I’ve had many roles in my life. One of my favourite was as Minister for Faith Communities in 2008, a role I held as a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
It wasn’t the title I fell in love with, but the role, including the challenges. I was lucky enough to be part of an extensive project to build trust across faith (and non-faith) groups. It began with a consultation document which borrowed a phrase first used by the chief rabbi: ‘Face to face and side by side’.
It can take a long time to build trust, and just a few ill-judged words to wreck it. Our work with the Jewish community in 2008 began with an all-party group of members of parliament investigating the causes and effects of antisemitism. The work involved the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and many other groups. Tea and sympathy with politicians can help build some trust – but it is only policy change that really ingrains it. So that is what I did.
Under the auspices of a ‘Command Paper’ we made government departments work together to tackle the problem, and bring their solutions under a single umbrella, so that no department could dismiss the issue of antisemitism any more than it could other forms of racism.
This led to a string of policy initiatives including:
- allowing schools to use capital money to protect buildings that had security concerns
- the Crown Prosecution Service were instructed to look at where prosecutions had fallen down when antisemitism was involved
- funding was secured to send two sixth formers from every school to visit Auschwitz (with support from the Pears Foundation) and report back to their fellow students (I can recall today the impact this had on the young people who visited the concentration camps, and how it changed their attitudes towards prejudice)
- Support for other Parliaments in Europe and Canada to follow our best practice of working across government department to tackle antisemitism
The model of working across government departments to alongside key stakeholders from minority communities is not rocket science – but it is hard work. It requires a level of desire and unswerving concentration. But it also delivers stronger relationships and a greater level of trust between politicians and local communities.
I would commend it, and a reading of the 2008 Command Paper on Antisemitism as essential bed time reading for anyone interested in tackling antisemitism.