Race Relations UK 1980s-Present Day


Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister

1979 - 1990

1980s; Strict controls immigration / Protection rights of ethnic minorities/ Tensions police v. ethnic minorities

1980 - 1989

Critics argue the conflicting policies gave conflicting signals on the place of the immigrant communities (and British born children) in society. Decline of manufacturing, therefore work permits harder to obtain for low skilled workers. Therefore largest groups of immigration were Americans (banking/industry), Australians, New Zealander and South Africans (all using family-ties rules) and South Asians entering medical profession.
Thatcher’s stance on immigration (that there were too many immigrants in the UK) helped her win election 1979 and pulled people away from National Front and British National Party. Contrast this with Powell’s dismissal after River of Blood speech; just over ten years later the same views helped elect Thatcher to prime minister and pursue those policies.

Race riots / Demonstrations


London, Liverpool, Manchester etc. 2 March, Black People’s Day of Action called, 15,000 marched streets of London in protest at press indifference to black deaths. Race riots included skin-heads against ethnic Asians etc.

1981 Nationality Act


Led to significant shift of immigration policy as it addressed who had the right of abode in the UK in regards to citizenship and nationality. Defined British Citizenship for the first time in law. Three tiers of citizenship (British Citizenship, British Dependent Territories’ Citizenship and British Overseas Citizenship). Only those born in Britain, or the children or grandchildren of those, possessed right to enter Britain. No longer able to acquire British citizenship through marriage alone, instead apply for naturalisation after three years of residence. Marked shift away from ‘jus soli’ - citizenship rooted in territory - to ‘jus sanguinis’ - citizenship based on decent.

Brixton Riots

April 1981

Race relations still bad despite efforts. Blacks and Asians felt marginalised in society; open racism including violence still prominent and acceptable. Minority communities suffered proportionally worse in financial crisis. Brixton, home to large Afro-Caribbean community had very high unemployment, poor housing and higher than average crime rate (relate to despair of situation, unemployment, said to be 50% amongst Blacks in Brixton, lack of money). Rioting sparked off spontaneously, reacting to some police officers helping a stab wounded youth as police stop and search had incereased hostilities; conforntaoin quickly escalated showing the explosive nature of race relations. Over 300 injured, 83 premises and 23 vehicles damaged. Violence spread to other cities as well as the serious social and economic problems were endemic to many inner cities in Britain.

Scarman inquiry

May 1981

Investigated reasons for Brixton riots, found that ‘Racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life’. Led to introduction of measures to improve trust and understanding between police and ethnic minority communities calling for new emphasis on community policing and increased recruitment of ethnic minorities to police force. Also advised government to end racial disadvantage and tackle disproportionally high level unemployment ethnic minorities. Racial tensions, particularly with the police, continued to spark public disorder however despite these measures.

BNP formed


British National Party formed. Far right and fascist political party. The party is ethnic nationalist, with the view that only white people should be citizens of the United Kingdom. It calls for an end to non-white migration into the UK with non-white Britons to be stripped of citizenship and removed from the country. Initially focused on marches and rallies insted of winning elections. These marches often involved clashes with anti-fascist protesters and resulted in multiple arrests, helping to cement the BNP's association with political violence and older fascist groups in the public eye. The new leader Nick Griffin sought to broaden the BNP's electoral base by moderating some of its policies, targeting concerns about rising immigration rates, and emphasising localised community campaigns. This resulted in increased electoral growth throughout the 2000s, to the extent that it became the most electorally successful far-right party in British history. Under Griffin, the party's focus switched from anti-semitism towards Islamophobia.

Riots Birmingham & Brixton


Despite changes following Scarman’s report race riots erupted again.

4 black MPs elected


Prior to the 1980s, the last time a black MP had been elected to Parliament was in 1922. In 1987 it all changed with the election of four non-white MPs: Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz; all labour

1990s; Asylum seekers; new type of migrant

1990 - 1999

Asylum seeking immigrants; seeking to be recognised as refugees.

