LONDON (Labour Buzz) - The fact-checking organisation Full Fact is calling for government communications to serve the people rather than the narrow interests of politicians. It’s a call that comes from the way in which the controversial report on racism was released to the public.
Anger at the report is understandable. Even as I write this the hashtag #rejectthereport is making its way around Twitter. However, much of the debate focused on a carefully selected summary and 25 unknown recommendations. By the time, the full report was released media lines were drawn, sides taken and any discussion on the nuances had become almost impossible.
“The topic of race in Britain is too important and sensitive to treat in this way,” said Full Fact in a blog post.
Instead, they got what the Observer called a ‘divisive and politically motivated’ report which daubed the entire issue in a bucket load of whitewash. Institutional racism, it said, ‘does not exist.’
Instead, it went onto dilute the term institutional racism as set out by the MacPherson report commissioned in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder claiming the term should only be applied when ‘deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level.’
It goes on to exonerate the government over issues such as the Windrush scandal or the right to rent which a court condemned as racially discriminatory.
Parts of it have required a second reading to be believed, such as the passage in which it attempts to find a positive note about slavery.
“There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”
Slavery it says, was not just about profit and suffering and, worrying, it suggests teaching such nonsense in schools, drawing on lessons from, of all places, Russia.
Looking on the bright side of life is great but this is a little like saying ‘at least concentration camps brought people together.’
Everything in this report is tailored to cater to the political ideology of the government. It’s an ideology which views racism as being down to individual failings rather than the systemic structure of the state.
Instead, it tries to praise the UK as a model example of racial integration and suggests ethnic minorities should be grateful for the progress that has been made. True, black people face discrimination in the workplace, when renting, when accessing healthcare, or interacting with the police, but at least we’re not clapping them in irons and making them work on a farm anymore.
The bad guys for this report are those who have ‘devalued the term’ institutional racism, with the use of ‘linguistic inflation’.
In other words, ‘it’s all the fault of that black lives matter lot’.
The report itself is racist, cherry-picking data in order to support the somewhat ugly views of those who commissioned it.
Educational failures are down to family breakdowns, lower employment outcomes due to poor choices being made by minorities or health outcomes down to ‘ignorance’. It ignores clear evidence of discrimination in the justice system such as the fact that police are twice as likely to fine black and Asian young men as whites for lockdown violations.
In trying to exonerate the government, it instead managed to provide one of the clearest examples of institutional racism in action.
Reports for PR
This report should have been a chance to address systemic inequalities which are there for all to see. Instead, the government saw it as a PR exercise.
It is by now a well-honed tactic. First, a favourable summary is leaked to the press. This dominated discussions before the full report finally hit. Any criticisms contained in the report conveniently fly virtually under the radar.
It’s not the first time these tactics have been used. In the run-up to the EU referendum, the government commissioned a report into the likely impacts. Once again, a summary was leaked and George Osbourne used a highly misleading excerpt to spearhead the campaign to remain.
“This was not civil servants being public servants. It was civil servants colluding with a political campaign by acting as PRs to the government of the day,” continues Full Fact. “In both cases we, the public, paid for this work. In both cases, those in power used that work selectively to manipulate us and not to inform us.
In both cases, it didn’t work for anyone. The public was given bad information on which to make decisions and the media happily played along. It didn’t even work for the government.
The remain campaign, which Osbourne hoped to boost, as we all know, didn’t end well. Likewise, this race report was lampooned on all sides. Business leaders described the enterprise section as being ‘laughably simplistic’ and said the government had ignored their input.
For all the efforts of tame journalists to toe the line, it didn’t stick. Instead, it simply reinforced the lack of trust in any information put out by the government.
This is dangerous because, at a time of the pandemic, trust in government is crucial. People need to know that the government is acting in the country’s best interests when commissioning reports such as these.
However, that’s not the case. When the time comes for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, we can expect more of the same: a favourable summary to guide debate before the full report sneaks apologetically into the public domain.
This will do nobody any favours and should not be acceptable. It doesn’t happen elsewhere. Polling companies have to release their full data. Official statistics have to be independently verified with all caveats explained.
That it’s acceptable here is a condemnation of the government and the press who happily go along with it.
“Bad information ruins lives,” says Full Fact. “It damages people's health, it promotes hate, and it hurts democracy. Government has the most powerful platform to distract, sow doubt, and spread misleading claims.”
This country faces serious challenges, but it can’t meet them with a government that treats official reports as a form of propaganda or a press which is happy to let them get away with it.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)