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'I'm not Cameron's black man'

Shaun Bailey discusses race, accountability and responsibility in British politics

BY CONRAD HAMILTON Senior staff reporter hamiltonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2013    

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A third-generation Jamaican, who is a prominent member of Britain's Conservative Party, is agonising over the ease at which many blacks, particularly in the United Kingdom, embrace the view that they are marginalised, and as a result do very little to lift themselves out of poverty and dependence.

Shaun Bailey, Prime Minister David Cameron's special advisor on youth and crime, believes too many blacks have allowed themselves to be misled by the liberal agenda that does not place sufficient emphasis on the importance of individual responsibility and accountability.

Addressing journalists at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Bailey, who described himself as being from "dirt poor conditions", emphasised that blacks need to play a leading role in addressing the challenges that confront them.

"In the context of Britain we have a lot of apologists, so people say you come from a poor background, it's fine, continue to be poor. I think our greatest forward step is in us, and if we don't take a stance to correct some of what's wrong for us, we are not going anywhere," said Bailey in a comment rooted in Marcus Garvey's teaching that "none but ourselves can free our minds", and which was made even more popular by reggae icon Bob Marley in his classic, Redemption Song.

"The change for poor communities is responsibility and work, and if you don't have those then you are in trouble," Bailey added as he defended his decision to join the Conservative party, which traditionally does not attract a large number of blacks, particularly because of significant race relation issues.

For him, the Conservative party articulates certain values that he learnt from his Jamaican grandmother and mother, who both played a critical role in his development and in his appreciation of himself.

"We are church-going, believe in the family, looking after our children, desperate to educate, those are core Tory values and that's why it's very simple for me to become a Tory," said Bailey in reference to the moniker used to describe the Conservative party, which was once led by the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister.

Bailey, who is in Jamaica as part of efforts to know the country, contends that too many blacks allow themselves to wallow in situations that sometimes result from their own actions. "We have chosen victim and we are great victims because you can see us from across the streets. Poor white communities have exactly the same problems. I grew up among a bunch of white boys, none of them doing any better than us, and that's why for me in the context of Britain, it's not actually a colour thing," Bailey said as he identified some of the practices that continue to affect the progress of black people in the UK.

"The kind of conversations we have in our community is how our fathers have been replaced by welfare. People have made it all right to be single and be a parent without asking how tough that's going to be. In every way that you can measure social pain, we are leading. Fifty-eight per cent of black children in Britain grow up in a single-parent family, unemployment rate is more than double in our community, our failure in school is legendary.

"For me, it's not about being black, the fact that I am black just makes things clear for me," said Bailey even as he made an appeal for Jamaicans to rise above the fray and become associated with success.

Bailey says he has seen many examples of successful blacks and made reference to his observation of their political clout and status in Jamaica as well as in sections of the United States. "What's so beautiful is for a young black boy like myself to come to Jamaica and see the establishment and see many more black people in it. I spent some time in DC (Washington), and a lot of the establishment is black as well, and for me that was an emotional experience. I want that to happen for all black boys, especially in Britain, and that means joining the establishment, taking over, changing it, making it more relevant, and I relish the role.

"I am not Cameron's black man, and he is aware of that, and to his credit and to the party's credit they have never asked me to be their black man, and I won't do it. In my opinion, that's what happens if you join the British Labour party. I am a man who just happens to be black and I hope I have some qualities to offer and my Jamaican heritage gives me a unique look and a unique power to bring to the game," Bailey asserted.

"I am so confident in the ability of the black community to offer things of merit. We are good enough to be there on merit, and I accept that these things don't happen by Osmosis and you may need to push it along. At this point in my life I personally think if you looked for politicians in the correct places you would find black people of merit who are willing to do the job," said Bailey as he spoke of the tremendous potential among many black youth, some of whom are capitalising on educational opportunities.

Regarding the possibility of a black person becoming the British prime minister, the young politician said while it might not happen in the near future, it remains a distinct possibility.

"We won't deliver a Barack Obama, we will deliver a much more British look. In America it's easier to have conversations about race; British people are less publicly racist. So will we get to a black prime minister? Absolutely! When, it's anybody's guess. Am I going to try to help? Definitely! said Bailey, who lost his bid to represent Hammersmith in the 2010 general, election, but acknowledged that he is on the hunt for a good winnable constituency that will land him a seat inside the British Parliament.

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