Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Sadiq Khan declares war on race inequality

The shadow London minister will set out a comprehensive programme to tackle racial division in a speech tonight. 

In his recent speeches and interventions, Ed Miliband has made it clear that reducing inequality will be the defining mission of any government he leads. Today, Sadiq Khan, one of Miliband's closest shadow cabinet allies, will argue that this goal will only be achieved with a comprehensive plan to tackle race inequality. The speech he will make this evening at Operation Black Vote is the most significant and radical delivered by any Labour figure on the subject in recent history. 

The key point, a party source told me, is his recognition of "the importance of positive action". Khan will pledge to impose a new legal requirement for all police forces, including the Met, to have active recruitment policies to increase diversity and will confirm that Labour will consider introducing diversity quotas for company boards and the judiciary if voluntary action fails. He will also promise to radically reform stop and search powers, going much further than Theresa May, to improve the diversity of the civil service and to reform the Work Programme so that it better supports ethnic minorities. All of these policies will be united in Labour's race equality strategy, which a source said would be "driven by the Cabinet Office, rather than a piecemeal department-by-department approach". 

Khan will say: "My bus driver father could only have dreamed, as a new arrival to London in the 1960s from Pakistan, that three decades later his son would be the first Asian MP to attend cabinet. As a country we have clearly done much to break down the barriers of racial discrimination. But the fact is that Britain remains a hugely unequal country for minority ethnic people. If you are black or Asian in Britain today you are significantly more likely to be unemployed, will earn less and live a shorter life than your white neighbours. This is a moral issue and political issue – an injustice that offends our basic values of fairness. But it is also terrible for both our society and economy."

And he will argue that general inequality can only be tackled by reducing racial inequality, highlighting that: 

- Black and ethnic minority people are the most likely group to be trapped in poverty.

- The percentage of people from Bangladeshi or Pakistani descent who earn the minimum wage is nearly twice as high as the percentage of white Britons.

- In London, more than twice as many Asians earn less than the London Living Wage compared to white Londoners. 

"It will be impossible to make Britain a more equal country and close the gap between those at the top and the bottom of our society, without also tackling racial inequality," he will say. 

In an echo of The Spirit Level, he will also argue that tackling race inequality is not just good for ethnic minorities but for everyone in Britain. 

Ending race inequality isn’t just about helping black or Asian people; it’s about improving the lives of everyone in Britain. The shocking unemployment rate in ethnic minority communities limits economic growth and increases the cost of welfare. We need to unleash the economic potential of young Black and Asian Britons to grow our economy. Ending race inequality will also benefit our communities and society. Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives. It increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction. It destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes or of different races. Tackling racial inequality will help us tackle these problems amongst people from all backgrounds.

Race equality, he will say, has "barely been an afterthought for the coalition". 

"They have taken their foot off the accelerator and as a result, the progress made by the last Labour Government has gone into reverse. Unemployment in black and Asian communities has gone through the roof – ethnic minority Britons are now twice as likely to be unemployed as white Britons. There has been no progress in making our police force reflect the communities they protect. And government cuts have disproportionately hit black and ethnic minority Britons."

Khan's approach isn't just smart policy but smart politics too. As research by Operation Black Vote has shown, the number of seats where the ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP will total 168 in 2015, up 70 per cent since 2010. Khan said in response: "This research shows how important the ethnic minority electorate is going to be in future general elections. Any party that seriously wants to win needs to take the ethnic minorities with them." By seizing the initiative on race equality, Khan is ensuring that Labour is best placed to do so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.