Opinion: Equality – a suggestion

Parliament square by Paul Walter

We have seen the application of the women’s Leadership Program.  This became necessary due to historical disadvantages.  If we could have trusted the political system, there would be no need to introduce such measures to achieve better representation for women.

I suggest we can achieve similar Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic representation, by learning from experiences and voting progressively.  Allow me to share…

I had a fantastic time running for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PCC).  I crammed national policy into five days and along with dedicated enthusiasts, undertook the assessment day.

I passed with the recommendation that I apply for PPC vacancies, so I did.  I went for Hackney because I believe it is important to demonstrate BAME candidates to the electorate and as an ethnically mixed woman and from a blended fragmented family, I also represent the demographic.

I battled against three skillful males (two White Brits and one African Brit).  We almost elected me, but we didn’t.  Instead we went for the equally excellent White men.

Ordinarily this would be fine but we are not in ordinary times.  The rebranded anti migrant party is soaking up voters from BAME communities – helped along with BAME candidates and members!

My experience and the incomprehensible decision by BAME citizens to join parties who blatantly do not represent our needs got me thinking.

We already know the political system cannot achieve representation without a strong nudge.  However, we could use this example of diversity management in teamwork?

I trained an office full of Probation staff to run the Tessa Saunderson’s 10k in Newham.  I am already a distance runner but my colleagues hadn’t seen a pair of running shoes in years.  I understood I could probably win but until we got our last runner over the finish line, our team would loose.  I had motivated and skilled my team but most importantly I led from behind, supporting the last runner to the finish.  This strategy meant we all won.

In applying this to the party, if we really are ‘too white, too male and too pale’, then we have to change how we vote!

Don’t just vote for a good night’s performance at a husting, vote for progress.  And as equally skilled candidates asking for members’ votes, if the race is fairly balanced but the need for BAME is accepted, think about stepping back so that you support a diverse team.

The 30% Club experience, where chairmen of leading British businesses (and of course they mostly are men) have led the campaign for change, has taught me that it is much more effective to encourage men and women to work together to develop balanced teams than to treat this as a ‘special interest’ issue (Morrissey Report. June, 2013).

In London and other mixed urban cities, I propose the time has arrived for our party to foster a diverse team for the electorate.  We already have the tools to do this, its called voting progressively.

* Teena Lashmore is the Vice Chair London Region Liberal Democrats and writes in a personal capacity.

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25 Comments

  • Would you consider running for Camberwell & Peckham, we are open till Friday ? Last time we chose from an all BAME shortlist which was, unfortunately also an all male shortlist.

  • David Faggiani 10th Nov '14 - 11:57am

    I live in Camberwell, as it happens, and I would second that invitation! I think your thoughts on the matter are balanced and pragmatic, by the way.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Nov '14 - 12:48pm

    A good article. If you are anti diversity you are anti statistics and even right wing enemies such as big banks love statistics and that is why it has been possible to get them on board.

    Having studied mathematical statistics I am fully aware of some of the methods used to distort these, partly with highly technical language, but even if you take out the distortions, the evidence for the benefits of diversity are clear.

  • Lauren SALERNO 10th Nov '14 - 4:28pm

    Support the principle but this is not about equality just BAME equality and is therefore not a solution to inequality! It does though reflect the ongoing issue on one strand seeking promotion probably at the expense of others

    Do we have equality for the disabled, across age, LGBT+ or any other group mentioned here? No! Do these other strands not deserve the same opportunities. I know Teena has a long history in diversity in fact we were both Probation offices and have worked alongside each other in Napo to a limited degree.

    However to language is always key and here it is alienating we are not only “too white, too male, too pale” but also too “fully abled, cisgendered, straight, binary gendered”. We have obviously had BAME PCCs, some disabled but how many have been in their twenties, transgendered or or any other underrepresented group. Although it exasperates some I can only speak for the strands I am part of. In this case the unseen physically and mentally disabled and trans people.

    These groups have also suffered from “historical disadvantages” and still are, one of which is that awareness of these groups is low and at times seems non existent as is reflected in the language here though not in Teena’s thinking.

    The solution to inequality is to identify needs objectively and to respond to those needs. In various areas these needs may be different but we need to ensure that equality means equality.

    Our frst step to a solution therefore is not to promote one strand under the guise of a “solution” but to find a way to promote all. That may be by focusing on BAME for a specific time and resource bound objective but it may mean focusing on any other strand, which I don’t really care to some degree as long as they are not forgotten or marginalised as this article unfortunately does

  • “I also represent the demographic.”

    I hope you also put yourself forward in areas where you don’t represent the demographic but feel you could simply represent.

    It sounds like areas would be interested in having you represent them regardless of demographics.

