IF Tony Blair had been black could he have risen to be leader of the Labour Party and prime minister? Or David Cameron leader of the Conservatives? These questions are provoked by the assertion yesterday by Trevor Phillips, head of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission, that such a thing would be impossible in Britain. He said, “If Barack Obama had lived here, I would be very surprised if someone as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold ln power within the Labour Party.” Mr Phillips thought that a British Barack Obama would have a slightly better chance in the Conservative Party because it is readier to impose parliamentary candidates on constituencies. Interestingly, Mr Phillips believes that the British electorate would be ready to accept a black leader if either party gave him or her its backing.
However, comparisons with the American system are not helpful. Senators such as Obama and McCain are much more independent of their parties than any Member of Parliament can be in Britain. A self-styled maverick such as John McCain would never be given the freedom to shine within the tightly disciplined British parties. There are arguments to made on both sides but Mr Phillips, who is himself black, does raise an important point. Are there Barack Obamas in Britain who are being denied the chance to contribute fully to its political life?


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