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Harrow Council institutionally racist?

Readers could make up their own mind from what the Marlborough and Wealdstone Independents in Harrow have brilliantly articulated below:

  • “Harrow Council left with no party in control amid racism row”? – BBC
  • A local newspaper reported that members of Harrow Borough Council's Independent Labour group at their press conference (last May) claimed there is 'institutional racism' within the authority's Labour group – Harrow Times
  • Previous chief executive wrote, “Separately complaints have been made in the press by the ILG (Independent Labour Group) about institutional racism”
  • At the Council meeting in November last year, leader of the council announced an independent investigation into an allegation of racism – the above bullet points indicate how 'institutional racism’ has been perceived and therefore the willingness for the investigation is understandable
  • At the Harrow Council's cabinet meeting last January, an update regarding the pending investigation into alleged institutional racism at Harrow Council was demanded

This March an announcement has been made that an investigation into alleged racism within Harrow Borough Council will be investigated by an Asian police officer, previously borough commander in Harrow.

In setting the background of ‘a Review into Institutional Racism Complaints’, the terms of reference for the review say ‘Harrow Council is aware that a number of members of its staff and some elected members, have made allegations of potentially discriminatory behaviour, based upon their race’ – i.e. racism = ‘discrimination’; also the heading of the investigation is "a Review into Institutional Racism Complaints at Harrow Council”.

The English language is quite specific about ‘racism’, ‘discrimination’, ‘review' and ‘investigation'!

The language of the terms of reference and confusions within are enough to indicate that whatever is going to be built on a problematic base, is going to be problematic.

Also, such is the understanding of the institutional racism that the terms of reference say “not to cover Councillor complaints about other Councillors”, ignoring the fact that the councillor to councillor complaints are embedded within the structure and workings of the council and are covered through the Standards procedures which are progressed and implemented by the council, an institution – can the council process be guaranteed not to harass and victimise?

We heard a councillor describing her experience of the Council processes as “use of Standards Committee where racial and gender stereotyping was used in the description of my conduct”.

Another case in point is the disrespect shown to the first African mayor at the new council meeting last year – we are not aware of any Standards action against those responsible for such an act.

We would not call any officers “lousy”, as the ILG leader did, but if someone says that there is a culture of fear after how the previous chief executive left, we might sympathise with that.

We sympathise with the investigator who has to carry out such an institutionally defined and discredited ‘review', especially in view of the ILG letter published last week (27.3.2014) that argues that his appointment will be neither independent nor professional.

The leader of the minority Tory administration had previously said that investigation into the allegations of racism at the council would be “independent”, most probably to keep the Independent Labour Group happy who keep her in power.

How an investigation could be “independent” if the political arm of the body that has been accused of racism sets the terms of reference and appoints an investigator of its choice on behalf of the body! Experience tells that transparency, perception of fairness and credibility are crucial in addressing any dynamics of racism, which seem to be lacking in this case.

Many think that this ‘review’, close to the May council election, is no more than an illusion to deliver a pre-determined outcome to claim fairness and care for the diversity in the borough!

To complete the picture:

People are not blind to colour in a colour conscious society.

Right-wing press as well as some petty but obnoxious internet blogs have become interested in minority specific matters in Harrow since last September - sudden interest in Asians and their living and habits – but then racism has no boundaries! 1/4/14



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