by cntchuck

Although the UK election campaign has been described by some as lifeless and lacklustre, I would argue that exactly the opposite is true from a diversity and inclusion perspective. Issues around ethnicity, gender, age, and minorities of one kind or another, have brought this campaign alive for me and spared us from what would otherwise have been a dull and predictable series of debates. These are important issues that deserve to be brought out into the open so that we can be better informed as an electorate. In what follows I would like to focus on one particular news item that caught my attention recently because ethnicity was once more in the spotlight, but this time in a surprisingly positive way.

A few weeks ago the Prime Minister, David Cameron brought his campaign for re-election to a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in the South East of England, during the Indian festival of Vaisakhi. Vaisakhi is one of the most important dates in the Sikh calendar because it’s the annual celebration of the Sikh New Year and also serves as a commemoration of 1699, the year in which Sikhism was born as a collective faith.

Praise For Britain’s Sikhs

The news item worked really well on television, bringing out the vivid contrast between the grey formality of the election campaign and this most colourful and vibrant of celebrations. The Prime Minister and what appeared to be his personal security detail were dressed in their usual sober election suits, but they were also wearing bright orange head coverings, presumably as a mark of respect for the occasion. There appeared to be a lot of noise and chaos all around them as they were swept along by a tide of worshippers, surging towards the temple for prayer. Then the footage cut to a more composed scene of the Prime Minister making a speech in the temple, appealing to the Sikh voting public for support. This was clearly the main purpose of his visit. However he also spoke of his pride in taking part in the celebration and praised the contribution of Britain’s Sikhs to the British way of life.

The Prime Minister, his wife and his security detail circled in red among a crowd of worshippers.

The Prime Minister, his wife and security detail (circled) among worshippers.

A Remarkable Speech

This for me was a remarkable speech in terms of its timing and impact. It was one of only a few occasions in the election campaign that I can remember, when someone of prominence had expressed their firm and open support for a minority presence in the UK. Delivering a campaign speech during Vaisakhi, knowing for sure that it would be broadcast widely in the British media was a positive step too, serving to educate us further about this important cultural festival. This is exactly the kind of speech I would have liked the Prime Minister to make about the contribution of black people to the British way of life. I say this because I’m currently in the middle of planning for Black History Month in my organisation.

Common Themes

Black History Month takes place in October each year in the UK (February each year in the US) and is a month long celebration that recognises the inspirational events and individuals that have shaped our black generations in the past and those that contribute to our society today. There are some common themes here that are shared with Vaisakhi. So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the Prime Minister has in fact published a consistent message in line with his recent comments expressing his “enormous gratitude to the African-Caribbean community for their immense contribution to Britain”, on the Black History Month 2015 website. There are further common themes that I hope to build on as we plan for this event in my organisation.

Our plan is to bring out the same contrast we’ve seen in Vaisakhi, this time between the formality of corporate life and the colour and vibrancy of black cultural celebration. We will attempt to highlight the contribution of our black employees to the company’s success, whilst also educating our organisation just a little bit more about culture. There are plans for a panel event featuring senior business leaders who will take part in a discussion aimed at raising the profile of our operations in North Africa. There are plans too for a series of interactive events that highlight our culture through food, music, historical talks and short films by black directors.

Another Important Year

There is some concern among my colleagues that Black History Month is no longer relevant, in particular from those who do not describe themselves as simply black. I recognise these concerns, however the way I see it is that Black History Month is a valuable focal point in the calendar year when we strive for the cohesion that is still lacking within our community. This has been another year of important events that continue to shape us in ways we probably don’t yet understand and Black History Month will give us an opportunity to reflect on these and move on with confidence. Encouraged by what I’ve seen of Vaisakhi this year, I for one will make every effort to ensure this year’s Black History Month celebrations are a real success.Those Other Issues

Before closing I’d like to at least acknowledge those other issues around diversity and inclusion that have become an integral part of the UK election campaign, without debating further at this point.

  • Immigration, whether there should be tighter controls on the number of people entering the UK and accessing benefits from our welfare system.
  • Minority agendas, whether MPs from Scotland, Wales and the smaller political parties should have a disproportionate influence on politics affecting the whole of the UK.
  • Gender balance, the continued lack of female MPs (Members of Parliament) in what remains a male dominated political system.
  • Voter apathy, the reluctance of the young and significant sections of the electorate in particular black people, to register, to vote or to engage with the political system at any point in the process.