My Week: Seven days in the life of Sir Herman Ouseley, CRE Chairman

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The Independent Culture
SIR HERMAN OUSELEY is the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. He faced a media furore this week over his defence of the CRE's decision to launch a racist advertising campaign des-igned to shock people into thinking about racism and challenging it.


My best day of the week as I spent most of it travelling to a christening on the South Coast. I should have been in Detroit at a conference but because of work I couldn't go. I had to spend about three hours on the phone because the story had broken about the advertising campaign.

We were surprised how quickly the story broke. We'd put up the original adverts with our phone number and 52 people rang to complain - but they only started when we put the third one up. Had we expected more complaints? Yes and no. The adverts were only up for a short time and most people need to see them more than once. But because the images were pretty offensive, we could only have them up for a very short time. The evening I spent quietly with friends.


I had to get up at 5am to return to London for a GMTV interview. It started as I expected - was our campaign irresponsible? I pointed out that evidence suggests that prejudice, racial violence and discrimination are getting worse. Four to 10-year-olds in schools are displaying racist attitudes and refusing to sit next to black or Asian children. I explained that we wanted to use shock tactics in the same way they have been used for drink-driving or HIV/Aids.

I was back on the South Coast and having breakfast by 9am, and then I went to the christening at about midday. I spent the afternoon watching football, then caught up on some paperwork before going to bed.


I was in the office at 6.30am. At 6.45am the MP Bernie Grant rang to say he was most disappointed in what we had done. That was the first of a stream of calls and letters. At 9am, I had a briefing with a senior manager and then I had to be at the Institute of Education conference at the University of London, to give the keynote address on ethnic minorities and the National Curriculum. I couldn't stay afterwards because I had to be back at the CRE for a photocall and a press conference to explain what we had done.

I spent the rest of the day doing interviews in between meetings.


At the office at 6.30am, again. I'm a morning person and once I'm awake, I like to get going. At the end of the day, I'm wilting. I had to do a couple more interviews and I had a visit from a researcher about plans for a new ethnic-minority research centre. At midday, it was the monthly meeting of CRC commissioners. We discussed the campaign and the commissioners reinforced their strong support. We also reported on the financial situation. We've got to lose 23 posts to fit in with budget reductions and there are still more to lose. There have been four years' successive budget cuts and the Government has put back some money but the gap between spending and income is still considerable. It's very difficult.

The meeting finished at 4.30pm and after that there was more catching up to do. I had a long discussion with Floella Benjamin, the broadcaster. She was very upset about the use of the images and I wasn't successful in changing her view. In the evening, there was a meeting about the future of the CRE at which I discussed whether I could last the distance. I think in 18 months I won't be here. Off home with a massive headache.


Woke up about 4am with same headache, but again in the office by 6.30am. I had a meeting with a representative from the MoD conference planned for November. Then I went to a Department for Education and Employment advisory group on ethnic minority pupils' underachievement.

Back at 1.30pm to deal with post and calls and then at 3pm I went to a function at the House of Commons as part of our leadership challenge, asking business leaders to take action to end inequality. Keith Vaz was there, along with about 300 other people.


After getting into the office at the normal time, I was on the train to Wolverhampton at 7.45am for a conference on the leadership challenge for the local authority in the region. There were a lot of business people, and people from the community, and there were schoolchildren performing, which was very uplifting. I got back in the late afternoon. Again, a number of meetings awaited me and I didn't leave the office until 8pm.


This was a unique day for me. The Navy have been trying to get me to Portsmouth for some time to get me on board a warship and today was the day. Was I looking forward to it? Well, it should have been a bit more relaxed than the rest of the week. But then we went in a helicopter to get there and I'd never been in one before and the last person I knew who went in one lost his breakfast somewhere along the journey. Two of the CRE's commissioners, Bob Purkiss and Dwaine Neill, came with me to the HMS Coventry - the three of us having done an investigation into the armed services - and we had a lengthy discussion with the people there.

Had to go back to the office to tackle the mound of work that was waiting for me. By the time I have finished, I'm so drained I've got no energy to do anything else. I'll have to put having fun on hold for a couple of days.