Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Newspaper column 17 June 2020 - Demonstrations

I am sure, like me, each of us have been deeply disturbed and appalled by the scenes of violence and vandalism on the streets of London.

It has become quite clear that what were, for the vast majority on both sides of opinion, intended to be peaceful demonstrations to express heartful concerns, have been infiltrated by extremists intent on causing disruption and disorder. Whether it is the far left or right, those who seek to attack our Police, vandalise public property and spread hate and abuse should be roundly condemned by every decent person in the UK. I have been pleased at the messages from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary making clear that those who broke our laws will be held to account.

There is a very real need now for calm and reasonable responses to these events and to avoid inflaming the situation any further. Particularly as this is all taking place with the backdrop of a global pandemic which is causing a national health and economic crisis. Anyone choosing to ignore the lockdown restrictions which ban public gatherings is simply not acting in the national interest however justified they believe their cause to be.

The killing of George Floyd in America clearly brought to the fore the deep sense of injustice many black and minority ethnic people carry. Whilst there is no doubt that we in the UK have made great progress in becoming a more diverse and equal nation we cannot overlook or deny that there remain too many inequalities in our country. We should all take note of the depth of feeling that has been expressed and look into our own hearts. But this expression of desire for the injustices of the past and present to be addressed should not be used as cover for those who have an extreme left-wing agenda to undermine our values and overthrow the foundations of our society.

Just as those who observed some of our most treasured monuments to our national history and leaders being defaced by those who have an anti-British agenda felt the understandable need to defend and protect them. A legitimate cause has been hijacked by ring-wing extremists who were more intent on a fight than peaceful demonstration.

Both are wrong. Both should have no place in our society. Both should be condemned.

There is no doubt that inequality and injustice remain in our country. There are many reasons or root causes for the fact that too many people do not get a fair shot at life. Too many get left behind and do not have an equal chance of making the most of their talent and hard work. As the Prime Minister stated in the election campaign last year, talent and ability are spread equally across our country, but opportunity is not. It is one of this government’s priorities to address this and level up our country.

Supporting the people of our country to get through the current crisis has rightly taken the focus in recent months but the commitment remains to ensure the gap in opportunity for all will be back front and centre of our agenda as soon as possible.

In order to address these issues there does need to be an acceptance that inequality comes in many forms. The causes of inequality are complex and multiple. It is far too simplistic to say that the colour of someone’s skin or the ethnic background is the cause of every issue some people face. Many reports show that some of the most disadvantaged people in the UK are working class white boys in coastal communities such as in Mid-Cornwall. I believe we do the cause of our collective battle against inequality no favours when we polarise the issue into just a matter of race.

I do not believe the UK is a racist country. There are still sadly some residents of the UK who hold racist views – as there are in every society. But just as there is a danger that the unacceptable minority of those on the streets of London delegitimise the just cause of those wanting to highlight the injustice BAME people face, calling the UK a racist country due to the views of a small minority, or because of things that took place centuries ago, risks underlining the cause.

In my view, we will never be successful in rooting out injustice and inequality if we cannot start by recognising the significant progress we have made, avoid reducing it to a simplistic matter of race and accept it is complex. It includes matters of culture, family upbringing, values and behaviour where each one of us has to accept some degree of personal responsibility for the outcome of our own lives as well as that of our neighbours.