A WEEK after the election was called, we are already knee-deep in debate with hundreds of candidates vying for our votes.

As an anti-racist campaigner, I have been fascinated by recent projections which show that we are set to have the most ethnically diverse parliament in the United Kingdom’s history.

Based on candidate selections, we could see the number of ethnic minority MPs increase to 12% from 10% in the previous parliament. But does this signal a brighter future for Britain’s Black and People of Colour (BPoC) communities?

I am often told that it does. When you talk about racism for a living, you are constantly forced to reckon with challenges such as: “If this country is so racist how come our Prime Minister is Asian, how come our Home Secretary is black?”

 Many would agree that the progression of BPoC toward power means a less racist and more tolerant country. It is true that, as we have grown more diverse as a country, the same posh, white Eton boys have been running the show, funnelling wealth to the already wealthy, while minoritised communities in the UK have seen worsening outcomes.

The UK is now a rich tapestry of different cultural backgrounds, and the fact that our politics is starting to catch up is a good thing, right?

I agree that we must have a government that reflects the country it’s supposed to serve. It means a broader range of issues are represented and previously unheard lived experiences are amplified.

Take David Lammy’s highlighting of the Windrush scandal or Humza Yousaf’s personal connection to the suffering in Gaza. Both politicians were able to garner increased support and work towards creating meaningful responses from government.

Beyond that, it’s a symbol of us becoming a fairer society, where we are a step closer to being free to chase any ambition regardless of background. So, I don’t have concerns about increasing representation.

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But I do wonder how this creates an inaccurate public perception of progress in Britain and if it makes us lazy when it comes to tough issues like racism in politics.

 Despite numbers rising overall, we still won’t have a parliament that reflects the ethnic diversity of the UK (we would need 15% BPoC MPs rather than the current 10%). Beyond the numbers, MPs of colour face different hurdles than their white counterparts.

The politics of representation places a huge focus on the individual. Their achievement becomes emblematic of a wider group, even though the likelihood of replicating their success is incredibly low for most.

Outcomes for ethnic minorities remain poor, with a young black man being far more likely to end up in prison than as a politician or civil servant. Once elected, there is also an increased burden to BPoC politicians to mediate a broken system.

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Add to that the fact that pressure from the party machine and whips to tow the line, communities of colour are often left disappointed by the lack of systemic change garnered by increased diversity.

There are also particular issues within political parties that suggest the environment in parliament for non-white politicians isn’t improving as fast as the optics.

Political parties have an issue with racism that is being masked by diversity photo ops. All one needs as evidence of Labour’s prevailing issue with racism is the treatment of Diane Abbott, Britain’s first black female MP.

The Forde Report highlighted the endemic levels of racism and discrimination in the Labour Party and the extent to which this was disproportionally levelled at Ms Abbott. Even in the aftermath of the report, she still finds herself uncertain as to whether she will be able to stand for the party in the upcoming election, facing what many call double standards in disciplinary processes for comments made in an article last year.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we see how diversity can be used to stagnate our public conversations about systemic racism and social issues more broadly.

The National: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan during a visit to Stoke Newington School in north London, to announce a new climate action plan for London (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Conservatives have a long-standing issue with racism that has reared its head multiple times just this year, with Lee Anderson’s coded conspiracy theories about Sadiq Khan (above) and Frank Hester’s disturbing racist diatribe against Diane Abbott. In both cases Tory ministers refused for days to call the comments racist and, when asked about whether the Tory party had an issue with racism, many used their non-white prime minister to rebut the accusation.

 Selecting ethnic minority candidates too is acting as a tidy virtue signal for the Tory party. In fact, they’re selecting ethnic minority candidates at a higher rate than Labour, perhaps seeing the need to draw in voters of colour.

But what is most interesting is the non-white politicians who, having secured senior roles in government, seem to pull the ladder up behind themselves.

From Suella Braverman’s dark obsession with punishing vulnerable refugees and attacks on pro-Palestine protesters to Rishi Sunak himself pinning his career on failed plans to cart asylum seekers off to Rwanda.

I don’t think it’s any mistake that politicians like these end up as the poster children for some of their parties least progressive ideals. Their ethnicities as well as their own migrant backgrounds have masked the racism in these policies and offer a cover for their cruelty. This sort of behaviour is clearly encouraged in BPoC politicians on the right.

They tend toward a vision of citizenship to Britain that’s based on conformity above all else, where there are some good immigrants who get the right paperwork and assimilate into the British upper classes and others who are seen as unworthy and therefore have no right to complain about racism.

The representation that they can bring to our political system is even more limited as they fail to recognise the damage done to people who look like them by their party. Many even fail to denounce the violent regime of the British empire like James Cleverly, who has even said that Britain doesn’t need to do more to confront its past, calling on his own role as the first black foreign secretary.

So, in multiple cases then we can see that diversity at the top is actively derailing progressive conversations about how we reckon with the past, as well as treat BPoC majority groups such as refugees in the present. Ultimately, we should have respect for those who are courageous enough to battle against the odds to achieve something that would have been unthinkable in the past. And we still have a long way to go – to our shame we still don’t have any black MSPs in Scotland.

I look forward to seeing more MPs of colour in the next parliament but I’m still sceptical about the extent to which their parties will protect them, support them to tackle the issues that affect their communities and work to dismantle the racism within their structures. Activists like me believe there is a reckoning that’s needed in all elite institutions.

Rather than working within those structures, I want to see them dismantled and put back together in the interest of our society’s most disadvantaged. To achieve this, we’ll need much more than black faces in high places in our arsenal.