Ed Davey writes: Putting Liberalism at the heart of diversity and anti-racism

Earlier this month, an open letter was published to both leadership candidates about race and diversity. I promised in the comments to publish a full response, because this is an issue that I take incredibly seriously. Our party’s record on diversity is poor – and when it comes to representation of Black and Asian communities it is unacceptable. It will be a central purpose of my leadership to sort this – working with people inside and outside our party. 

Two years ago, the Alderdice Review, set out the problem with great clarity – with clear recommendations for sorting the problem. Yet the Thornhill Review of the 2019 General Election rightly concludes progress has been glacially slow. This work now needs to be super-charged. 

It does require leadership from the top – the top of every level in our party. 

Take my constituency of Kingston and Surbiton. It is the most diverse of any constituency we currently hold in Parliament. And after 20 years of working with our large Tamil, Korean, Pakistani and Gujarati  populations, we now have one of the most diverse party memberships in the country and 8 out of our 38 councillors have BAME backgrounds. 

And while I know we still have much more to do, I do think my experience leading this local effort will be useful in the nationwide effort we must now urgently engage in. 

The key to our success in Kingston has been hard work – going out to listen and engage with every community in our area. I personally visit our mosques, Hindu temples and churches very regularly – indeed, for our Sikh community, I even helped them establish Kingston’s first gurdwara. And I’m a regular at the schools many of our diverse communities hold every Saturday to teach different languages and cultures – from Urdu to Arabic, Korean to Tamil. 

It’s this reach out I would lead and would ask every local party to lead. As a party, we have to do better than simply stand with our arms open and then hope people will come to us.

Take Britain’s black community. The facts suggest that church attendance among the black community is high. And whether you are a Christian or not, whether you are religious or not, my message to you is this: if you are not prepared to go and listen and speak to Britain’s black community where they gather you are not serious about making our party diverse. 

The Open Letter which this article responds to also asks for specific areas where our party could promote keystone policies to address systemic racial inequalities. 

Given there is so much to do, and so much evidence, we must start by implementing all the recommendations of the most recent reviews like Grenfell, Windrush and the BAME experience of Covid-19. But we must of course do far more. 

I’d start with stop & search. Under suspicionless stop & search powers (“Section 60”) a black person is 47 times more likely to be stopped than a white person. Forty-seven times. I asked the Prime Minister a few weeks ago to stop this racist policy – yet he blustered and waffled, as usual. But if we want to tackle the systemic racism your letter rightly identifies, we must end this racist practice. And our party must campaign for it, until this law is repealed. 

The second is the Covid crisis. We have seen the devastating impact of Covid, but especially its disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities. And Covid-19 has thereby exacerbated existing inequalities. We must understand this better, fast – and act. 

Finally, one of my core platforms in this election is my caring agenda – based partly on my own experience: I was a young carer for my mum during her terminal fight against cancer – and I’ve since cared for my Nanna when she was frail and elderly and my severely disabled son, now, on a daily basis. And I know there are millions of people who share my experiences. 

And caring is an issue of diversity and equality. The vast majority of carers are either women or from BAME backgrounds – and so often, both. If we could be the voice of carers, we would also be speaking up for women and so many black and ethnic minority women as well.

My first political campaign ever – several years before I joined the party – was an anti-Apartheid campaign. While this shows my age – I am proud that my first political victory was getting an Oxford college to disinvest from Barclays Bank, as they were investing in South Africa.

If you elect me as Leader, I will continue that work I started years ago: a lifetime commitment to tackle the scourge of racism and to fight the disgrace of racial inequality – inside and outside of our party. 

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Acting co-Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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10 Comments

  • Louise Harris 26th Jul '20 - 10:05am

    An excellent article. I can confirm Ed is very well respected in the K&S BaME community due to his long history of engagement with them. When I did a bit of campaigning there for the last London elections I was inspired by the diversity of candidates, 8 of whom were elected. Leadership by example in practice

  • Please Ed also be the voice of YOUNG carers. I know the LibDems have addressed this issue in the recent past but not robustly enough. Young carers miss out on education and often their childhood. Many come from families living in poverty so without education often grow up to become disadvantaged adults. Unfortunately as a group they are too young to be ‘vocal’ and do not have a vote. What will you do , Ed, to help this group who give care, often unconditionally, and of course save the ‘public purse’? We owe them so much more than they get.

