I am in full support of Black Lives Matter movements in the US and here in the UK. I want to offer my support and solidarity to all those grieving and fighting for a better world. It is hard to find words that make a difference, but as a white guy, I believe it is important to acknowledge that systematic racism exists. This means recognising racism happens in the UK as well as the USA. Systemic racism needs to be rooted out, and it feels like this is a watershed moment. However, we have seen other watershed moments promise much and deliver little. This time it has to be different. I hope the proximity to the US Presidential Elections provides an opportunity to put someone who actually believes in equality into the White House.
I want to offer my condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, who were killed by police in the US over the last few months.
The murder of George Floyd was murder, pure and simple. But more than that, it showed a man who believed himself to be above to law, taking the life of a man because he could, aware that the consequences don’t usually apply to people like him. They do and they should and I hope he will feel the full consequences. The video showing George Floyd being killed is harrowing. His words, “I can’t breathe”, are brutal – and must be remembered for the suffocation not just of Mr Floyd, but of all people of colour. We remember George because he tragically died, but how many people in his place had this happen to them and were lucky enough to make it out with their life, so aren’t being remembered? Systemic racism produces victims each and every day and that is why there must be a new political energy to tackle it. The Police are supposed to be there to enforce the laws and do so fairly. I hope the prosecution of the Police Officer who believed himself to be above the law is swift, and action to reform and reshape Policing in America follows. We have seen progress in the UK in recent years but there is still a lot of work to do here.
America has structural inequality baked into its economy and society, but so does Britain. We are not immune to racism and indeed, we have an even greater responsibility to step up, call it out, and act here because this is our community. Black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales. Black people experienced 12% of the use-of-force incidents, despite being 3.3% of the population. Black people have long faced discrimination within the UK justice system. I lend my support and solidarity to those struggling for justice and equality in America, but I do so for those in Plymouth and across Britain too.
Since being elected I’ve been vocal about my views on equality. I refuse to be silent. I believe I have a responsibility to speak out. We all benefit when everyone in our society is treated fairly, equally and valued and respected for who we are. That means dismantling the systems, walls, obstacles and inequalities that discriminate against being poor, being from a minority, being gay and being a woman – to name but a few. It means recognising the privilege we have and addressing it in all aspects of our lives – in recruitment, in employment, in language, in kindness and in the structures we build and participate in as a society.
As a Labour MP I believe in social justice and equality. Both are required but in today’s politics so too is an energy and enthusiasm to stand up for what is right, even if it is not always popular. Populism is sweeping our politics and it demands new ways of dealing with hate, with abuse and addressing the underlying reasons for its growth. I use the language of Plymouth needing to get our “fair share”; this is a polite way of saying we must address structural underfunding, have a new focus on addressing inequality and deprivation as a public priority, and using the levers of power to lift up those in poverty – those discriminated against and those whose opportunities and potential are being throttled by inbuilt obstacles. Inequality takes many forms and I believe that we must address this both from the bottom up and the top down.
I’m proud to be Plymouth’s first ever out MP. I hope that being myself in public life will encourage others to believe there is a place for them in elected politics regardless of their background. You don’t have to be a gay Janner with a love of cake to get on, but being white means I have faced fewer challenges than I would have if I had all those qualities and a different skin colour. I believe that black lives matter, that love is love, and that no human is illegal. Behind these words must sit actions and I have tried to speak out against inequality, in support of Plymouth’s minority communities, in support of our city’s LGBT+ community – especially for trans people, who often face the largest abuse. And I have proudly spoken out in support of Plymouth being a welcoming city for asylum seekers and immigrants. Diversity makes us stronger, not weaker. Difference should be celebrated and valued. When those in public life don’t stand up for those values, it encourages the erosion of those values at a faster pace.
There is an urgency to act because I do not believe in the inevitable progress of equality. We have seen in America and in Britain that for one step forward we can take one step back as a society and the rules are only as strong as those who enforce and defend them.
Britain has much to be proud as a nation of. But the legacy of slavery, discrimination, homophobia and racial hierarchy that we, as a nation, created all around the world means we have a special responsibility to do better and back those whose struggle. That means supporting causes and individuals and doing all we can to break down the patriarchal and racial hierarchies that limit opportunities, but more so, deny people their basic human rights because of the colour of their skin, who they fall in love with or what nation they come from. You can imagine how disgusting I find the Foreign Secretary’s refusal to comment on George Floyd’s death. His murder has exposed, yet again, the inequality that too many are comfortable with. Comfortable to brush under a carpet and ignore. Not me and not you.
In the coming days and weeks we must look afresh at what needs to change. Not just in America, but in Britain too. I will continue to fight against racism and I will not be silent when I see it. I hope to work with Police and other stakeholders to address these inequalities and injustice. I would welcome your input into that effort. Keep safe and keep well.