Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a government review into “all aspects of inequality” following a wave of anti-racism protests in Britain, but was accused of using it to delay real action.
Johnson said there had been “huge progress” in tackling racism “but there is much more that we need to do, and we will”.
“It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality — in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Britain has been rocked by protests against racial discrimination, some of them violent, following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, as he was arrested by police in the United States.
In a broadcast interview, Johnson said he wanted to “change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimization and discrimination”.
“We stop the discrimination, we stamp out racism, and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success.”
But David Lammy, justice spokesman for the main opposition Labor party, said the lack of detail about the new review suggested it “was written on the back of a fag (cigarette) packet yesterday to assuage the Black Lives Matter protest”.
He said the government should focus on implementing the recommendations of numerous reviews already completed, including one by Lammy himself about discrimination in criminal justice.
“Get on with the action, legislate, move!” he urged Johnson in an interview with BBC radio.
“Black people aren’t playing victims, as Boris indicates, they are protesting precisely because the time for review is over and the time for action is now.”
Tear down the past
During an anti-racism protest in the city of Bristol, demonstrators pulled down a statue to local slave trader Edward Colston, while in London, a statue to World War II leader Winston Churchill was defaced.
The toppling of Colston’s statue sparked moves by institutions across the country to remove or review monuments to Britain’s colonial past.
But it also drew condemnation from politicians as well as public anger, particularly after Churchill’s statue outside parliament was boarded up to protect it from further protests.
Self-styled “patriots” backed by far-right groups took to the streets in London on Saturday, some of them claiming to defend Churchill’s statue.
Violent clashes broke out and 113 people were arrested, while 23 police officers suffered minor injuries at the hands of people Johnson condemned as “thugs”.
A 28-year-old man was jailed for 14 days on Monday after he pleaded guilty to urinating next to a memorial to a police officer killed in a 2017 attack on parliament.
Andrew Banks admitted one charge of outraging public decency. Photographs of the act caused outrage. His lawyer said he was “ashamed by his action”.
Johnson has written a biography about Churchill and defended him as a “hero”, despite claims his policies led to the deaths of millions of people in a famine in the Indian state of Bengal in 1943.
“We need to tackle the substance of the problem, not the symbols. We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past,” he wrote.
But he added: “Rather than tear down the past, why not add some of the men and women — most often BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) — who helped to make our modern Commonwealth and our modern world? Isn’t that a more cheerful approach?”
Lammy said the statues were a distraction, asking why Johnson was arguing to keep Churchill’s statue when no serious public figure had called for it to go.
“They want a culture war because they want to distract from the central issue,” he said.