http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree ... l-electionLabour takes black support for granted
The Tories and Lib Dems both impressed at last night's event pitching for the black vote, but Harriet Harman fell flat
o Joseph Harker
o guardian.co.uk, Thursday 29 April 2010 16.40 BST
At last night's election hustings, big-hitters from all three parties addressed black voters directly, in an event which could have a strong impact on their votes.
This is an election where the minority population is concentrated in many marginal seats, so in a tight race it could potentially play a pivotal role in the outcome. That probably explains why Harriet Harman, George Osborne and Vince Cable accepted the invite to address the 1,500-strong audience. And many in the room may well have switched their allegiance.
She raised a cheer when she made the valid point that only Labour governments had ever passed race equality laws. But she had little to say apart from: "We are opposed to prejudice," and when the issue of the DNA database came up, she was roundly booed. From the start, she had come across as someone regurgitating a years'-old speech, with no consideration whatsoever for her audience.
Despite a video message from David Cameron, they booed George Osborne's entrance, too. Maybe the shadow chancellor had just come along so that, like his boss, he can now tell his friends he's met a black man.
And the dissent grew when he began his speech by talking about Martin Luther King; Barack Obama; and 1950s Britain. Jeers were coming from across the hall. But as he moved on to modern Britain, the audience began to listen, particularly when he spelled out his specific plans: "I'm going to give you support and advice to start your own business." And, to redress inequality in the civil service: "I'm going to introduce internships in every Whitehall department for ethnic minorities." They may be minor measures, but he'd obviously given the occasion some thought.
On stop and search, after saying that police anti-terror powers had been "completely abused" and "had been a complete disgrace in this country", he got his first widescale applause. And after saying he'd scrap the keeping of DNA records for innocent people (which affects huge and disproportionate numbers of young black men) he left the hall to loud cheers.
After a recorded message from Nick Clegg, in which he railed against stop and search, the DNA database and 28-day detention powers, Vince Cable was given the warmest reception of the three. He immediately tackled head-on his party's failures on race and its lack of black and Asian MPs, offering a personal apology.