The Today people persisted, wrongly, in describing Damilola's murder as an act of "black-on-black" violence

One year into the life of the Greater London Authority, and I still can't quite shake off the feeling of being an alien in politics. It's partly being a poacher-turned-gamekeeper; and partly having been brought up in the Caribbean. When I hear the initials PPP, I have to remind myself from time to time that we're not talking about the Marxist People's Progressive Party, led by the late Cheddi Jagan, which was destabilised by the CIA back in the 1950s. The ensuing civil conflict was one of the reasons that my father remained in Britain, rather than return to Guyana; even British Rail and a Rachman tenement looked pretty good when the alternative was internment as a trade union agitator back home.

The IPPR's report on public-private partnerships was a breath of fresh air in a debate where positions are already being freeze-dried. Heroic simplicity - privatise or nationalise - is fine for oppositions. But the millions who cannot afford to buy their education or health or transport privately don't care how you fund the Tube; they just want it to work efficiently and safely.

The conclusion that there is a place for the private sector in the provision of public services has to be right. I know that TV isn't a matter of life or death, but the BBC and Channel 4 are models of how the private sector can work perfectly well within a public service. Independent TV producers can sometimes just be a cheap way of filling airtime, but often they provide the astonishing talent that creates The West Wing, Have I Got News For You, Red Dwarf and the marvellous Jazz, which has just ended on BBC2. Just as "public bad, private good" makes no sense, the reverse proposition flies in the face of reality.

My sister calls from the US to tell me that our mother has suffered yet another minor stroke. Her care is privately provided, but much of the cost is met from my late stepfather's insurance scheme - provided by his trade union. He himself took four agonising, bedridden years to succumb to Alzheimer's. The union looked after the old sailor. He had a level of care that would have bankrupted the NHS. To set against this, another close relative, who suffered a devastating breakdown 18 months ago, has had her care paid for by the NHS. For half of the time, she was treated in a private clinic, because the specialist capacity doesn't exist in the NHS and the cost would have been prohibitive for her parents. However, the nine months my young relative spent in a private clinic were marked by staff shortages, unsettled management and inconsistent care, as the business struggled to force down costs.

The family insisted that she be moved. Her transfer to a wholly NHS team has produced a completely different quality of care and a faster recovery.

Since the murder of young Damilola Taylor, my colleague Suzy Black and I have been working with Harriet Harman and North Peckham residents to produce a serious response to the tragedy. As a result, the London Assembly is about to launch an inquiry into what has gone wrong with the huge regeneration schemes that should have eliminated the sorts of conditions in which he lived and died. However, the media, led by the Today programme, decided that the real issue is the "conflict" between the African and Caribbean communities. This racist nonsense caused deep distress in both communities. Yet when the police charged four teenagers - one African, one of mixed race, and two of "Mediterranean" appearance - with Damilola's killing, there was not a word of apology from any of the wiseacres who "knew" that the problem was "black-on-black" violence.

The usual late-summer flurry of parties is fluttering away. I hold one for the doctors and nurses who work in the previously ignored area of sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia - crippling genetic conditions that affect black and Asian people. I've been campaigning on this for 20 years; last year, Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, personally intervened to commit to the first national screening programme. Thanks, Al; that's delivery. I am reminded by one guest that, in 1982, I caught out Kenneth Clarke in an interview about sickle cell. He hadn't done his homework, and his breezy self-assurance quickly became defensive bluster. He may be a good bloke, but Tony Blair will punish his laziness.

At the British Museum do to celebrate the GLA's first birthday (sponsored by a series of private companies, as the Mayor is quick to point out), my old friend Diane Abbott and I have one of our regular glorious rows about the relative virtues of the Guyanese and Jamaicans. We roar away, deafening everyone nearby, and sending the museum's glassware flying. I can see the black staff smiling broadly - they'd join in if they could.

Oddly enough, when we're both interviewed about the Mayor's first year, I try to be generous to him; but it is Diane who points out, in that silkily menacing tone she usually reserves for new Labour ministers, that while he's had a year to get things organised, Londoners - especially black Londoners - want more than stirring words. They want "delivery". Finally, it would seem, the message is getting through.

Trevor Phillips is the deputy chair of the Greater London Assembly. Ken Livingstone interview, see London supplement, centre pages

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Just you wait until I grow up