Charity boss Tony Sewell to head government race commission

Tony Sewell

Tony Sewell will later be named as the chair of a government commission looking into race disparity in the UK, the BBC’s Rianna Croxford understands.

The formation of the new body was announced in June by Boris Johnson in wake of anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd.

The PM said it would look at all aspects of inequality, including health outcomes, employment and education.

Mr Sewell is the boss of education charity Generating Genius.

The commission is expected to report back to the government by Christmas with its findings.

As well leading a charity, Mr Sewell has been a board member for both the Science Museum and the Youth Justice Board.

He is also a columnist, author and fellow at University College London.

He is a longstanding commentator on racial issues and education, attracting criticism from some quarters for his views, such as claiming boys were being failed by schools because lessons had become too “feminised”.

He also said an anti-intellectual Afro-Caribbean youth culture was one of the reasons girls performed better than boys in school.

Commissioner needs community support

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The commission was announced following Black Lives Matter protests held across the UK

Analysis by BBC political correspondent Leila Nathoo

This commission had its sceptics from the moment it was announced.

Some opposition MPs and organisations working on race equality were uneasy about Boris Johnson’s comments that he wanted to “change the narrative” on race and “stop a sense of victimisation and discrimination”.

There was also concern one of the prime minister’s closest aides, Munira Mirza, who’s been overseeing the setting up of the commission, had previously questioned whether structural racism existed.

Tony Sewell, who’s now been chosen as chair, has written in support of both of these views.

As Downing Street was working to recruit the commission’s members, I understand that a number of prominent figures in the black community – who did not want to be identified publicly – sought to distance themselves from the process.

Sources said some who’d been reluctant to pursue discussions with the government regarded the commission as “toxic” and a way for ministers to “play for time” or “pay lip service” to the idea of race equality.

A government spokesperson dismissed the suggestion a number of black individuals had rejected the opportunity to be part of the commission.

But the choice of chair is sure to be a controversial one – one source has already described the decision as a “disaster”.

The question is what the commission can achieve if it doesn’t have the support of the very communities it is supposed to be working to help.

The commission will face high levels of scrutiny after accusations another government review into race is a distraction from the issue.

Ahead of the appointment, the Coalition of Race Equality Organisations (CORE) – which brings together a number of groups working in the field – warned the chair and commissioners “must be representative and secure widespread support from BAME communities and involve people who are prepared to analyse and challenge systemic racism”.


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