that same year Dawn Butler (Labour) referred to the Black History Month at the end of the month. The same thing happened in 2009 with a contribution from Vera Baird (Labour). The following year it was mentioned by Tom Brake (Liberal Democrat) during a debate on Anti-Slavery day which is on the 18th October. Black History Month was next mentioned in March 2013 by Hugh Robertson (Conservative) and then in October 2015 Anne McLaughlin (SNP) referred to the month focus during a debate on the Immigration Bill. A week later Angela Crawley (Labour) introduced a full blown debate on Black History Month which was the first one of its kind and it involved a number of MPs who spoke about it. Once again at the end of the month in 2016 Dawn Butler mentioned it in a speech and David Lammy (Labour) did in February 2017. In October 2018 Chris Stephens (SNP) mentioned it along with Valerie Vaz (Labour) and Andrea Leadsom (Conservative). A few weeks later Andrew Selous (Conservative) also mentioned it.

Last year Black History Month was referred to in speeches in the House of Commons by Mike Kane (Labour) in June, Dawn Butler in September, Diane Abbott (Labour) in October along with Valerie Vaz and Khalid Mahmood (Labour).

So far this year there have been references in speeches from Rupa Huq (Labour), Boris Johnson (Conservative), Stephen Doughty (Labour) and Valerie Vaz. Let us hope that our Parliaments focus on Black History Month will move up a pace now that the first ever Prime Minister has mentioned it. Boris said

Tomorrow sees the start of Black History Month. For generations, countless people of African and Caribbean descent have been shaping our nation’s story, making a huge difference to our national and cultural life and helping to make Britain a better place to be. This is a fantastic moment to celebrate their contribution to our country.

Given that this sounds in a significant reverse to the implicit criticism that came from John Hayes 13 years ago, if he can also persuade his party members to sign up to the approach set out by Daniel Hannan a couple of days ago we could be in a much stronger position in the near future.

Of course Black History Month provides all of us the opportunity to respond. Earlier today someone sent me a link to a petition which is related to Black History Month and the racist images that are presented in the Order Of St Michael And St George Insignia. The petition can be found here.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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