If we want to win again, we have to build trust and connect with BAME communities

On Thursday, Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality chair Roderick Lynch wrote an article challenging the party to follow Keir Starmer’s demand for all BAME shortlists for Labour. He also invited us to join the race equality hustings on Wednesday.

Tower Hamlets Councillor Rabina Khan posted a long comment to that article that I felt deserved a wider audience as a separate post. 

Political Parties and Representation Part 1

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a cross-party discussion with Professor Tim Bale in podcast called Political Parties and Ethnic Minority Representation as part of Queen Mary University’s Mile End Institute of debating politics, policy and public. Here’s the link.

In this article I have deliberately put the words BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY in upper case.

My views expressed in the podcast come from from living and working in Tower Hamlets and across the UK. Tower Hamlets like many other boroughs in London, is a very diverse borough. But is crucial that we create a more welcoming and inclusive community, engage with BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY citizens and campaign for BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY representation within the Party if Liberal Democrats want to win in boroughs like mine.

40% of the population in London are from BLACK ASIAN AND EHTNIC MINORITY Communities and without connecting to these communities we as a party will possibly not be polling very high.

Connecting to people and communities is about building trust and then hope.

Political Parties and Representation Part 2

In 1993 when Derek Beackon, a member of the British National Party (BNP), was elected councillor in Tower Hamlets the borough’s Liberal Democrats were themselves facing racism charges. Allegations concerning a Liberal Democrats leaflet linking BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY people to housing shortages pushed white voters to the BNP, leading then leader the late Paddy Ashdown to order an inquiry into allegations of racism.

We need to learn from the past and own our experiences good and bad just as I have done over my own turbulent political years.

There has been an increase in the number of ethnic minority MPs since the 2017 election, but the Lib Dems still show the lowest increase and all of these that represent English seats.

Even worse, as of December 2019, there are no Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority MPs in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Operation Black Vote’s (OBV) BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY Local Political Representation Audit 2019 showed that only 3% of Lib Dem councillors were from a BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY background and that BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY councillors were disproportionately affiliated with the Labour Party. In London boroughs, only 4% of councillors were from a BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY background (a total of 22). Contrast this with the study conducted by the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, which estimated that the UK will continue to become more ethnically diverse and that by 2061, the BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY population will be 42.1% – almost half the population.

The population of London is already 40% BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY. We need to explain what being a Liberal Democrat is, and that it truly is the natural home of BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY voters.

Political Parties and Representation Part 3

In Lord Alerdice’s 2018 report on Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats, he said that the membership and representation of the Liberal Democrats did not properly reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the UK. He noted that this was a “substantial problem for a party which has committed itself to equality and diversity and the under-representation is so stark that it does not require a statistical study to demonstrate it.”

In his conclusion he stated that that that some individuals and groups within the party were unwelcoming to people of colour, even though there was allegedly no evidence of widespread racism.

The 2019 Election Review Report showed that the Lib Dems only achieved 12% of the national BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY vote, the Labour Party won 64% of the BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY vote and the Conservatives 29%. Furthermore, in some seats we were canvassing without talking to BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY voters who constituted a large proportion of the Labour votes, particularly in London.

It is crucial that we engage with – ensure accessibility for – BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY voters and potential members.

We need to explain what being a Liberal Democrat is, and that it truly is the natural home of BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY voters. As Lord Alerdice said: “As the Party of equality, diversity and inclusivity, we should be the natural home for Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority people because we want to value each person for who they are. But the fact is we just aren’t seen as welcoming enough to BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY people.”

Political Parties and Representation Part 4

When David Cameron was first elected as the Leader of the Conservatives in 2005, he pledged to transform the Conservative Party when it only returned just 17 women and 2 black MPS at the previous election. David Cameron said that “”The conversation we have in the Conservative party must reflect the conversation in the country, and the sound of modern Britain is a complex harmony, not a male voice choir.”

Because of David Cameron’s ‘priority list’ approach at the 2015 election the Conservatives then doubled the number of ethnic minority votes they had previously won. An estimated 33% of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority voters chose the Tories – a million BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY voters for the first time in its history.

The call now from the Leader of Labour Party for an all BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY shortlist means that it is preparing for a future in a post-Brexit, COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter era.

Today both Labour and the Conservatives look and feel like modern Britain than we do.

Do we the Liberal Democrats want to look and feel like modern Britain? Do we want to become a Party of Relevance? Do we want to win?

