Call for Evidence: independent inquiry into improving process and culture within the Liberal Democrats – focusing on race and ethnicity

At the request of the Party President and the Federal Executive I am undertaking an independent inquiry into improving process and culture within the Liberal Democrats, focusing specifically on race and ethnicity.   I have not been asked to address particular individual cases but as part of the party’s commitment to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society this inquiry has been commissioned to focus on issues and/or barriers faced by BAME members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats.

Among the questions I am asking are –

  1. Are there barriers to participation for BAME members? If so, what and where are they?
  2. Do barriers differ in different parts of the party?
  3. How effective are existing mechanisms/procedures in addressing the issue?
  4. Does the Party do enough to engage with BAME voters and ensure accessibility for potential BAME members?
  5. What further steps should, or could, be taken by the Party to address the issues identified in this review

Having embarked on the process of gathering evidence I am keen to hear from all those who have relevant experiences and views to help me form an accurate picture.  All the submissions I receive, whether written or oral, will be treated in confidence, and in respect of written submissions, I may well need to follow up on specific aspects in a face to face conversation.

I will be gathering the formal policies of the Party and other parties and will explore how these have evolved, where they now stand and how far they have been implemented with effect.  However, as I note above, I will not be making judgements on specific cases or making any assumptions regarding the innocence or guilt of any individuals.

I would be grateful to receive all written evidence by Friday 20th January 2017 and it can be sent to me at either [email protected] or [email protected] or in hard copy to me at –

Professor, the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych
Millbank House
House of Lords,
London SW1A 0PW

* Lord John Alderdice, a former Leader of our sister party the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, and former President of Liberal International is currently leading the independent inquiry into culture and processes within the party with a particular focus on race and ethnicity.

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  • Tony Greaves 19th Dec '16 - 3:50pm

    I have considerable doubt whether this kind of exercise does any good at all. What we should be looking at, in my view, is how a genuinely democratic Liberal party should be set up and operate, rather than focusing on how one set of people can fit into the flawed structures we have now.

  • What actually is meant by improving process and culture within the liberal democrats?

  • Agree with Tony. Time to stop being preoccupied with internal matters and time to focus on addressing the relevant policy needs of the country. People, of whatever ethnicity, won’t get involved with a party that’s not seen to be relevant.

    A turnout of less than 10% in the recent internal party elections doesn’t suggest there are millions of folk out there banging on the doors and wanting to get in.

  • Yep, afraid I’m with Tony and David R on this. And dare I say it, in the year of the Brexit and Trump victories, identity politics seems a little bit out of touch with the national mood.
    @ David. I assume process and culture refers to the way the party interacts with it’s members, makes policy, etc. and the assumptions of those in power in the party. For me, the issues are more to do with internal democracy, access and involvement (i.e. do we need to become a movement as well as a party ? Momentum without the crazy bits !!)
    Instead we inevitably we seem to end up beating ourselves up over fears that we are in some way institutionally racist or sexist. The results of the federal elections just released suggest we are neither.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Dec '16 - 7:28pm

    Although I can see the merit in the comments above , they are , in my view, a reaction to the important article , too complacent , so I do not agree.I think the idea behind this and it’s motive , very sound.

    We , as a party have values , and , those are yes , British , modern British , modern British Liberal Democratic, international values , influenced by the input of our Commonwealth heritage and immigration , and European geography and location. But we do not , as a party ,in numbers , reflect , in membership , the panoply of our diversity as a country.

    I have been a strong and regular supporter of the terrific work of Lord Alderdice for years in many spheres and have before commented and written on this. However , I believe he should resume as soon as possible , the Northern Ireland brief , where he is unique in his contribution ,and these matters of ethnicity and our party , should be taken up properly and by someone who can , on an ongoing basis , make us more attractive to those who we , some of us , yearn to have in our party in far greater membership roll. For our party is the very one that genuinely believes in these values .

    It needs those individuals who do represent the very best of our modern Britain and UK , as members, to shine. We do have such , but they are not seen nationally . We can rectify the situation and one in particular should , I think , be given a more prominent role, to ensure it can be so. The appointment of a Unity and Diversity champion , to bring our party and country together in troubled national and international times.

    That someone is Baroness Floella Benjamin.

    That is my initial suggestion for the enquiry.

    Lord Alderdice , should I submit this separately or is here sufficient ?!

  • Richard Underhill 19th Dec '16 - 7:51pm

    Tony Greaves 19th Dec ’16 – 3:50pm
    Please do not condemn this task yet. Please let it be evidence led.
    In all parts of the party we need to tackle attitudes of defeatism, which may conceal deeper attitudes. Recent election results help, but by-elections are spasmodic opportunities, Many Liberal Democrat leaders have said that they did not go into politics for careerist reasons. The same is true of our colleagues in the context of Northern Ireland, but with triple underlining. We can all have confidence in John Alderdice. He bought a house next to a police station and stood for election in East Belfast. He was in the devolved assembly as Speaker when elected members included the late Ian Paisley (DUP) and Gerry Adams (SF).

  • Nom de Plume 19th Dec '16 - 9:11pm

    I don’t see how one can reasonably object to an enquiry of this nature. It might find nothing. If there is going to be a coherent liberal response to the Trumps, the UKIPs and the possible effects of Brexit, it would seem to me to make sense to ensure that our own house is in order. Perhaps Tony Greaves could elaborate on his grievances.

