- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Black guy, white town

When John Taylor's father arrived in Britain from Jamaica in the 1950s, racism had a very public face.

In a search for an apartment, he read advertisements that said: "No blacks. No Irish. No dogs."

Today, racism in Britain is more subtle, but still "alive and kicking," said Mr. Taylor, Britain's first black Conservative member of the House of Lords, to reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

Mr. Taylor is in Washington on vacation with his wife and three children, but using the occasion to talk with black American conservatives, like columnist and broadcaster Armstrong Williams and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican. He filled them in on his efforts to get Britain's Conservative Party to reach out to blacks and Asians.

After huge Conservative losses in the June parliamentary elections, his party needs to broaden its appeal and solidify its rural base, he said.

The ruling Labor Party of Prime Minister Tony Blair is mostly an urban party.

"Tony Blair wouldn't know one end of a cow from another," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Taylor always has to face the question of why a black man would be a conservative in Britain, which has a minority population of about 6 percent.

"The more I ask myself that question, the more I'm convinced I'm in the right place," he said. "I believe in self-sufficiency. I don't believe in government handouts. I don't believe in socialist governments.

"The color of your skin should not dictate your politics," he added.

Britain is "going through a change in perception," as minorities become top earners in business, sports and the arts, he said.

Lord Taylor of Warwick came by his exalted position in the upper house of Parliament through his own, well-publicized encounter with racism.

In 1992, he won the Conservative Party nomination to run for a seat in the House of Commons from Cheltenham in the charming Cotswolds.

He was, as he described it, a "black guy running in a white town." He lost by about 1,600 votes, and some members of his own party urged residents to support the Labor Party candidate.

Opponents even spread rumors that he would bring Rastafarians with dreadlocks to the English countryside, a bizarre charge against the pinstriped lawyer from London.

The publicity landed him a position with the British Broadcasting Corp. In 1996, Prime Minister John Majors appointed the popular broadcaster to the House of Lords.

Mr. Taylor has used that position to further advance the status of blacks and Asians in Britain. During this year's parliamentary elections, he even tangled with a Conservative member of Parliament who accused immigrants of turning Britons into a "mongrel race." Reluctantly, William Hague, the former party leader, disciplined the racist politician.

After that spat, Mr. Blair tried to recruit him to the Labor Party in a political courtship that Mr. Taylor loves to recount.

One day, he got a call from Cherie Blair, the prime minister's wife, who invited him over for a chat. It was a Saturday, he told her, and he had to do some grocery shopping. Sunday was no good, either.

They finally settled on Monday. Soon, he was receiving calls from black Labor Party members and a union leader he had not talked to in five years.

Suddenly, word got to the left-wing newspapers, which reported that Labor leaders were talking to Mr. Taylor, who never considered leaving the Conservatives. He realized he was being set up and canceled his date for tea with Mrs. Blair at No. 10 Downing St.

In the House of Lords, he still faces racism, but usually in the form of threatening letters.

"When I was with the BBC, I got fan letters. Now, I get death threats," he said. "All they do is inspire me. They make me more determined."

Sometimes, they make him laugh.

One particular letter was full of racist threats, but ended with an apology for misspellings. The writer explained he was dyslexic.

"The English racist is so polite," Mr. Taylor said.

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