If we do then we must consider not just all-BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY shortlists. Priority seats for BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY and women candidates are essential to change us from a party predominantly of the white middle-class to a party that reflects the ethnic diversity of those we seek to represent. All-BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY shortlists will not be permanent, possibly two election cycles to rectify our current misrepresentation of the electorate.

Look around at the next Liberal Democrat meeting you attend and see how this is reflected.

Do you see BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY people and if so how many?

Try flipping the situation so everyone else apart from you is BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY.

Now ask yourself how you identify with those people.

As I say the only question is if the Liberal Democrats want to win elections.

If the answer is yes, then the answers to the other questions follow.

* Rabina Khan is a councillor in Tower Hamlets and Special Advisor to Lib Dem peers. Her book, book My Hair is Pink Under This Veil (BiteBack Publishers) is due out in March 2021.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Engaging with BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY citizens is always a good idea and is a must for any political party. However, from the figures you mention it would appear that the Lib Dems have more of a problem attracting support from the white community. I’m not sure what percentage of support the party got from white voters, but I’m fairly sure it was less than the 12% they received from black, asian and ethnic minority voters. To attract votes from any of our communities you need the right policies and a trusted leadership. Clearly the party has a lot of work to do.

  • I agree with the importance of the issue.

    However I disagree with the proposal for all BAME shortlists, just as I believe that the Labour Party’s all women shortlist policy was wrong. (I oppose quotas in employment for the same reason.) Local party members should be free to choose candidates on merit.

    What is needed is more support to encourage BAME individuals to get onto the Party’s list of approved candidates, and greater candidate training.

    The Conservative Party has an excellent record of selecting high quality BAME candidates for very white seats. e.g. Sajid Javid in Bromsgrove and Rishi Sunak in Richmond, Yorkshire. We need to emulate that.

  • @ Rabina Khan. “If we want to win again, we have to build trust and connect with BAME communities”.

    If Liberal Democrats want to win again, they need to build trust and connect with ALL COMMUNITIES which, currently standing at 6%, is a very tall order.

  • jayne mansfield 2nd Aug '20 - 5:17pm

    @ Mohammed Amin,
    I agree with you that in a perfect world, there would be no need for all BAME shortlists – indeed the very notion of BAME, given the diversity of those boxed in by that appalling term, implies that they are an homogeneous group, which they are not.

    However, if the Prime Minister and the cabinet were chosen simply on merit, I fear for the future of the UK.

    The country and individuals from diverse ethnic groups need role models who are not millionaires or billionaires who support Tory ideology because it is in their best financial interests.

  • Carl Reader 2nd Aug '20 - 5:32pm

    We should be looking into why both working class and BAME people don’t think that the Liberal Democrats are relevant to them and address both issues and broaden the membership base. It is not a binary choice. It is not a time to hide behind liberal principles as an excuse for doing nothing.

  • James Belchamber 2nd Aug '20 - 7:32pm

    @Mohammed it’s notable that the Conservative Party has an “excellent” record here because they don’t give local associations a choice – they have to pick candidates from the “A-list” drawn up by CCHQ. Emulating them would essentially mean central control over candidate selection.

    I also find it ironic that Labour are targeted for having not-so-great Women MPs/candidates that have come up through shortlists, while conveniently ignoring that many of their male candidates/MPs are shite too.

    The reality is that all-BAME shortlists are the most Liberal option we have. Unless someone comes up with a bright idea very soon (a solution, not just more “let’s look into this”) then opposing them is tantamount to supporting the status quo – and a brake on Liberal progress that will not be tolerated by the communities we seek to serve.

  • Andrew Kerr 3rd Aug '20 - 3:30am

    In response to the Thornhill review Stephen Bush made the important point that there is no one BAME community, and Conservative success in different BAME communities involved different messages for each.


  • What seems to be coming through here is not that the party is institutionally racism in some way, but that we are just not very good at politics.

  • @ Chris Cory “we are just not very good at politics.”

    That was first established in December,1916, Mr. Cory, but the ten years and the choices made since May 2010 more than corroborate that. Indeed, the pursuit of why that has happened over the last 104 years has become a major academic industry – though providing a boost for the publishing industry.

    Given I first joined the party led by Jo Grimond in the early 1960’s and either known or observed every leader since, it is with some regret that I’m afraid the calibre of whoever is likely to be announced later this month is unlikely to change that perception or to set the political world on fire.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Aug '20 - 1:26pm

    The problem is, Mohammed, that local party members aren’t free to choose candidates on merit. They are blinkered, as we all are, by unconscious bias. This is why we have to use an admittedly quite crude method to eliminate the effects of that bias because the outcomes of the selection process do not fairly represent the world around us.

