A few nights ago I had dinner with a number of Black Conservatives to celebrate the start of Black History Month. Some of us hold elected office, some had been candidates, some behind the scenes political professionals, and some were activists. It was a lovely opportunity to catch up with old friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since well before the start of the Covid pandemic.
It was a joyous occasion.
As with all political dinners there were speeches, words of celebration and congratulations, words of gratitude for support given, words of hope for success in future endeavours. We spoke about how far the country had come in the diversity of its political representatives and what work there was still to do to. We committed to supporting and encouraging the pipeline of young Conservatives from ethnic backgrounds.
At that point we were forced to address the elephant in the room: protecting those future generations from the torrent of criticism and abuse that we all know they will receive, just for being Black and being a Tory.
We know that they will get it because all Black Conservatives get it.
“Black person gets grief” isn’t exactly a new headline, and if Black History Month tells us anything it's that many who have gone before us have had to deal with much worse than we do now. It is not the existence of abuse and vitriol that shocks, it is where it comes from. Disproportionately it comes from voices who claim to want a more diverse politics, who claim to hate racism, who claim to celebrate Black success. Sadly much comes from the political Left.
It is clear that many people on the Left cannot get their heads around the idea that someone can be Black and also a Conservative. I don’t mind being criticised for being a Tory, all my Conservative colleagues are used to that, what is unacceptable is that criticism being particularly framed through the prism of our race.
When a Black Labour MP accuses me and other Black Conservative MPs of selling our “souls and self-respect” for accepting cabinet positions in a Conservative government, it sets a tone. When the authors of the Sewell Race Report are accused of being racial gatekeepers by a Black Labour MP it sets a tone. These words are then amplified and focussed by an increasingly partisan digital media that blurs the line between political reporting and political campaigning. Comments like these give licence to those who deploy more extreme, abusive, and sometimes violent language directed at Black Conservatives.
It isn’t universal and doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to disrespect in order to disagree.
When I was first elected I was approached in Portcullis House by one of the original members of the Labour Party Black Sections who said “I was wrong on politics” but that he was really pleased to see me as an MP.
The Lord Woolley of Woodford (or Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote as I like to call him) helped me long before I was ever elected and has been hugely supportive of me ever since. I’m pretty sure our politics aren’t the same, but it doesn’t matter, he genuinely celebrates the success of Black politicians across the political spectrum.
After I’ve done a breakfast media round I often get recognised in the street and get supportive comments; the people doing so are almost always Black. They seem genuinely pleased that there are Black people at the heart of our government, even if they don’t share my politics either.
I don’t believe the people who fought for greater diversity in society, pushed for more Black people in positions of influence and authority did so on the condition that we all had to have the same political views.
One day I would love the skin colour of politicians to be completely irrelevant to the praise or criticism that they get. That would be a day to celebrate.