Michael Howard and his Australian sidekick, Lynton Crosby, returned race to the political agenda in language intemperate, in the vain hope that they would stir a dwindling electorate to identify us, citizens of dark skins, as the main source of this country's social problems. Not since the passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 has the political atmosphere been soured by such an assault on the racial sensibilities of the nation in its struggle for harmony between the indigenous population and its ex-colonial subjects.
Fortunately for us, Howard failed to get sufficient support from the electorate for his right-wing stance on immigration and asylum. He failed principally because the process of building harmony between races is at an advanced stage, solidified at the base of our society by the millions of us who live cheek by jowl in Britain's inner cities.
It is time for the government not only to recognise the existence of this harmony and how it was built from the bottom up, but also to put a policy in place that would bury the Howards of our political world for ever.
I propose the creation of a ministry for race relations.
Abolish the Commission for Racial Equality and incorporate
its work in a new ministry, whose head should be given cabinet status. I suggest Clare Short as the secretary of state, with Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott as junior ministers.
This new body would co-ordinate across several ministries the development and advancement of the old and new immigrant communities: breaking glass ceilings, integrating our youth in a progressive national curriculum, tackling the issues that have caused us so much distress. It would lay down a challenge to those who seek to disfigure this nation along racial lines, and encourage black and Asian Britons to believe that the established order is determined to break the back of racialism and prejudice.
The new ministry need not be a top-down affair. MPs from constituencies with large immigrant communities should initiate consultations, which would form the policy basis of the new ministry for race relations.
I expect there are many in the Conservative Party who found the Howard and Crosby campaign unbearable. A public consultation would draw support from such people. Meanwhile, Crosby himself can surely be deported on the grounds that he is not conducive to the public good.
Darcus Howe is a New Statesman columnist