  • Janice Turner 26th Jul '20 - 3:54pm

    As someone who, like Ed Davey, took part in the Boycott Barclays anti-apartheid campaign, I find it hugely refreshing to read his piece: we have someone who’s leading by example. Martin seems to have missed the key passage, where Ed demonstrates that his local party has become diverse not by passively ‘opening their arms’ but by actively integrating with local minority ethnic communities, regularly meeting and listening to residents and then, crucially, assisting them in addressing the issues they raise. Ed mentions that he helped the Sikh community establish Kingston’s first gurdwara. Ed and his local party have made themselves relevant and have been deservedly rewarded with votes.

    Ed, like the Alderdice review and LDCRE’s response to it, shows that the key to real diversity in our party is for local parties to reach out to all communities and show their relevance by acting on their behalf, and he has shown the way in how to achieve this. The BAME population is more than 40% of London, Birmingham, Leicester, Slough and Luton, and more than a third in Manchester, Wolverhampton, Bradford and Blackburn. And contrary to Martin’s thought that this needs existing councillors to succeed, Anton Georgiou campaigned within the BAME community, ignoring the party’s targeting guidance, and won a 28% swing in January’s byelection in Brent and the party now has its first seat on Brent council in several years. Our party will not win through without following Ed’s example.

    I also applaud Ed Davey’s placing of carers as a major issue in his campaign particularly during the Coronavirus crisis. They are the unseen millions – about 7-million – most of whom attempt to balance their caring responsibilities and work, while saving the government millions in the process. If there was ever a time when they need support, it’s now.

  • No problem with any of this, except the words “central purpose”. I will vote for the person whose central purpose is to connect with all the ordinary people who have not shared in the growing prosperity of the last 50 years. Perhaps such a leader could multi task and make our party more diverse at the same time. Win Win situation !

  • Julliet Makhapila 26th Jul '20 - 10:17pm

    Thank you so much MP ED Davey for responding to the Open Letter that we sent. Thank you Lib dem Voice for supporting us to raise our open Letter to both Candidates. Thank you for responding and we look forward hearing from team Layla .
    On behalf of our group as Administrator of our group we appreciate your team to sending 🙏 a reply. We look forward to the diversity hustings and best wishes to both candidates.

  • Rabi Martins 26th Jul '20 - 10:37pm

    I am pleased Ed Davey delivered on his undertaking to respond to the open letter to which I was co-signatory
    I have to say I am very disappointed by the tone and content Ed’s response I was hoping Ed would take the opportunity to spell out clearly what steps he would take to address the BME within the Party He makes reference to the Alderdice report and Dorothy’s General Election Review but only to say he knows there is a problem
    What I and the otters who write that letter want to know is what specific steps he ( Or Layla) as Party Leader will do differently from past leaders to improve BME representation both in administration of the Party at every level
    And of course in elected and appointed offices
    Perhaps he will do so now

  • Absolutely welcome Ed’s commitment to making the party more diverse. After listening to him and Layla in the London hustings it was great to see their commitment and passion on the subject. As a first generation black Briton the work we need to do was brought home at last year’s conference sitting in a session of the London party and seeing a panel of candidates that was far more diverse than the audience.

    While Ed and activists like Janice Turner point out their part in the Boycott Barclays campaign, I would just say this. It is an actually an example of a well-meaning idea in practice being a mistake. As someone who had a father who was a political prisoner in Ghana in the 1980s, i can tell you that Barclays investment in South Africa and across the continent was broadly welcomed.Barclays ensured that money passed to the families of political prisoners across the continent without the interference that local banks faced.

    We cannot truly call ourselves an open, internationalist and Liberal party until we represent the most multicultural parts of our country in greater numbers.

  • richard underhill 27th Jul '20 - 8:56am

    If there is only one thing that the Liberal Democrats are for in the opinion of the electors let it be this one thing. As John Alderdice says we had an opportunity when Charles Kennedy was leader in opposing the Iraq war, but they drifted away, At the time of the Liberal-SDP merger the preamble to our constitution “seeks to balance” which has never been reviewed. It should be, compared with New Labour’s Clause Four moment.

  • L M Sue-Too 29th Jul '20 - 1:59pm

    Thank you so much to Ed Davey for responding to the open letter on racial equality. Thank you to the signatories for giving voice to the issue of diversity and inclusion. Is there a discussion group within the party working on this? I’d like to see their work.
    If we don’t have one can we form one, starting with the signatories to the open letter perhaps? Cllr Rabi Martins makes a good point, we need to get going on the detail. We need to work on including some work on the inclusion of the British underclasses, those who, even without the disabilities of racism, fail in this country. In the spirit of liberalism it has to come from us as much as our leader.
    We should take a note out of the Labour Party’s book on diversity regarding this. Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, left school at 16 owing to pregnancy. She is now Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. We need that social mobility in our party, regardless of background. We need work for freedom and progress for all.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52127078

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