  • David Pocock 3rd Aug '20 - 4:43pm

    There is a rule in American football in the hiring of coaches that at least 1 minority coach must be interviewed for each job. Principle being it is hard to just ditch someone at an interview if they give a great one and are good for the job ect. Anyway it to quite a degree worked and that is in the NFL.

    I really wonder if a good middle ground might be say 1 woman and 1 BaME in every shortlist. That way it will ensure diversity in selection and not tread into the waters of exclusive lists.


    See what you think but it might be a reasonable compromise position to copy something like it.

  • James Belchamber 3rd Aug '20 - 8:22pm

    @David Pocock this is actually something that was tried but it’s against the Equality Act (which only allows positive discrimination for women and disabled people). We also tried “zipping” during the European Elections but someone in the party threatened to sue.

  • richard underhill 4th Aug '20 - 1:39pm

    Rabina Khan | Sun 2nd August 2020 – 12:00 pm
    “It is crucial that we engage with – ensure accessibility for – BLACK, ASIAN AND ETHNIC MINORITY voters and potential members.”
    As we follow events in China and Hong Kong the current UK government is committed to helping people with BNOC passports.
    If they claim asylum af
    ter they have arrived in UK jurisdiction, legally or illegally, they would have a strong prospect of being granted, winning an appeal or winning a Judicial review. Thee are the conditions under which a government would create a country policy, as happened for Bosnia, in my time and, de facto, for Kosovo.
    A country policy for China was refused by ministers, possibly because of the numbers who would be involved, possibly because of the numbers of ethnic Chinese who are nationals of other countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, etcetera.
    Presumably FCO is aware that citizens of Taiwan are subject to travel difficulties caused by mainland China, as we were told at the Liberal International in Iceland, when many of us were provided with a FREE LUNCH by a political party from Taiwan (NOT KUOMINGTANG) who had somehow travelled.
    Thinking of the history of “Vietnamese boat people” (mostly ethnic Chinese fleeing persecution by sea in choppy waters) it may be that some HK people will leave Hong Kong and try to reach Taiwan, Australia or even Canada. It is somewhat surprising that the party of Enoch Powell is somewhat quiet at the moment although they have the Home Secretary and the Chancellor in their one-party Cabinet.

  • richard underhill 5th Aug '20 - 9:08am

    jayne mansfield 2nd Aug ’20 – 5:17pm
    “if the Prime Minister and the cabinet were chosen simply on merit,”
    Maybe we should do what South Africa did after the elections on the universal franchise
    They decided in Parliament who should lead their country
    There was no need for short lists
    They chose someone of whom they could be proud, a peacemaker, who set an example to the world.
    The crowds who sang on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, while he was in prison, were of all skin colours. There was a risk at the time that regional politics would produce a lot of violence. Nelson Mandela told them to take their weapons and “throw them in the sea”.
    So, what price Nelson Mandela? FREE!!!
    and, unlike many unworthy politicians, would-be statesmen and the taunts of the evil supporters of apartheid, HE DID NOT WANT TO BE RE-ELECTED.

  • richard underhill 5th Aug '20 - 9:25am

    David Pocock 3rd Aug ’20 – 4:43pm
    The party has trained individuals who work with the local parties voluntarily, who are in short supply for the regional parties, but Michael Meadowcroft (former MP for Leeds West) is right to point out that there are weak spots in some areas where there are not enough candidates of any kind. There is a provision for a dummy candidate called RON whose election would mean ‘none of the above’ but how often does RON win?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

This post has pre moderation enabled, please be patient whilst waiting for it to be manually reviewed. Liberal Democrat Voice is made up of volunteers who keep the site running in their free time.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • JohnMc
    Well, given that the Tories have just announced they want to bring back National Service … and that’s their best plan, this is well timed!...
  • James Fowler
    Repeat slowly after me: Labour. Own. The. NHS....
  • David Allen
    There is such a thing as coalition phobia. It's understandable - The Lib Dems made a pig's ear of it, and rightly got punished. But if the Lib Dems can't cure...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might this question be relevant for all political parties, perhaps except for the S. N. P.? https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2024/05/25/youtube-short-elec...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might the attached article be relevant? https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/05/24/lifting-the-veil-demystifying-israel/...