Nigel Farage thinks that anti-discrimination laws are no longer necessary. He believes that employers should be allowed to prejudice employment based on nationality. Farage calls himself and his party colour blind to race.
He’s half right. He is blind to the current state of Britain and the true value of diverse workplaces. Anti-discrimination laws have cultivated creative, innovative diverse workplaces. They continue to protect us in light of more young ethnic minority people unable to get jobs. The laws are good for business, and good for Britain.
Farage’s has made his comments in the same week that ONS figures reveal that since 2010 the number of ethnic minority people aged between 18-24 in long term unemployment has risen by 49 per cent. Last year alone, there were over 3000 cases of racial discrimination lodged under the laws Mr Farage wants to repeal.
In the wider context of society, reports of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise. I appreciate that pesky facts and statistical truths won’t get in the way of our man Farage telling it like it is to the British public. But the bigger point is about how limiting prejudice instills diversity, which is good for innovation and commerce.
More than just prohibiting what was wrong and unfair, the Race Relations Act and its descendant legislation pushed for a norm in the workplace. That law (as all good laws should) nurtured a normative behavior, where people were judged on their work and not on their skin colour. Consequently, it gave way to the idea that diversity is good for business.
I learnt the value of diversity as a lawyer at Allen & Overy, perhaps one of the last places an Asian boy from London’s East End would expect to find it. In a typical day at one of the largest law firms in the world, I’d have to advise clients in the Middle East about four different sets of laws in three countries.
Despite that breadth and variety of experience needed, I was struck by how many of my bosses all looked, talked and sounded the same. For a law firm that prided itself on being able to advise on law from all around the world, our advisers were eerily similar.
One of the company's senior partners recognised this, and sought to make things a bit more representative of how society actually looks. He focused on selling the idea of diversity to partners as good business, as well as being the right thing to do. The firm worked on two access schemes for school students from poor backgrounds, called Smart Start and PRIME.
10 things immigration has done for Britain
10 things immigration has done for Britain
1/10 The Mini
The 1959 classic, that is, perhaps our greatest piece of industrial design, a miracle of packaging and revolution in motoring. Its genius designer was Sir Alec Issigonis, who was an asylum seeker. His family, Greek, fled Smyrna when Turks invaded this borderland in around 1920, and he wound up studying engineering at Battersea Polytechnic. He went on to create that most English of motor cars, the Morris Minor, as well as the Austin-Morris 1100, all much loved products of his fertile imagination.
2/10 Marks and Spencer
Once upon a time there was no M&S in Britain, difficult as that may be to believe. We have one Michael Marks to thank for our most famous retailer, and he was a refugee from Belarus, arriving in England in about 1882, and soon after set off to flog stuff around Yorkshire. He eventually teamed with Thomas Spencer to create the vast business we know today.
And many other TV shows created, funded and otherwise produced by that largest of larger-than-life characters, Lew Grade (also a world class tap dancer). The man who dominated commercial television gave us memorable entertainment such as The Prisoner, the Saint and brought the Muppets to Britain (a sort of fuzzy felt wave of immigration), as well as puppet shows where you could see the strings. All this from a penniless Jew from Ukraine, born Lev Winogradsky, who escaped the pogroms in Ukraine with his family in the 1890s. His nephew Michael Grade has also done his bit for British television.
4/10 The House of Windsor
Or the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until George V prudently rebranded the family during the First World War. Well, our royals are a pretty German bunch, as well as having various types of French and other alien blue blood coursing around their veins. ‘Twas ever thus. There was William the Conqueror, Norman French, who certainly broke the immigration rules; William of Orange, a direct import from Holland; the Hanoverian King Georges, the first barely able to speak English; Queen Victoria, who married a German, Edward VII, who couldn’t stay faithful to his wife, a Danish princess; George V wed another German princess; Edward VIII married an American (though she hardly visited England and prompted his emigration and exile); and the Queen is married to man born in Corfu. The embodiment of the British nation, to many, but one thinks of them as quite multicultural really.
