Friday, 9 March 2012

Racing to Runnymede

Race relations charity the Runnymede Trust is what I always think of as a `Lord Pitt` organisation (Britain`s first black peer, Lord Pitt used to say, only half jokingly,  that radical elements found him too cautious and conciliatory, whereas more moderate types suspected him of being a closet radical. As he was being shot by both sides, he assumed he must be doing something right !).

Formed in 1968 by Jim Rose, who you may have heard of as Wing Commander Eliot `Jim` Rose, one of the World War Two Bletchley Park codebreakers,  and Anthony Lester (now Baron Lester of Herne Hill), the Trust`s main body of work is as a `think tank`, but it does some campaigning work and some work with schools. It is by no means a `protest` organisation, but it can assert itself when it needs to.  I am not generally a lover of the `think tank` type of organisation (I don`t even like the phrase), but I`ll admit to having a soft spot for the Trust.

Much of the group`s work involves commisioning reports on various issues from academics and researchers. It undoubtedly provides a much needed independent voice on what can be contentious issues, and generally a trustworthy one.  It does face difficult questions, particularly as regards legitimacy (who does it represent ? in what way is it accountable ? Does it talk to minority communities, or about them ? ). These concerns no doubt lie behind comments made recently by one of the Trust`s leading lights, Dr Omar Khan ;

"It`s important to be as clear and concise as we can and avoid language that is too distant from the reality of how people speak. We need all the allies we can get and shouldn`t alienate people needlessly."

One area in which the Trust is finding allies is with it`s work with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. The Trust already publishes the work of representatives of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist parties, in the Runnymede Platform series and in the book Achieving Race Equality in Scotland, but it`s work in the APPG (RC) takes this collaboration to a new level.

It may seem strange that an organisation whose leadership includes contributors to the anti-Coalition  Left Foot Forward blog should be working so closely with Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians, but there again strange alliances are sometimes the most fruitful. As I often say, some people build barricades, some people build bridges. I know which approach I prefer.  

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