IF a lot of UK politics feels like painting the fence to make it look pretty while the house is burning down, then Johnson’s latest commission may be another whitewash to add to the list.

News this week reveals that campaign groups are concerned that the UK Government’s latest “investigation”, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, might not actually achieve what it set out to do, ie examine inequality across the whole of the UK in the hope to create “a positive agenda for change” (to quote the PM).

The stooshie centres around the term “BAME” which stands for black, Asian, minority ethnic – or in other words, people like me. The panel involved in the commission recommend getting rid of this label since it has become “unhelpful and redundant” in that it hides important complexities and diversity of experience amongst this broad range group.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about a new campaign by the British Red Cross to tackle Covid vaccine hesitancy in communities of colour which was very sensitive to variation in attitudes across BAME groups, as diverse as Pakistani in origin to black Caribbean or black African. This more culturally appropriate and tailored approach seems eminently sensible in tackling a challenge as great and important as vaccine hesitancy. However, in this instance, campaigners are concerned the commission’s focus on the term “BAME” will not be nearly enough to meet their remit, nor the challenge of systemic racism, with chief executive of “Race on the Agenda”, Maurice Mcleod, commenting that he hoped for more than just “a style guide” from the panel. Halima Begum, who is the current chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said that she would prefer the commission to address race and ethnicity disparities “at an institutional and structural level” rather than offering mere advice on the correct inclusive term to use.

The report has also been criticised for being late in delivery, although this lateness is due apparently to the overwhelming amounts of evidence that needed to be waded through. And there are some real heavyweights on the team that have examined this evidence. These include chair Dr Tony Sewell, who runs a charity to ensure that talented students from disadvantaged or diverse ethnic backgrounds can succeed in STEM, businessman Aftab Chughtai MBE, co-founder of the campaign group Muslims for Britain, and Dr Samir Shah CBE, CEO of Juniper TV and former chair of the Runnymede Trust. Meetings have also been attended by members of the Windrush Working Group, Kunle Olulode, director of Voice4Change for the BAME voluntary, community and social enterprise sector and Blondel Cluff CBE, chief executive of the West India Committee and chair of National Lottery Heritage Fund’s London Committee.

So, on the surface, quite a roll call of the great and the good. However, Dr Sewell was chosen as chair by Munira Mirza, Johnson’s head of the Policy Unit, who made the now infamous comment that she is sceptical about structural racism and even defended Bojo’s dog-whistle remarks about Muslim women in burkas as like letterboxes and bank robbers. Given this context, it’s perhaps obvious that Sewell inspires less confidence in activists fighting for racial equality.

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When Johnson announced he was setting up the commission last year, Black Lives Matter protests were happening all over the world after the horrific and brutal murder of George Floyd by a policeman; a policeman now this week on trial for Floyd’s death.

At the time, shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, declared it was “deeply worrying and frankly immature that Britain is still having a conversation about whether racism exists.” Lammy called for effective legislation to be put in place, not another review, a mere talking shop to add to a long catalogue of talking shops.

Because facts are facts, and data shows that if you’re black, you’re far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, do less well at school, be unemployed or earn less in employment than a white person, and if you’re a black woman, you’re far more likely to die in childbirth.

And of course, Covid has thrown a massive spotlight on racial and ethnic disparity in this country, with communities of colour hit hardest across the UK.

Interestingly, Lammy has long been critical of the term BAME, describing it as “lazy” and “impersonal”. He’s right. As a Scottish Muslim woman, I’ve had a different experience of life as compared to a man of black African origin living in Manchester – he’s more likely to get unjustly arrested because of the colour of his skin and I’m more likely to be on the receiving end of rancid, sexist and Islamophobic abuse if I choose to wear certain clothing. But we’re both more likely to be on the thin edge of all kinds of abuse for being perceived as “different”, as “other”, as not white. And that’s why, important as it is to be both culturally mindful of descriptive language, and not fall into the trap of lumping all the “others” into one homogenous blob, moving away from terminology like BAME really is just tinkering at the edges of far greater problems.

This is UK politics’ greatest issue at the moment, and it runs like a seam through every corner of these disunited kingdoms – all style, no substance, all talk, no action, all side issues and not major failings, all commissions and reviews and taskforces and committees but no real change. Nothing gets better, it just continues to get worse.

A painted fence, but a house in ashes and rubble.