Labour’s key conference on race was scaled back at the eleventh hour amid security concerns, as MPs vowed to stay away.
The event, geared towards announcing plans for a new Race Equality Act, was scheduled to take place at a north London venue on Monday morning but it was altered amid fears that protests would disrupt the event.
The Independent understands a pro-Palestine demonstration was due to be staged outside the premises. It comes as a new poll revealed the party’s support among Muslim people in Britain appears to be waning over the party’s response to the Israel-Gaza war.
This episode has done little to quell mounting disquiet about the treatment of Black and Asian Labour MPs and voters, with some MPs distancing themselves from the event.
Kate Osamor, MP for Edmonton, was suspended from Labour last week after referring to Israel’s attacks on Palestine as a “genocide”.
Diane Abbott was also suspended as a Labour MP pending an investigation into a letter she wrote about racism to The Observer last April.
Speaking to The Independent, several Labour sources said the party needs to “get its own house in order” by addressing racial discrimination within its ranks as highlighted in the damning Forde report. That inquiry uncovered a “hierarchy of racism” within Labour, with many saying they felt the “overwhelmingly white” Labour Party was an unwelcoming place for people of colour.
“There’s some good stuff in the draft Race Equality Act but the party needs to get its own house in order when it comes to racism,” one source said.
“Recommendations from the Forde report have yet to be carried out; Diane Abbott and Kate Osamor remain suspended from the party, Muslim MPs are being treated badly while ethnic minority voters are losing trust in the party.
“It’s hard to take this new act seriously when all of this is going on.”
Another source said Labour’s handling of its race conference has been “chaotic”. They added that the party’s leaders do not understand that it is alienating ethnic minority voters with its treatment of prominent Black and Asian MPs, and that the proposed legislation will not repair that damage.
During today’s conference, it was outlined how the act will “break down barriers to opportunity for Black, Asian and ethnic minority people”.
Among other things, the proposed legislation will enshrine in law the full right to equal pay for Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers and strengthen protections against discrimination for people who face prejudice because of a combination of protected characteristics.
Over the past few days, details of Labour’s race conference had been shrouded in mystery, with Black journalists, campaigners and MPs not invited to attend and scrutinise the party’s leadership.
Meanwhile, stakeholders have expressed concern about the proposed legislation’s effectiveness.
The Black Equity Organisation, a charity co-founded by Labour MP David Lammy, has criticised the draft Race Equality Act.
CEO Timi Okuwa told The Independent: “On the surface of what has been announced so far, Labour’s attempt to address the inequalities that Black people face daily will deliver limited impact.
“Although proposals like the Windrush commissioner, equal ethnicity pay protections and pay gap reporting are welcome, we need a more fundamental approach to dismantle the systemic nature of racism that continues to hold Black people back.
“We believe this needs a cross-departmental government approach, with a strong commitment from any future government to drive the change that will finally address the increasing inequalities that Black people face every single day.”
Human rights lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, a member of the Race Equality Act taskforce, said: “I was pleased to serve on a task force chaired by Baroness Doreen Lawrence, to assist with the development of the act which seeks to tackle racism and inequality around the themes of security, poverty and respect.
“I am concerned, however, that despite there having been major discussions and a stakeholder forum on immigration attended by 50 experts, the word immigration does not appear once in the initial documentation seen. And though the reversal of [Suella] Braverman’s axing of recommendations in Wendy Williams’s Windrush Lessons Learned Review is welcomed, plans for a Windrush commissioner rather than the migrants commissioner specified in the review are limiting
“The Race Equality Act is a positive step but we need details, and it must be accompanied by strong enforcement mechanisms and penalties for breaches. Without this, the act won’t achieve its stated aims.”
The Independent has approached Labour for comment.