5/10 I Vow To Thee My Country
Our most patriotic hymn was the product of a man named Gustav Holst (pictured), born in Cheltenham, but of varied Swedish, Latvian and German ancestry, who adapted part of his suite The Planets to put a particularly stirring and beautiful poem to music, just after the Great War. As the second verse has it, “there's another country/I've heard of long ago/Most dear to them that love her/most great to them that know”. Imagine if the Holst family had been kept out because the quota on musical European types had been reached.
6/10 Curry and Cobra
Chicken Tikka Masala is, so they say, a dish which not only the most popular in Britain but specifically designed to cater for European tastes. For that we probably have to thank an Indian migrant, Sake Dean Mahomed, who came from Bengal to open the first recognisable Indian restaurant, the magnificently named “Hindoostanee Coffee House”. History does not record if a plate of poppadoms and accompanying selection of pickles and yoghurts were routinely placed on the table for new diners, but we do know that we had to wait until 1989 to taste the ideal lager for a curry - Cobra. That brew was brought to us by Karan (now Lord) Bilimoria, a Cambridge law graduate who hailed from Hyderabad.
7/10 That big red swirly sculpture at the Olympic Park
Or Orbit, to give it its proper name, the work of Anish Kapoor, who arrived in 1973 from India and had the artistic imagination to fill a power station.
8/10 The Sun
Love it or hate it, and many do both, this has been a symbol of much that is successful and a lot that is awful in British journalism since its inception in 1969. In its turn it spawned the Page 3 Girl and some nastily xenophobic headlines. All the stranger when you consider its creator was, of course, Rupert Murdoch, born 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, Australia.
OK, Karl Marx’s philosophy was not much of a gift to the world, but for a while it seemed like a good idea. Though we might not dare admit it, Marxism still has a few insights to offer to anyone wanting to understand the workings of capitalism, though too few to excuse everything that was done in its name. Born in Germany spent much time in the British museum and the British pub, buried Highgate Cemetery. Oddly, his ideas never really caught on in his adopted homeland.
10/10 The NHS
They came from many, many backgrounds, including Ireland, the Philippines, east Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, as they still do, but the contribution of the black nurses who came to the UK from the Caribbean to heal and care for is a debt of honour that must be recognised. It so sometimes forgotten that it was Enoch Powell, then Minister of Health (1960-62), who campaigned to recruit their skilled nurses to come and work over here. One abiding legacy we can thank Enoch for.
If you’ve ever worked on social mobility you’ll know the three key elements to breaking down barriers are personal confidence and self-belief, access to people who have succeed who can be mentors, and experience to know what to do on your first day. Smart Start and PRIME aimed to provide all of this through year long mentoring.
It won't be a surprise to learn that the overwhelming majority of the students on these programs were from ethnic minorities. When I wasn’t tied to my desk, I relished helping out on these programmes. They made me realise what diversity in the work place can really do.
In my experience, ethnic minority students felt more at ease seeing a face of someone who clearly had the same challenges they were facing. They feel they could ask me the questions in hushed tones, the answers to which they wanted (and needed) to know. The classics were: "can you make it here if you aren’t white?", "are they just being nice to us or do they really think we could get a job here?", and "you sure this chicken they say is halal is halal?". The answer was invariably yes to all three.
By working with junior lawyers from diverse backgrounds, I realised people of various backgrounds with second (or third) languages look at solving problems differently. They communicated in different ways to different people. That made us more relevant to more types of clients.
Having the same the type of person look at the same problem will get the same result: that's not innovative or dynamic, it's bad for business.
Anti-discrimination laws are still relevant today because getting a broad mix of people into the work is only the first step. For the true value of diversity to continue and sustain itself, that diversity must be protected while in the workplace.
As someone who belongs to an ethnic minority, I can tell you that wider discrimination is sadly still present in society. And I can also tell you that based on my experience, narrowing the equality gap between different races in the UK is the key to prosperity.
If it was up Farage, we'd be missing out on the huge talent pool provided by our multicultural society. For the sake of , and our economy, we cannot let that happen.
Bilal Mahmood is a Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Chingford and Woodford GreenReuse content