John Major Prime Minister

1990 - 1997

Conservative John Major

Gulf War against Iraq


UK part of US-led war against Iraq. Consequently Muslims start to feel singled out in the UK.

Fall of Soviet Union


Fall of the Soviet Block (already in progress for a few years, including Berlin Wall 1989) meant that the ‘common enemy’ of the people becam less likely to be Russian, instead Muslims began to be portrayed as the perpetrator of evil.

BNP wins first seat local elections


At the 1993 local elections the BNP gained one council seat—won by Derek Beackon in the East London district of Millwall—after a campaign that played to local whites who were angry at the perceived preferential treatment received by Bangladeshi migrants in social housing. However, following an anti-BNP campaign launched by local religious groups and the Anti-Nazi League, it lost this seat during the 1994 local elections.

Murder Stephen Lawrence

22 April 1993

Unprovoked murder Black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Stabbed by gang of white youths whilst waiting at bus stop. Police heavily criticesed for handling of case, including racially motivated omissions in investigation. Led to McPherson inquiry 1999

1995 Brixton Riot


Small riot following the death of a black man in police custody. Revolt against gentrification of Brixton, with black poorer people forced out.

Tony Blair Prime Minister

1997 - 2007

Tony Blair (Labour)

Macpherson report


Catalogued series of failures in criminal justice system and the Metropolitan Police handling of the murder investigation. Branded British police as ‘institutionally racist’. Findings shocked mainstream society.
The Met initiated reforms to improve the ways victims of race crime were treated by officers. Worked towards recruiting more black and Asian officers (like Scarman). In 2012, 10% of Met force are from ethnic minority, up three times since 2002), although rising to senior rank not common.
Legislative reform: Led to abolishment of ‘double-jeopardy’ law, ie now meant person could be re-tried for an offence if new evidence was discovered. Consequently Dobson, who was acquitted of Stephen’s murder in 1996 could be retried.
Courts came under pressure to impose heavier sentences on racially motivated and faith-based crimes.

2000 Race Relation (Amendment) Act


Implemented 2001.
Extended the 1976 Race Relations Act to the police and other public authorities, obliging them to ensure their policies resulted in the equal treatment of all.

2000 onwards; Islamophobia / EU migration

2000 - Present

After 2001 terror attacks and subsequent war on terror, Muslims in the UK have felt increasingly vulnerable in society, and race relation acts are not adequate to protect them.
Expansion of EU in 2004 led to influx of Eastern Europeans. UK was one of only three countires to give unrestricted permission of residence and work to all new EU citizens. Scale of EU immigrants higher than expected.
Concern today that the demographic trend is huge population increase, 90% due to immigration.

World Trade Centre / Pentagon Attacks

11 September 2001

Al-Queda attacks on Twin Towers New York and on the Pentagon, sees a rise in islamophobia across western world. In the UK the Pakistanis, deragatory ‘Pakis’, already key object of racial hatred. War on Terror’ declared by Bush.

Gordon Brown Prime Minister

2007 - 2010

Gordon Brown (Labour)

David Cameron Prime Minister

2010 - 2016

David Cameron (Conservative)

Killers of Stephen Lawrence convicted


After naming campaign by Daily Mail
Showed that some in the middle classes and in our institutions - the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judicial system - the very people we, as Britons, turned to for justice, were also racists.

Theresa May Prime Minister

2016 - Present

Theresa May (Conservative)

‘Uncomfortable Truths’ Audit minorities

October 2017

Audit black and minority ethnic people treated in UK (ordered by Theresa May). Unemployment rate black, Asian and minority ethnic people nearly double that of white British (8% compared to 4.6%).
Housing: 2/3 white adults own home; 2/5 any other ethnic group
Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive Rebecca Hilsnerath: “Race inequality is entrenched in our society and we need to stop deluding ourselves that it will somehow improve without sustained and coordinated effort on our part.”