Darcus Howe wants a battle between two blacks

For Mayor of London, why can't we have a battle between two blacks?

Trevor Phillips has announced that he will not stand next time against Ken Livingstone for election as Mayor of London. He gives both private and public reasons. Though he will remain in the London Assembly, he prefers to retreat into the privacy of his family. He is offended, he says, by the racial imbalance in the assembly, which has only two West Indians and one mixed-race Asian.

One might say that the absence of blacks and Asians from the assembly has more to do with its lack of power than with racism; a full score of blacks and Asians are traipsing around constituencies looking for Commons seats. But leave that aside.

More than two years ago, the Labour Party's idea was that Phillips would be running mate to Frank Dobson in the mayoral race. Had this scheme succeeded, I doubt that we would now be without a deputy mayor. Phillips and his political friends know that, even in the remote eventuality of his winning the Labour nomination, he could not conceivably defeat Ken in the final run for mayor. He would risk losing two successive elections and for ever carry the stamp of "loser". Expect Trevor's misgivings about public life to disappear as Livingstone's second term approaches its end.

My view is that the black Labour MP Diane Abbott should take on Phillips, one black against another. It would end the black community's preoccupation with race and instead give a clear political contest between two views of how to govern economic change and development. It would be a contest between the instinctive radical and the hardened conservative.

I have long fought against the sentiment that blacks should stick together; we didn't do so in the countries where we originated. A contest between Abbott and Phillips would lift the entire immigrant community from the doldrums of sameness to the clarity of difference.

I explained all this to the London Evening Standard (which rang me for comment) but it just printed a diary item about how Trevor was my enemy and Diane my friend. That paper would prefer to have all Negroes in one bag. It wishes to keep us as backward men and women who are keen on friendship, but who find political argument too mature for us.

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 09 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, In the name of the law