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25th May 2021

David Lammy: ‘We can’t tackle systemic racism until the government takes it seriously’

It's been a year since the murder of George Floyd, what's changed? JOE spoke to Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy to hear his view

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt

It’s been a year since the murder of George Floyd, what’s changed? JOE spoke to Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy to hear his view

It has been one year since George Floyd was brutally murdered on the streets of Minneapolis at the hands of then police officer, Derek Chauvin.

As the video of his death spread across social media, the inhumanity of Floyd’s death sent shockwaves across the world triggering protests from Minneapolis to Manchester.

Here, in the UK, promises were made by companies, businesses, and government alike to strive towards racial equality and make the system fairer for Black people.

Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy, spoke to JOE about where the UK is a year on from Floyd’s death when it comes to racial equality.

“I think I’m heartened by the millennials and Generation Z who are, by and large, a generation that are demonstrating, white and black, that enough is enough when it comes to issues of systemic racism,” he says.

Lammy isn’t wrong; a YouGov poll on public opinion towards Black Lives Matter, for example, shows that 60 per cent of millennials have a positive opinion of the movement compared to just 30 per cent of baby boomers.

“I’m not unhopeful because I do think that Black lives matter, and what’s been inspired from the murder of George Floyd, has absolutely captured the mood of a generation.

“But I think, unfortunately, until we have a government that [takes it seriously] you can’t dismantle the systemic racism that exists in society.

“Unless you get that leadership from the top, it’s going to be difficult to see how that profound change can happen.”

He outlined how, in his view, some policies by the current government are reversing the fight for racial equality – such as the introduction of voter ID.

Government data shows that ethnic minorities are less likely to have an acceptable form of voter ID, with just 53 per cent of Black people holding a driving licence versus 76 per cent of white people.

And the necessity of it is questionable. Electoral fraud is at a consistently low level in the UK – of the 595 alleged cases investigated by the police after the 2019 general election, only 33 related to voter impersonation at a polling station.

However, despite backlash among their own MPs including senior Tory, David Davis, who described it as a “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”, a government spokesperson said: “showing ID to vote is a reasonable approach to combat the inexcusable potential for voter fraud in our current system.”

“I feel this is out of a Donald Trump playbook, and years of voter suppression in the US,” says Lammy.

The issue of voter ID is a topical issue in the US, where Republican politicians have pushed for its more widespread usage despite the potential it has to disenfranchise ethnic minority voters.

“We should be a country that is pulling down obstacles in the democratic process,” he says.

“Addressing the issues of turnout, addressing the millions of people who don’t seem to be registered to vote when they’re entitled to vote.

“How this could be perceived as a priority issue, I can’t tell – it must be, frankly, a cynical political device so that voters who traditionally vote Labour are no longer able to vote.”

The introduction of voter ID has the potential to hurt Labour’s prospects as ethnic minorities in the UK overwhelmingly vote for the party, with 77 per cent voting for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.

The ongoing culture war has also manifested in the government’s management of the race report, which was initially commissioned in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder.

And in a stark admission, Lammy says that he finds discussion of issues around race mentally draining.

“I’ve been in politics for many years, and being asked yet again about the existence of structural racism is not good for my own mental health,” he says.

“And it’s not good for the health of Britain’s Black and minority ethnic communities.”

The controversial report released earlier this year was lambasted after it claimed to find “no evidence” of institutional racism in the UK.

Politicians, think tanks, and charities that work in the area of racial equality condemned its findings – along with UN experts , who described it as “reprehensible.”

“There is very little left to be said of the report.

“It’s been decimated in public, there are very few people who are willing to get behind it other than a few people in Number 10,” said Lammy.

“It’s lost all credibility, and it certainly doesn’t command the broad respect of Britain’s minority ethnic communities – in fact, it’s been the subject of ridicule and a lot of offence.”