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Senior Tories hit back after Clive Lewis’ claim

SPAT: Clive Lewis, left, congratulated James Cleverly, right, for his new government role – but says he and other BAME Tories have had to ‘sell their souls’ to work under Boris Johnson

A LABOUR frontbencher has refused to back down after accusing black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) members of new prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet of selling their “souls and self-respect” by serving under him.

Norwich MP and shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis caused controversy when he responded to a comment from Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly who mocked Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 claim on Twitter that only Labour can “unlock the talent” of BAME people.


Cleverly echoed the plaudits given to Johnson for assembling the most ethnically diverse cabinet in history, which includes home secretary Priti Patel and chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid. But responding to Cleverly, Lewis said: “Genuine congratulations James. I mean it. I’m just sorry you and the other black members of the cabinet had to sell your souls and self-respect to get there.”

His comments prompted strong criticism from leading black Conservatives. However, Lewis told The Voice: “I understand the direction of this country under Boris Johnson and it will not be good for black people.”

Last week, following the first meeting of Johnson’s top team Cleverly recalled Corbyn’s 2017 claim and tweeted: “Just finished my first Cabinet meeting, looking at my colleagues around the cabinet table when this tweet [Corbyn’s] popped back into my memory. Seeing a lot of ‘unlocked talent’ in the room.”

However Lewis’ response prompted strong criticism from Cleverly and other leading black Tories.


Speaking to The Voice, Cleverly said: “A week ago, Boris Johnson made me Chairman of the Conservative party, one of the proudest moments of my life. Yet since then I have been astonished to see the vitriol from senior members of the Labour Party and the far left that has been directed at me and fellow cabinet ministers, Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Kwasi Kwarteng and Rishi Sunak.

We have committed the apparent sin of being BAME Conservatives and having the audacity to join the new Prime Minister’s cabinet.”

He added: “As a country, we should be united in our celebration of the greater diversity we now see in senior positions in government.

“As a new member of the cabinet, I am committed to sending the lift down – opening doors for others and using my new platform to help to inspire the next generation of ethnic minority politicians.

“Yet instead, members of the Labour Party are hijacking this proud moment in our history to say – you aren’t good enough, you aren’t one of us. It would seem that the Labour Party only want representative government, one that reflects modern Britain, if you agree with them.

“But that isn’t democracy, its dictatorship. It is patronising and, frankly, racist to only view BAME people as a collective, homogenous group. It denies the rich tapestry of faiths and communities we are fortunate to have make up the backbone of our United Kingdom.”

The Conservative party’s candidate for Mayor of London Shaun Bailey agreed.

He told The Voice: “Politicians from BAME backgrounds won’t always agree on policies – and that’s a good thing, because it’s healthy for our communities to hear our differing points of view – but we should always celebrate our progression into important positions like chancellor, home secretary, party chairman, or candidate for Mayor of London, regardless of party.

“All parties can do better. Remember Labour’s glorious post-war past when 11 MPs wrote to Attlee after the Windrush docked and complained about ‘excessive immigration’?

“Did my family ‘sell their souls’ by voting for Labour after that? The point being, we must recognise that the past is imperfect and that’s why it’s what we do now that matters.

“To succeed, we need BAME politicians in positions of power in all major parties to advocate for our communities and to make sure our unique experiences are brought to bear on the problems all communities face, whether it’s crime, education or economic opportunity.”

However Lewis said he had no regrets about his words.

He said: “This is a crunch point that the country and the black community have to face
up to.

“When you take into account the hard Brexit project that Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab have in mind for this country to drive us ever closer to the United States, the country that incarcerates hundreds of thousands if not millions of black people, and where racism is endemic, it is not going to be beneficial for black people. I’m not stupid, I don’t put Europe on a pedestal as some kind of utopian ideal. I understand it has its own history of racism and colonisation.

“But I also understand that the direction and the fork in the road that this country is coming to under Boris Johnson and it will not be good for black people.”


He added: “The vast majority of black people did not vote for Brexit because many of them knew where this would end up. It has unleashed nationalism, xenophobia, and intolerance and we have seen an increase in the amount of outspoken, hostile racism and violent activity since that vote. Boris Johnson is one of the key instigators of that.”

Lewis continued: “Another point I’d make is that I said in that tweet that I was genuinely pleased that James Cleverly had achieved some form of high office but there was a price he has paid to achieve that high office.

“He has to work in a cabinet alongside an equalities minister, Amber Rudd, who was red or let go or however you want to put it following the Windrush scandal, a scandal which saw black people victimised for being black despite decades or working hard and playing by the rules.

“That happened to them because of a racist Home Office policy which James’s government is a part of. The question now for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is
that we are at a juncture where there are hard choices.

“Black people need to pick a side because the path that Boris Johnson wants for us will be a path towards ever more hard right politics and it’s a path in which black people will end up not doing well.

“We’ve seen ethno-nationalism is on the rise in Europe, – we thought it had been vanquished 70 years ago but it’s now back, alive and well. Anyone who says that’s not the case just needs to look at Windrush, needs to look at the unemployment figures, at what happens with education and life chances and things are getting worse.

“And the point of my tweet was that black people should not play a part in helping this to continue.”

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