A party and its pieces

Race, Politics and Social Change
May 10, 1996

John Solomos and Les Back examine the politics of race in Britain and in particular the racialised politics of Birmingham in Race, Politics and Social Change. The book's strength lies in its detailed research and also in that it does not view such politics as fixed and unchanging.

The analysis of racialised politics in Birmingham from the 1950s to the 1970s is instructive, as is the account of the contemporary interplay between local and national politics and of the construction of racialised imagery in today's media. The core of the study is the growth in mobilisation and participation of the black communities within the mainstream politics of Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s. While mobilisation via the existing political institutions reinforced the leadership of the dominant white group, the rise of the "black sections" movement tended to challenge this political dominance. Factionalism and coalitions arose, which produced further conflict, alliances, negotiations and modification of the former system of political patronage.

The construction by white politicians of political cultures that alienate blacks and the exposure of racial inequalities within the party machines developed differently within the Labour and Conservative parties. The increasing level of black involvement in local politics has led to profound changes in such local political machines, although equality in political participation is still not on the horizon. The authors discuss the tension between black sections that aim to provide equity within the party and Labour's notion of a sovereign political identity on the one hand, and the Conservative idea of "one nation" on the other.

This book thus raises important questions about social and economic equality in the absence of political equality. The authors offer a well-informed and acute analysis. They unpick the blanket term "black" and present a new set of political issues arising from different religious and cultural systems. It is a valuable contribution that one hopes will lead to the initiation of similar research in other conurbations.

Jagdish Gundara is at the International Centre for Intercultural Studies, University of London.

Race, Politics and Social Change

Author - John Solomos and Les Back
ISBN - 0 415 08577 2 and 08578 0
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £40.00 and £12.99
Pages - 232

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