Colour, code and post-war parties

Race Relations in Britain since 1945
April 30, 1999

Is it fair to claim British exceptionalism when it comes to racial politics? For some years, scholars have tried to assess the degree to which the British experience in managing immigration and integration policy has been informed by a policy framework that has its roots in a US approach based on racial codes, group-based political rights and so-called "racialisation" of the political process. This new book by Harry Gouldbourne presents a concise and readable perspective on the British section of this wider picture.

Its main strength is its well-drafted and researched chapter on "Good race relations". Some incisive and fresh analysis is presented on the interface between the research and applied-policy communities. Gouldbourne suggests that the requirements and assumptions of policy actors have often obscured the mapping of the social science of racial relations. I would, however, have liked to see some discussion of how far Britain's race-relations policy framework has been influenced by external experiences - an EU context, dealing with anti-discrimination policy within a free-movement environment, is largely overlooked.

The author's examination of political process concerns me. He assumes that elective politics have created additional opportunities for Britain's ethnic minorities - both for group representation and for interest articulation - but at a price of not keeping pace with increased signs of pluralism in social and cultural spheres. The evidence is questionable. The estimate of minority councillors is not fully appreciated for its significance, nor is the extent to which this representation has reached or exceeded pro-rata levels in many of the areas containing the largest minority communities. Alluding to the participation of Asian candidates in the Conservative Party (incidentally, there were 11 not ten as cited - just one of several factual errors) is to miss the greater point that the Conservatives have virtually nothing to show for a 20-year effort to appeal to minority voters. On the question of Liberal Democrat support, the author is following a false lead: if issue-voting counts for anything, the Lib-Dems have conspicuously not been rewarded for their principled line. Finally, the author emphasises the side of the political equation dealing with minorities as participants, but this glosses over the matter of the strategies adopted by political parties and is a dimension that would play directly into the thesis of "political singularity".

Shamit Saggar is senior lecturer in government, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London.

Race Relations in Britain since 1945

Author - Harry Gouldbourne
ISBN - 0 333 62114 X and 62115 8
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £40.00 and £12.99
Pages - 189

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