The View from Number 10: What does the new Prime Minister mean for equality?

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An endorsement from the President of the United States for a new British Prime Minister, particularly in a time of International turmoil, would ordinarily be seen as a positive. However, when it comes amid a huge row over racist comments towards four congresswomen, and coupled with an endorsement from the renowned far-right commentator Katie Hopkins, it begs the question: what will the new Prime Minister mean for equality?

Boris Johnson has been confirmed as the new British Prime Minister after winning a firm majority of votes from Conservative Party members. It’s interesting to note that within the Conservative Party 70% of members are male and 97% are White British, with an average age of 57 years old, so a typical party member sounds a lot like Boris Johnson himself, making his election perhaps less surprising.

Johnson has had a long, at times bumpy, career in politics and journalism, so if we look back at his past we may get an idea of the impact he may have in his new role when it comes to equality.

To start by going a little further back, BBC’s ‘Who do you think you are?’ explored Boris Johnson’s ancestry: on one side, European Aristocracy, and on the other side, a Turkish journalist and politician killed for speaking out against Nationalist regimes in the Ottoman Empire, which seems particularly significant when considering the support for Johnson from Nationalist commentators such as Kate Hopkins. Himself born in New York, Johnson has an interesting and complex heritage.

Despite this, he has become known for making derogatory remarks and slurs about minority groups and has often voted against moves towards greater equality.

He voted against improving benefits for those with disability or illness, as well as voting for a reduction in the household benefit cap. He voted against an assessment of the impact of Government policies on women, against mitigating disproportionate burden on women, and against the development of a gender equality strategy.

He voted in favour of a stricter asylum system and stronger enforcement of immigration rules, which form part of our current hostile environment which led to the Windrush scandal. He also voted against protecting rights for EU nationals currently living (legally) in the UK following the UK’s departure from the EU (Brexit).

He voted against measures to prevent climate change, which is a major driver of displacement, and voted against keeping the EU ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’ as part of UK Law following Brexit.

So, his voting record gives a fair cause for concern when it comes to equality, but what about outside of his role as an MP?

He has had to apologise for describing Black Africans as ‘picaninnies’, was investigated for his article comparing women in burqas to ‘letter boxes’ or ‘bank robbers,’ and is being called on by the LGBT+ Conservatives group to issue an apology for his history of anti-LGBT+ remarks.

Perhaps most worrying, is the fact that someone known for blatant racism, Islamophobia and homophobia has assumed the most powerful position in the country. The bar for acceptable behaviour as a politician, and now as Prime Minister, is set dangerously low.

And just how dangerous is it?

Following his column in 2018 where he made the derogatory and offensive remarks about women in burqas, hate incidents against Muslim women spiked, and at EqualiTeach, we have heard from teachers and young people who have experienced Islamophobic language and attitudes which will have been legitimised and emboldened by Johnson’s comments.

So what can we do to mitigate these risks in our schools and communities?

1. Write to your MP
It is important to remember that despite Johnson’s position of power his is not the only vote counted in the Commons. Write to your MP letting them know which issues really matter to you, and what concerns you have, so they can represent your voice in Parliament.

2. Support a Movement
There are lots of fantastic groups, organisations and individuals doing brilliant work to further advance equality in the UK and beyond. Here are some to look out for:
On Gender Equality: The Fawcett Society
On Parental Rights (focus on pregnancy and maternity rights): Pregnant then Screwed
On Refugee and Asylum Issues: Help Refugees, Refugee Action
On the rights of EU Nationals: @The3Million
On Immigration: The Runnymede Trust, The Migration Museum
On Racism: Race on the Agenda (Rota), Gal-dem
On Islamophobia: Tell MAMA, MEND
On Homophobia and Biphobia: Stonewall
On Transphobia: Trans Media Watch, Mermaids
On Hate speech in the press: HackedOff

3. Speak Up
If you witness someone using prejudicial language, speak up and stand in support of the target. Support them to report the incident if necessary.

4. Empower Young People
Young people, cliché as it may be, have the potential to make real change. Educators are in the perfect position to empower young people to be empathetic, compassionate and positive change makers. We run a range of workshops for students on different aspects of equality, and also have free downloadable resources for teachers providing information, guidance and lesson plans on topics including Islamophobia, Gender Equality and Values education.

As Whitney Houston sang ‘Children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way…’

Header Image credit: PA

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