The recess of Parliament 10 days ago has provided MPs with the opportunity to step back from their usual focus on what is coming out of the Government speeches. They can currently focus on their constituencies in a slightly different way. It is clearly very frustrating that COVID-19 means that the opportunities for meeting groups of people face to face is still very seriously restricted. However, the recess allows MPs to take more distant reflection from Parliament and a closer reflection from their constitution. Clearly one of the very significant issues that has arisen in the last few days has been the publication of the “Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report” which emerged last Wednesday from a group that the Government has set up. The public reactions have been very quick and have led to a great deal of criticism that is directed to the Government as well as the people who set out the report. The challenge for the Government and indeed for MPs is to find a way to move out of this initial set of responses and to improve matters very fast. It is clearly vital that our nation will improve our inclusion and welcome towards all people from racial and ethnic backgrounds. We also need to find a way to ensure that the Government puts its own hands up for its many mistakes over the last decade as well as the errors in the report over the last nine months.
One way of doing this would be for the Commission and the Government to listen carefully to the criticisms and then revisit the content and publish a second version of the report very soon. What is clearly needed is a fresh document which more accurately reflects the challenges that our nation has formed and the work that this and future Governments need to carry out. Although the Chair of the Commission, Dr Tony Sewell is not currently based in Sussex, he did study at Sussex University so we do have a historic connection with him. A call for a second version of his Commissions report, or another document to upgrade it is easy to understand. Such a response could enable the positive elements that are included to be promoted while the gaps can be filled up and the negative aspects can be corrected. The alternative of treating it as a finished document that will not be changed is much more damaging. The opportunity to improve the document is something that will hopefully motivate Sussex MPs to connect with communities inside or near their constituencies. It seems much more worthwhile to try to resolve this issue than to allow more racism than our nation has already experienced in recent years. The document refers to two Sussex members of the Government, Nick Gibb and Gillian Keegan. However there have been very few MPs outside of the Government referred to and none of them were from Sussex. There were a small number of Sussex based organisations and it is not yet clear if they are happy with their involvement. There have certainly been several people so far who have complained that their names were included, even though they did not contribute or their contribution was not disclosed at the time. There are certainly very few Sussex connections in the current document.
One of the issues that has been raised since the publication was a call from people who have been badly impacted by Windrush that its history and the Governments mistakes are not referred to in an effective manner. We know of a number of people in Sussex who arrived in the UK through Windrush or whose families arrived that way and so our local MPs could use the next few days to try to learn about their experience and then add their views into a subsequent document. Another of the strong reactions to the document came from Doreen Lawrence and indeed there was a clear connection between her comments and the report from William Macpherson. Indeed, her comments were made in a session set out to link up to the anniversary of her son’s death which took place 28 years ago on 22nd April. Whilst there have been similar murders in Sussex over the last 28 years, Sussex Police has responded very positively since the Macpherson Report in 1999. There is clearly a need for improvements across the UK but it would also be useful for Sussex MPs to learn about the good work that is being achieved in Sussex Police following the Macpherson report and ways this could be extended into other parts of the public sector. Another challenge has come from the medical sector and as it happens there is a Sussex medical involvement. Again, this needs to be explored by our local MPs.