Alderdice Review: Campaigning or Enforcing?

The Party is coming to terms with the implications of John Alderdice’s review: “Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats.”  We spent much of last Saturday’s Federal Board awayday talking about how to take it forward.

A natural default option is an argument: “wouldn’t it all bit a lot easier if we could just tell people what to do and they’ll do it”?  There was a similar feeling about how to get people to go to target seats during the last two General Elections.  It is, of course, an unconvincing argument in a Party full of Liberals working as volunteers.

I was reminded of a campaign we ran many years ago in the Liberal Party. It was a “Party Education Campaign” about gay rights*. In the early 1970s, there were a lot of Liberals who were very uncomfortable with the idea and also, believe it or not, some Parliamentarians whose religious views affected their position.

The key point was this: the campaign was directed at Party members, but the content was about the world outside the Party. It was about discrimination and prejudice faced by gay people, why it was wrong and what a Liberal party should do about it. Faced with evidence of discrimination and the suffering it caused, Liberals reacted according to their instincts.  It really isn’t too much to suggest that our campaign led on to the Party’s support for LGBT+ rights up to and including equal marriage.

I propose that we should be campaigning about big issues, not just the technical fixes our party needs to build opportunity for people from ethnic minorities.

The first group of issues directly affects BAME people: prejudice, discrimination, inequality of opportunity and inequality before the law.

The second group affects BAME people disproportionately but also others.  Many of them are about basic social justice and deprivation – the differences that arise from inequalities of wealth, income and power; and the people who are failed by our education system and held back by poverty of aspiration from achieving what they might.  That also leads to the paradox that the different communities facing these problems are often the most suspicious and angry about each other.

There is also a third group of issues about challenges within minority communities: FGM, of course, but also the expectations about young Muslim women; the habits of transactional politics; the continuing power of caste in Indian communities; and support for single mothers in communities of Caribbean origin.  We want campaigners who respond to deprivation, injustice, and discrimination wherever it occurs.

I propose that our Party, rather than looking inward at the details of systems, structures, sticks, and carrots, looks outward at our society, recognises and addresses the challenges faced by people in BAME communities and campaigns with them.  We look already for community leaders who can go beyond those communities and be champions for Liberalism in an illiberal world.

Isn’t that a better way of taking forward the challenges to our culture than endlessly talking about rules and details?

*I shouldn’t write about this campaign without mentioning the inspirational Bernard Greaves, whose work defined and led this initiative.


* Gordon Lishman is over 70 and has campaigned for older people and on issues concerned with ageing societies for about 50 years.  Nowadays, he does it with more feeling!

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • Absolutely right.

    The path of obsessing about identity politics and introducing discriminatory internal processes is a blind alley – as Labour has already demonstrated, with its own myriad selection rules and processes having done little to change attitudes.

    Exclusion and denial of opportunity to some is not the way to deliver equality of opportunity for all.

  • Michael Bukola 17th May '18 - 9:21am

    Gordon, I fear your article rather defers to obfuscation as the Party wrestles with its conscience on the urgent need to radically reform its culture to ‘include’ rather than ‘exclude’. Good liberal utilitarians like yourself Gordon will know this. We have to get our house in order first before making a ‘credible offer’ to the BAME electorate. The Windrush scandal is yet another sad occurrence of our Party being in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ when we were in Government with the Tories.

    Other aspects of the Party’s business need a radical re-think; our campaign strategy in Labour-facing areas discriminates against BAME populated wards in favor of majority ‘white’ populated wards under a ‘targeting’ regime which is self-limiting and facilitates decline of our core vote particularly in urban areas.

    Our policy platform on key issues like Immigration and Counter-Extremism is muddled where in 10 years, we moved from an amnesty position on illegal immigrants to initially supporting security bonds for African and Asian visitors while in Coalition. Supporting the ‘Prevent’ strategy while in Government and calls to drop it now that we’re out. Is this credible?

