Urban life - Darcus Howe spots an absence at Brighton

A smattering of black and Asian delegates turned up in Brighton. It wasn't always thus

Why did Trevor Phillips choose the week of the Liberal Democrats' party conference to release what a government minister described as a "fatuous" statement on race relations? It seems to me a deliberate attempt on Phillips's part to deflect attention from the Lib Dems. Perhaps, in his schoolmasterly way, he wanted to punish them for drawing large chunks of Labour support in the immigrant communities.

So let's turn to the party that Trevor himself supports. The conference is taking place as I write, and I am certain that he would not dare cast a shadow over Tony Blair's moment. Even so, only a smattering of black and Asian delegates have turned up in Brighton for the Labour party conference. It was not always thus. I remember a conference in the early Eighties where several young blacks, dressed in white T-shirts with "Black Sections of the Labour Party" printed all over them, banged on Labour's doors, demanding the right to represent constituencies in the inner cities. Conferences hummed with resolutions on racism and inner-city deprivation.

And now? Silence and absence. If ever a party deserved to be interrupted by a spoiler on race relations it is the Labour Party, at conference, and on the day of Blair's speech. Alas, that would require a fair and unbiased understanding of recent history, and bundles of courage. Trevor Phillips has neither.

In consequence, we face mass dissent from parliamentary politics by our young people. The problem is not apathy. Pakistani youths, for instance, have demonstrated their political instincts with a shrewd assessment of international politics and a keen interest in the nuances arising therefrom. None of their representatives was allowed to reflect their views on the Iraqi occupation at the conference.

Consequences attach to excluding the one issue which consumes these young people. I keep my fingers crossed that they do not consume us in turn with their just anger and frustration.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 03 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: our fatal blunder