Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats: a year of achievement

cropped EMLD logoI was delighted to be re-elected Chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) at the AGM last Saturday, 25th November.

2013 has been a year of considerable achievement, not least a very well-attended race equality conference in partnership with the Social Liberal Forum  which was launched by the business secretary Vince Cable.

EMLD were also successful in changing party policy on education and employment when our motion endorsing the Race Equality Taskforce report was unanimously approved at federal conference in Glasgow.

We were instrumental in preserving the “general duty” part of the Equality Act, which Conservatives wanted to abolish, and our lobbying also ensured that the Public Sector Equality Duty and Equality Impact Assessments were not touched.

In the last month EMLD persuaded the communities minister Stephen Williams to ask radio regulator Ofcom whether the owners of Choice FM broke their licence when they turned a station popular with an African and Caribbean audience into something quite different.

Over the year we have met with several ministers to influence policy, and myself and other members actively participated in a range of committees and working groups – from the 2015 manifesto process to various working groups such as immigration and asylum, equalities and ageing societies.

We are supporting regional diversity champions, diversity training, and successfully persuaded the party to adopt equality impact assessments when formulating policy.

I want to see EMLD increase our influence over policy, continue to increase membership and build on our improving communications strategy so that more people are kept informed of all activities.

Our AGM witnessed excellent speeches by deputy leader Simon Hughes, Simon Woolley from the campaign group Operation Black Vote and Tim Snowball, the party’s director of communications.

Simon Hughes said EMLD had made huge progress and believed the party would benefit enormously from our participation in immigration policy.

Simon Woolley reminded those present that EMLD is the only minority ethnic group inside a coalition party and that we have a right to influence policy at the heart of government.

A recent Operation Black Vote report showed the full extent of the power of the BAME vote and that should inspire us to go out and encourage the community to register to vote and participate in politics. The absence of a government race equality strategy should motivate EMLD to push harder, he concluded.

I agree with both Simons, we have come a long way but there is a long way to go. Under the leadership of Baroness Meral Hussein Ece, and now myself, EMLD has earned respect while continuing to tell home truths about race inequality.

That combination of working with the party and being a credible voice has meant EMLD have considerable influence where people are actively seeking our views on policy.

I am proud of the talent and expertise on EMLD’s executive, which has now been strengthened further. The general election is in 18 months. It will be a challenging period but I am relishing it.

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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  • Well done Issan – a good year for you and EMLD, we have gone from strength to strength. I was reluctant to join EMLD for a number of years as I felt that there was enough serious focus on ethnic issues (this being separate from individuals who ran with this agenda for their own purposes but achieved little). Once I got more involved with the federal party I noted that this was not the case and the party focus was on women and LGBT (this is very good, repeat very good) but it did seem it was at the expense of ethnic members. I am glad to say with the good work that EMLD has done this year it has allowed us to face the party to ensure better understanding of some policy issues from an ethnic perspective. This has also started to advance ethnic inclusion.

    This is a measure of success and also a note to remember we still have some way to go before we are taken seriously, our perspective understood and less shrugging of shoulders when ethnic issues are mentioned.

  • Issan – many thanks for reporting back and giving a flavour of the largely unseen small steps and successes that are being made, all of which seem quite reasonable to me and give an insight into the practical work EMLD is engaged in and enabling. Whilst individually the achievements may not be earth shaking, the cumulative effect is significant.

    As others have pointed out in LDV, the OBV report does highlight a huge demographic shift in many constituencies that ‘we’ (the LibDem’s specifically, but also political parties in general and the population at large) ignore at our peril…

  • Richard Dean 30th Nov '13 - 12:38pm

    Many of your achievements seem good, but one of them seems a bit odd. The one about Choice FM. You claim that it was your pressure that resulted in the Ofcom investigation. However, the Voice Newspaper claims it was theirs !

    There seems like an uneasy conflict here between the needs to allow commercial organizations to choose their most profitable business strategies, and the needs of government to provide or regulate services to communities – in this case the services of a radio station. The Voice seems to be owned by GV Media Group Limited, who are perhaps commercial competitors of the owners of Choice FM? And the article by Lee Jasper also runs a little close to excessive racial preference – is it really an industry where black people “naturally excel”?

    It looks like the whole scene is a lot more complicated than we are being told. I hope that EMLD’s other activities, particularly the important Equality Audit or Equality Impact Assessment, will bring some clarity to a rather confused and confusing area.

  • Richard Dean 1st Dec '13 - 1:19pm

    @Lester Holloway. Thanks for your clarification. Let’s not get into one of these huge arguments that go nowhere. However, it looks like there are significant culturally-related differences here in concepts on the roles of government and of political parties and groups within them. Clarification of these apparent confusions may be one of the things that are needed in order to resolve the party’s problems of poor ethnic balance.

    I see a group that is doing its best to respond to “sentiments that run through”, without much reference to principles or experience. That’s bad news. Experience should tell you that slots in the EM frequency ranges are keenly sought, and that therefore there is a significant chance that the Voice may be get one of those frequencies by taking it away from Choice FM. So what you have potentially got yourself and the party into is a commercial battle, and you need principles to guide you. Principles such as how far government should intervene in a potentially free marketplace, the nature of radio as a public service to a community, and how far a political party or a group within it should allow itself to appear to be used by one commercial group – the Voice – in a marketplace battle against another – Choice FM. These are questions that different political parties have different views on, and it is not immediately clear whether the emotion-based responses that you describe are consistent with LibDem views on them.

    This is not me being racist or insensitive. If I said that white people “naturally excel” in commerce, then some people would call me racist, so why is it ok for Lee Jasper to write that black people “naturally excel” in radio? Some people would use the word “corruption” if a political party were to interfere in a market by favouring one company as opposed to another. These seem to be important and hazardous issues that you don’t appear to be recognizing.

  • Richard Dean 1st Dec '13 - 4:55pm

    Thanks, Lester. Good luck. You say I don’t “get it” and I say you don’t “get it”. What a fine example we are of lack of communication. It reminds me of my second wife (we are now divorced) who is Afro-Caribbean. We are still friends. Let us hope the LibDems as a whole do better at communicating with each other than you and me!

  • Richard, I’m not sure where you are going with this… From my perspective the question asked of Ofcom was fine and in-order – as long as it was as stated, namely to look at the terms and conditions of their license. I.e. there license hadn’t been awarded on the basis that they would serve/target an African and Caribbean audience.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Dec '13 - 12:14am

    @Roland. Sometimes people don’t go, they just look. I’m exploring the issues.

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