  • I have a number of friends in EMLD and I have heard a number of horror stories about how ethnic minority members have been treated by party members. We absolutely need this investigation. For those who say it is not needed, how do you know? When you go to Lib Dem conference are you happy to see a sea of white faces? The Labour and Tory parties are miles ahead of us right now. And yet we are the ones who are supposed to be Liberals.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Dec '16 - 10:13pm

    Nom et Geoffrey

    Well done !

  • Denis Loretto 20th Dec '16 - 8:52am

    To those who are concerned to ensure that the party concentrates on external issues -how we address the relevant policy needs of the country etc – surely the point is that this new study is not suddenly going to be the entire focus of attention for the Liberal Democrats. It cannot be denied that our internal performance in the race and ethnicity areas needs attention but this can proceed without damaging the overall performance of the party now that we are showing real signs of advance. Indeed it will be to our credit if we can manage to improve our appeal in this highly important area.

  • I’ed share the view that Identity politics is toxic and is very damaging to the reputation of any party with the public (but very popular with a small group of very interested politically active people).

    However if this review does a good job it will focus on the barriers (incuding perceptions) and may find useful information. The party doesn’t have a good track record of doing these things well but perhaps this will be.

    As for focusing on the external things that are always important that is needed but I would hope one would not exclude the other. The risk is doing it and doing it badly while also getting distracted.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Dec '16 - 11:19am

    What I question is not the problem or the need but the process. Bureaucratic, legalistic and incestuous. We are a political party and a political movement for goodness sake. We involve people from all backgrounds by activity, campaigning, democratic debate.

    I am a great fan as well as a colleague and friend of Floella’s but the idea that what we need is a “Unity and Diversity Champion” is part and parcel of the kind of silly nonsense that leads Councils to appoint Champions and Tsars for every latest fad as well as areas that require serious policies and solutions (and resources) not just token appointments.


  • jedibeeftrix 20th Dec '16 - 11:36am

    @ Non de Plume – “I don’t see how one can reasonably object to an enquiry of this nature. It might find nothing.”

    A report that finds nothing! How would that reflect on the prestige of the lead author?

    The worry is that when you ask silly questions you tend to get silly answers, and as others have said, in an era when identity politics seem less and less relevant to the political mood of the country, the party needs to be relevant to today’s problems rather than the opposite.

  • I’m with Tony Greaves here. If the party’s structure and approach is deeply flawed (and I think it is as proven by election results) then bolting on some improvements, while they may do some limited good, is to miss the bigger picture. Also, party processes are already baroque in their complexity; adding more is not the answer.

    Conversely, a fundamentally healthy party would handle such issues in its stride because effective organisations continually learn from their mistakes to improve their ways of working.

    Tony hints that he sees the need for a “genuinely democratic Liberal party” implying perhaps that the Lib Dems aren’t particularly either ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’ or both. If that’s a correct reading then I agree again.

    A jumbo-sized body like the new Federal Board simply cannot provide strategic direction for the party – its size more or less guarantees that it will usually settle for insipid compromises between different factions not to mention the weird things that happen on committees. (E.g. Not a single member of the John Major cabinet that privatised the railways supported the model adopted.) Surely, strategy should be unequivocally the responsibility of the elected MPs, but naturally taking full account of their supporters’ and electors’ views. (Isn’t that exactly how it happens on council groups?) That approach would open the door to an evolutionary approach where policy diversity becomes a strength that near-monocultures like the Lib Dems lack.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Dec '16 - 4:13pm

    Lord Greaves

    You absolutely every time manage to insult or insinuate , it is something in built in your and I cannot fathom you and it !

    If anyone is your friend and colleague and anyone a fan of you , you must be doing something not done by you on here on in any forum lately !

    I am not advocating tokenistic appointment of someone I have for many years said the party should be putting forward far more as I think she is an admirable person and , in recent years , politician .

    If it was the sort of position you of course describe it as , it might well be what you refer to as silly nonsense .

    I have in mind a genuine role, to bring people in to our party ,and those in it together , and do the same for our party in the wider community .It could be an internal party position or a front bench one , but as someone who , seemingly unlike your comments above , thinks these things very important , and not silly , believes , unity , of purpose and in practice , is something such a role could do much about , and diversity , which needs a champion in these times when we are rightly concerned about the shortcomings of multiculturalism.

    I do so want to engage with others in this party , my party as much as anyones , even with those who are rude often!

  • Gordon

    That doesn’t mean that a good report wouldn’t pick out some issues and decent ideas, just it could also come up with some counter productive ideas too. Only time can tell how useful it is. None of that invalidates the meat of the points that TG makes (surprisingly, as I normally disagree with him), there are obviously issues but those also need to be addressed but if there are useful findings they would be useable under a new system.

  • Simon Banks 22nd Dec '16 - 9:29pm

    So because Trump got elected, we need to forget about the approaches and ideas he hates? Do we abandon the idea of reducing nuclear armaments worldwide because he’s abandoned it?

    How can we honestly preach about society as a whole and advocate well-meaning policies if we run our own party in a way that contradicts our public positions? I’ve asked myself that about our support for devolution and diversity combined with a top-down, directive, minimal diversity approach to our own regional and local party constitutions. Similarly, if we combat the reality – and it is a reality – of racial discrimination and disadvantage in society, shouldn’t we be confident we’ve got it roughly right amongst ourselves?

    I believe there is almost no deliberate discrimination among Liberal Democrat activists and most of what exists is on age grounds, not race; but somehow minority ethnic Liberal Democrat voters don’t become members in the numbers you’d expect and equality is patchy further up the organisation. Finding out what can be done about it seems worthwhile to me; and pace Tony Greaves’ comment, it might lead to us realising the party needs to be organised differently and campaign differently.

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