    If we genuinely want a Party that harnesses the spirit of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and delivers “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, then we must press on and reflect the liberalism we all want to see.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th May '18 - 1:58pm

    I am an active ,nominated, member, contributor at the Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum, started by Sir Peter Ustinov and his son, who leads now, Igor Ustinov, as a bulwark against prejudice, based on understanding of the nature of it.

    I do not believe it is significant prejudice that the tremendous experience of our stalwart Lord Alderdice found in this movement. Rather, it was intransigence, small c conservatism, complacency and a very old Liberal quality irritating, contrariness.

    It is everywhere, in this party as anywhere, but worse in areas where the party is older, whiter, and far away in areas where once strong and full of know all types well meaning and non welcoming by accident not design.

    The solution is to be radical which is not the same as left wing, but to see the need for new thinking.

    We could start by implementing the review….

  • @Rabi Martins.
    “…the failure of the party to recognise and accept that the talent we have in the BME pool of members is every bit as capable as their white counterparts of winning Parliamentary and Council seats…”
    Do we ? Were is the evidence that capable BME members who aspire to elected office are being blocked somehow ? Problem is that we do not seem to attract enough BME members in the first place, hence the need to look at the issues which disproportionately affect BME individuals. In that, Gordon is spot on.

  • You are absolutely spot on Gordon.

    An important general lesson is made by your side point about the shrill attempts in 2015 and 2017 to ‘order’ people to go to Target Seats. Well over 99% of Lib Dem members are unpaid volunteers and will do what they volunteer to do not what they are ordered to do. I have long argued the case for Targeting in many forums but you have to persuade volunteers of its merits if it is going to work, they have to ‘buy in’ to what is being proposed. They also need to have confidence in how the Targets have been arrived at.

    The review of the 2017 GE has been suppressed (as a Federal Board member maybe you can enlighten us as to why?) but one leaked section published by Liberator noted that even some ‘Target Seats’ (chosen how?) were not told they had been dropped at some point in the election (decided by what process?). Meanwhile Vauxhall was proclaimed a Target (decided by whom?) with a great fanfare of publicity and had scarce resources lavished on it, with the result that a very very large Labour majority remained a very very large Labour majority but nearby Richmond was missed by 45 votes and we missed regaining St Ives by a whisker.

    Michael Bukola in his comment above argues that ‘…our Targeting strategy discriminates against BAME populated Wards…’ Now I don’t know where in the UK he lives but unless the Targeting strategy in his area is 100% different to the approach I have witnessed in action over nearly three decades then I don’t see how that can possibly be the case. Targeting always used to be about directing support towards areas where local Candidates/Campaign Teams (regardless of any ‘identity’) were already campaigning and some extra support might push them over the winning line. Targeting never used to be about ‘picking areas or candidates as winners’ even if they were areas or candidates with no actual track record of building electoral support locally with any degree of success. Yet increasingly in recent years I read demands for that to happen.

    The Party’s current approach to Target Strategy needs clarifying and explaining to all -only then can buy in from volunteers be expected. In my Region for example, no member of the Campaigns Department has even bothered to come and talk to the Regional Executive for over 3 years now.

  • Simon Banks 19th Jul '18 - 9:13am

    Internal action on discrimination should not include “discriminatory internal processes” except as a last option when all other action has clearly failed to budge entrenched discrimination. Quite the opposite. It should be about removing discrimination. Internal processes ARE relevant: for example, rules on complaints should include the complainant being asked if (s)he is satisfied the complaint has been resolved and the people on both sides of the complaint being asked for feedback – blindingly obvious and standard good practice, but absent from our rules not long ago.

    But Chris Cory has a very good point. An equality professional looking at a situation in which an obvious imbalance suggests some kind of discrimination will examine evidence at each stage of the process. For example, are minority ethnic job applicants applying in reasonable numbers and getting shortlisted as one would expect, but failing at interview? In our case, the situation on ethnicity seems different from that on gender. We’re attracting far too few minority ethnic members and so the pool of possible council candidates, executive officers and so on is much too small, which in turn acts as a dampener on recruiting the members. Yet look at data on people who would consider voting for us and it shows us doing quite well among young ethnic Asian women – not a group numerous among our members. So we must look hard at how to attract more BME members.

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