By Claire Gordon • 30 December 2021 • 19:04
"Tony Blair" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by apesphere
Tony Blair blocked ambitious plans for a racial reform strategy following the trail-blazing inquiry into the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence, as revealed by newly-released government papers. It has come to light that the then Prime Minister opposed proposals for a race equality strategy even after the scandal highlighted the Metropolitan Police as being “institutionally racist”.
Black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in south-east London in 1993 and the response to the incident caused widespread outrage. In the papers, it shows how Tony Blair said sacking police officers over race issues would be “over the top”, and a “regulation nightmare”.
The landmark Macpherson report set out wide-ranging plans for reform after Stephen’s death, outlining a series of failures on London’s police service, reports the Metro. The then Home Secretary Jack Straw had commissioned the inquiry and wanted to build upon it with a 10-year strategy for tackling racial reform, sending his plans to the prime minister in December 1998 before the report coming out the following February. But the newly-revealed papers show that Mr Blair was reluctant about the plan from the outset.
In his letter, Mr Straw explained that he wanted to be able to announce a commitment by all government departments to put race equality at the heart of policy-making.
He warned: “At the extreme, black and Asian youngsters have observed their grandparents and parents suffer discrimination, harassment and racial violence and are developing very hardened attitudes against the white community.
“We have to win back their confidence in the institutions of British society.”
Angus Lapsley, an official in Mr Blair’s private office, noted that they were ‘cool’ towards the idea that police officers who used racist language or committed racist acts should usually be dismissed, and noted the possible reaction of the press.
“This could easily become a ‘Telegraph’ cause celebre if taken too far,” he argued. In a handwritten note in the margin, Mr Blair wrote “I agree”. He added: “We do not want to go OTT [over the top] on this. You’re right.”
The proposal for a white paper and racial reform was finally killed off at a meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Straw on March 18, 1999.
“The Prime Minister said that he shared the Home Secretary’s political objectives and it was clear that the Government needed to have a clear and positive agenda for change,’ the official note of the meeting state.
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