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Is a ‘British Obama’ Possible?

Many doubt that a minority could make it to 10 Downing Street any time soon.

by
Andrew Ian Dodge

Bio

November 26, 2008 - 12:40 am

As a result of the historic election of Barack Obama in the U.S., other countries have started wondering whether a similar occurrence would be possible in their nations — none more so than the Obama-worshiping United Kingdom. Its press, race industry, and political classes are all aflutter about whether or not it would be possible for a minority to become prime minister of the country.

Britain has, unlike the U.S., already had a female prime minister: Margaret Thatcher in the ’80s. While Bejamin Disreali, a conservative prime minister of the late 19th century, was Jewish, the debate is whether or not a non-European minority would make it to Number 10 Downing Street in the near future.

The head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Philips, has clearly stated that he thinks “institutional racism” will prevent a non-white from ever being prime minister of the United Kingdom. Much navel gazing and self-examination resulted from his comments. Philips believes Britain’s governing Labor Party would not let someone like Obama rise to the top.

If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labor Party,” said the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. He said that there was an “institutional resistance” to selecting black and Asian candidates. “The parties and unions and think-tanks are all very happy to sign up to the general idea of advancing the cause of minorities but in practice they would like somebody else to do the business. It’s institutional racism.

Daniel Finklestein agrees with Philips on the point, mainly because all of the leaders of the Labor Party have come from their establishment base. Outsiders do not rise to the top in the party due to the institutional make-up of the organization and the complicated coalitions that hold the party together. He does believe that the Conservative Party would be a far easier route to the top for a minority candidate like Obama. This is assuming he were of the right and not the left, of course.

A British Obama might find his or her rise easier in the Tory Party not because the Tory Party has done better than Labor among black people — quite the contrary — but because coming from the outside is easier. There are disadvantages to this, incidentally. But it does make the party more fluid and adaptable. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first female Prime Minister was a Conservative.

Then again Sadiq Khan, a Muslim Labor MP from Tooting, disagrees with Trevor Philips both about the Labor Party and prospects for a black or Asian PM.

“I predict there will be a black or Asian prime minister in my lifetime and all the evidence suggests it will be a Labor prime minister,” he told the Times.

What is most interesting, of course, is the fact that Conservatives have a much better historical record of having minority MPs. When Labor was in its infancy in the early 20th century, Conservatives had the first Sikh MP. There has always been a perception that the Conservatives are some how more racist than the Labor Party. This is a perception that is actively encouraged by their opponents.

So, has Trevor Philips let the cat out of the bag about the inner workings of the Labor Party?  He believes that once you get away from their urban bases there is a lot of resistance to minorities in certain areas of the Labor Party.

Incidentally, in the last decade or so, the Conservative Party has gone to great lengths — some would say too far — to cull their ranks of anyone who could even be seen as anything but broad minded when it comes to ethnicity. Yet the media and Conservative party opponents still try to portray it as the least tolerant party of them all.

In my observations of the British political process over many years, I have come to the conclusion that its likely the UK will have a minority PM very soon. However, I am not sure it will necessarily be someone of black or Asian extraction.

That said, Trevor Philips’ scourging of institutional racism in the Labor Party is rather blunt and was probably difficult to hear for many of Labor’s “right-on” urban elites. They know what he says is mostly true but are loath to admit their dirty little secret.

Andrew Ian Dodge blogs at Dodgeblogium.
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