Barnie Choudhury: ‘South Asian politicians are letting the community down’


Former chancellor's spokesman said Shaun Bailey was a "fantastic candidate" for London. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Former chancellor's spokesman said Shaun Bailey was a "fantastic candidate" for London. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

by BARNIE CHOUDHURY
Former BBC journalist

SO THAT’S that then. All done until the next time.

We are slowly dissecting the outcome of the general election. What does it mean for our nation? How much nearer are we to ‘getting Brexit done’? Will we ever recover from the political torpor we find ourselves in and get the ‘Great’ back into Britain?

All viable and important questions, but not the most vital one for me, I’m afraid. My concern is racism, and it starts with our politicians.

But first, a side bar. I was at a black-tie event when a white man came up to me and said, “Order me a taxi and make it quick.” That sense of entitlement, the assumption that a brown boy could not be a guest, especially at a media event, an industry which
is supposed to understand and promote diversity, boiled over in visceral rage. “Only if you polish my shoes  first, old boy,” was my  response before I sauntered away and got into
my waiting cab.

Media organisations  call this ‘unconscious bias’, but I call it out for what it is. Racism. It isn’t just the liberal elite. I am sick and tired of the way our politicians make excuses and fail to tackle the number one problem which has stunted real emotional growth in our wonderful nation.

Every party has a problem with race. What is worse is that south Asian political leaders
refuse to act. They have sacrificed their principles to the altar of office.

Last Thursday (5), chancellor Sajid Javid was asked on Radio 4’s Today programme about
Islamophobia in the Conservative party. He acknowledged the problem and said his party
deals with complaints “immediately, as soon as it is presented”.

Not according to another prominent Tory and former party vice-chair, Lady Sayeeda
Warsi. “Look,” said Javid. “I’ve got time for Sayeeda Warsi. I will always listen to what her and others have to say (sic), but she wouldn’t be knowledgeable of all the actions we have taken.”

Warsi had previously told the BBC that it would be career ending if Javid criticised Tories
over their handling of Islamophobia, but she hoped that one day he would have the courage to do just that.

The point is that agree or disagree with her politics, you have to listen to someone of Warsi’s seniority, experience and abilities when they warn you that you are not tackling something as fundamental as racism in your party. And it is shameful that Javid
chose to defend the Conservatives when in the summer, he got the leadership contenders
to promise an inquiry into Islamophobia in their ranks, something they have diluted so it
becomes meaningless.

Another south Asian let down is Baroness Shami Chakrabarti. I really want to champion
her, not because she is a fellow Bengali, but because she is a pioneer. She is a role model,
someone that young women like my daughter, should admire, emulate and surpass. That is
why I was so disappointed by Chakrabarti’s conclusion that Labour was “not over-run by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism” when she led the investigation into her party.

Why, oh why, do we brown people fail to stand up and be counted once we reach positions of influence? I get that a career is important. I get that once we are in, there is a chance of
change. But let us be honest with ourselves for one moment. Once we feel the trappings of
power, we change. We change because we are told we are special and no one can do the job as well as we can. We change because those with whom we surround ourselves are far cleverer in keeping the status quo and making sure we either do not see the problems or etch out scenarios which persuade us that inaction is the only option.

This may be an election where we have seen racism discussed as never before. This may turn out to be the most diverse parliament in living history. But this will not be the government or opposition which rid us of an age-old plague.

Not unless we, people of colour and none, truly hold their feet to the fire and say, ‘enough is enough. We demand and expect you, our public servants, to make the change to eradicate racism once and for all.’

Just don’t hold your breath for it to happen.