County hears compelling pleas from young people to recognise that ‘Black Lives Matter’, but culture-war Tories can’t help spoiling the Council’s response

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Diversity in Devon activists at Ottery St. Mary

Yesterday the County Council heard moving speeches from students at the King’s School, Ottery, supported by Development Education Devon, who explained how the Black Lives Matters movement had spurred them to speak out about the abuse and constant micro-aggressions suffered by young black people in Devon. The students, who have set up a group called Diversity in Devon, worked with Cllr Claire Wright to present a motion calling for the Council to engage with the black and minority-ethnic (BAME) community in the County and press the Government to recognise the history of black oppression in the school curriculum.

Along with a similar motion from the Lib Dems, Claire’s motion went (following the Council’s normal arcane and undemocratic procedure) to DCC’s Conservative-controlled Cabinet before being discussed by Council. The Cabinet approved a slimmed-down set of recommendations which -while not including all the points requested – represented real progress and all parties and groups (Labour, Lib Dems, Green and Independent) were able to support them. The first Cabinet amendment was therefore passed unanimously.

However the Conservative Group couldn’t help spoiling the response and disrupting the unity of purpose. Once the Group saw the Cabinet recommendations, it insisted on diluting the commitment to ‘engage with BAME people and organisations’. Embarrassingly for the Leader, Cllr Hart, he was forced to introduce an extra amendment saying the Council should ‘engage with all residents in Devon’. This was an echo of the racist All Lives Matter movement which has attacked the idea of Black Lives Matter.

In my comments, I explained why this was unacceptable. I am over 70 and white, and I have never experienced racist abuse or even micro aggressions in my life. The young black woman who spoke to the Council, like most other black people, has experienced them regularly from an early age. Obviously it is black and ethnic minority people who personally experience the problem of racism, so it’s them we should specially engage with.

It’s a shame that some Devon Tories – like one yesterday who started ranting about ‘Marxists’ and ‘Antifa’ (an American name for ‘anti-fascists’) – see any attempt to engage with young people about racism as a signal for a culture war. There’s little that’s conservative about Boris Johnson’s Tories, but as we have seen time and time over Brexit, Conservative moderates like those in Devon’s Cabinet are not prepared to stand up to the culture warriors.

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