Building bridges delivers better politics but more importantly, better society
It can be hard at times to believe that politics can bring about lasting change - especially at the moment.
But it can, it has, and it does. When at its best, politics’ strengths of allyship and cooperation pave a way for equality and fairness. Fostering these strengths isn’t something to just be left up to those on the green benches; it requires us to be active and engage in building the political bridges that create the change society rightly demands.
I want to see a society that is free of all racism, sexism and every other-ism that pervades everyday life. I know we will only achieve genuine progress if we work together and find agreement. With that in mind, and as a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent, I agreed to join the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) as one of their trustees.
BEO’s stated purpose is: “to promote economic, legal social and political equity for Black communities in Britain in order to ensure equal opportunity for progress and prosperity.” The aim is to drive racism out of Britain, bring about lasting change, and help Black people across the country live better lives.
This is not based on opinion nor a single mind-set, but on evidence, data and, crucially ,working together. Finding consensus to deliver the needed change is easier to do when we let facts point us in the right direction. At the same time, it is vital to appreciate that we are individuals. Yes, we have things in common, may face the same struggles, share similar fears and hopes. But groups are not homogeneous. We have different backgrounds, political positions and experiences. BEO’s bridge is built by us all having the same goal.
Progress on racial equity can’t happen in a silo or in a vacuum. We are made by the past - both good and bad - so it is essential to see what examples our history shows us. The first Race Relations Act passed into law with Labour and cross-party support. No matter our evaluation of the 1965 Act’s effectiveness, it cannot be overlooked that without Harold Wilson’s government finding consensus this ground-breaking first step would not have happened.
The partnerships created through concerted bridge-building foster greater understanding and bring lasting change at all levels. I’m a governor at a primary school in Southwark, south London. The kids can see the City office blocks and the Houses of Parliament, yet how many believe they can be part of the institutions these buildings represent? How many of those in these offices who see them like a dot in the distance feel any link to them? Far too few.
In Southwark we need bridges — literally and metaphorically — but no bridge can be built from one side alone. Effective cooperation comes when those in positions of influence cross both sides of the bridge. We have the greatest impact when we seek to understand people from backgrounds other than our own.
Sadly, racism is not history. While progress over the last 50 years has been clear, there still remains a lot to do. Nonetheless, successes of the past should give us encouragement to continue to drive forward for lasting change. But these next steps must and will come more quickly if we as society are committed to building the bridges for racial equity.
Siobhan Aarons is a Tory Reform Group board member, Black Equity Organisation trustee and co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.