Patrick O'Flynn

Britain isn’t racist. Here’s how the Tories can prove it

Britain isn't racist. Here's how the Tories can prove it
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Is it racist to wonder what skin colour a baby might have? The reaction to Harry and Meghan's bombshell interview appears to suggest some people think it is. Even attempting to weigh up whether claims of racism within the Royal Family hold water or not is deemed to be unconscionable. 

'It’s not any of our places to pick apart claims of racism in order to make us feel more comfortable,' according to GMB presenter and slayer of Piers Morgan, Alex Beresford. Labour leader Keir Starmer seemed to agree, setting aside his previous penchant for forensically picking over evidence to declare that Meghan’s experiences were a reminder of the racism that is all around us.

Perhaps Prince William merely stating that the royals are 'very much not a racist family' will in itself be declared an act of hostility by some advocate of critical race theory.

Whichever side you may be on in the great saga of Megxit or any other recent race-based controversy, an outsider looking in on Britain would be forgiven for thinking that Britain is not a happy place. 

Of course, for many Brits, the reality couldn't be any more different. But in this fractious debate, how can that point be made?

The kernel of the problem is the need to explode the pernicious and false idea that Britain is a generally racist country, not only to our satisfaction but also to the satisfaction of Brits from all walks of life. Those like Trevor Phillips and Calvin Robinson speak up for the idea that Britain is remarkably non-racist, yet we are still in search of a transformational figure to address an issue that risks dividing society.

Who might that figure be? The good news is that we have every chance of finding one – not in the worlds of punditry or academia, but in the world of politics.

I am speaking about the idea of the next prime minister of this country coming from that section of society known to some by that clunky acronym 'BAME'. If a message of unity and a 'British dream' of high achievement being open to all could be preached by a Conservative PM who had lived that very dream, then those who seek to divide would surely be dealt a hammer blow.

It is here that the Tory party comes in. According to the bookies’ odds, no fewer than seven of the top 20 contenders to be next Conservative party leader are from such a background. Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid, Kwasi Kwarteng and Bim Afolami are four of them with constituencies in North Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Surrey and Hertfordshire respectively.

But let's look at the other three: a trio of parliamentary neighbours in North Essex, a part of the country that was once a byword for very old-fashioned social attitudes. As someone with family connections in the area, I am steeped in stories of American GIs being the first non-white people many residents had ever seen. Even now this is one of the least diverse parts of Britain, with well over 90 per cent of people identifying as 'White British'.

Yet Priti Patel in Witham, James Cleverly in Braintree and Kemi Badenoch in Saffron Walden were all re-elected with enhanced majorities and vote shares above 60 per cent in 2019. All are very highly rated by their constituents. And any one of them could become our first non-white prime minister.

Home Secretary Patel is especially revered for having been one of the Tory Brexit 'Spartans'. Recently she gave a suitably withering assessment of the case for 'taking a knee' in support of BLM. Former Army officer Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister from a mixed-race background, is already knocking on the Cabinet door and is seen locally as the ultimate 'proper bloke'.

And then there is Badenoch, the youngest of the trio and potentially the special one. The Equalities Minister has spoken movingly about Britain being a good place to be black. In doing so, she has clinically dismantled Labour’s arguments to the contrary in the Commons chamber.

What all three have in common is to be walking adverts for integration. They demonstrate all too clearly that anyone can make it in Britain today. And that this country is not a racist society.

None of them approaches politics as a spokesman for minority vested interests. And while all would say there is still progress to be made in the battle against racism, they are among the most patriotic-minded MPs in the Commons.

The next Tory leadership race is likely to be several years away and will not be decided on tokenistic ethnicity grounds in any case. There are plenty of other capable contenders such as Liz Truss, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt with claims to press.

But after the week we have endured, the potential for a black or Asian-heritage Conservative PM to rescue the country from a descent into race-focused disharmony is a hope to cling onto. Please let it be so.