  • Teena Lashmore 10th Nov '14 - 10:15pm

    Thanks for the positive feedback. As much as I would love for the world to be reflected in its institutions, sadly it is unable to achive this. So we have to be ‘enlightened’ and use what we already have – the vote. I reflect many of the diversity strands, like most Londoner do but we achieve positive one step at a time and learn from every experience.
    Paul… Thank you for positive step here. My heart is in Hackney but my aspiration for diversity is boundless. And we do have similar issues so I would be delighted to apply to your members to be their representative. Please email.
    Lets keep talking as I’m sure the solutions are within us – all of us!

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 10th Nov '14 - 11:01pm

    Well said Teena!

  • A Social Liberal 10th Nov '14 - 11:17pm

    I just don’t understand how it is liberal to achieve balance by disadvantaging those whose grouping is in the majority. Surely when we agreed with the principle of where ” we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation . . . “, we are rejecting positive discrimination as just as much.

  • Pramod Subbaraman 11th Nov '14 - 6:03am

    True Diversity can only be achieved when ANY candidate can apply to ANY demographic and have a real chance of winning , not having to worry about looking or sounding like the electorate of that area!

    Unfortunately, the political scene has not matured to that level. Well, except for the white make who can hope to apply to any seat and win even if the majority of the electorate are female or any combination of minorities.

    I could never believe how Eastham with a 70% non white and over 50% immigrant population has mostly white male candidates! And the sitting MP
    is white male from labour with probably the biggest winning margin in the country. Just try getting in a tamil candidate and see what happens to that margin.

    Until we achieve true equality with ALL people bring able to stand and win in ALL seats, we should be able to
    Experiment a little. Especially in areas with significant minority populations.

  • Many thanks to Teena Lashmore for an interesting suggestion and for the way in which it is expressed.

    I hope I can add to the discussion with the following illustration of how our MPs (Liberal, Labour and Conservative) do not represent the wider population.

    Only 7% of people in the UK attend fee paying schools

    So how many MPs attended fee paying schools ?

    40 per cent of Liberal Democrats MPs

    15 per cent of Labour MPs 
    54 per cent of Conservatives MPs

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/increase-in-number-of-mps-from-private-schools-1970414.html

  • Teena Lashmore 11th Nov '14 - 9:07am

    Good debate. My social liberal friend… I am suggesting we examine how we vote. For example, some people vote because the are friends, some vite because they may have met you, some vote because you like ‘sellable’ to the public, some vote because they are informed in what you have done, some because you demonstrated a skills set, some because your previous experience, some because of shared faith, some shared diversity…. And some vote because its best for the whole team. Because we are liberal and anti- racist but exist within a societal system that is not liberal and ant-racist and because we are simply human, we need to draw our conciousness to our vote so we can understand the power we have to change things, when we vote. I do thank you for sharing your time with me too!

  • Lauren Salerno 11th Nov '14 - 3:35pm

    The idea of having to have more women or BAME to reflect the voters is to me tokenism and speaks of failure.

    I have no problem if a white middle class male is my PCC or other candidate in fact some people in other diversity groups have been more opposed to diversity needs outside their own. If we as a party cannot field candidates who are prepared to understand and speak up for others than themselves then we have failed, and failed badly.

    We should not encourage people to vote for the “BAME” candidate in a BAME area as this to me hampers diversity and divides, a form of self imposed apartheid. Nor in my opinion should we have to get a sufficient number of “x” group on “x” committee rather get those who are able and willing to respond to the needs of all

    Rather than try to increase the vote by navel gazing and trying to gain votes by relatively artificial means we should gain votes by what we do and are seen to do.

    I joined the party not because of some Trans person being put in an artificial role but because a white heterosexual woman, Lynne Featherstone, took a lead and did something. If we want to gain more minority votes we should demonstrates what we can do; find the greatest needs among the strands and act on them based on the concept of proportional impact.

    To some degree we have done that recently for example on mental health and homo, bi and transphobic bullying. Only problem with the latter is that the TUC have led on this for many years and, despite it being a positive step forward” in some ways we can be seen to “johnny come latelys”

    Yes lets find an issue but what is the greatest diversity need in our society today, more BAME candidates? no, more women candidates? no; lack of awareness of disabled issues, eastern European immigrants, homo, bi and transphobia, gender variance, sexual orientation in all its forms yes! If we take radical and positive steps in these areas or at least on specific issues affecting these areas then we will gain votes but more importantly we will be doing what is right and liberal

  • SIMON BANKS 11th Nov '14 - 5:31pm

    Or have a go for Clacton – the chance to run against UKIP?

    Teena, I think what you say here is very sensible. In weighing up the claims of candidates for anything, we should consider what we know about their skills , beliefs and policies, but also if some particular characteristic would fill a gap or correct an imbalance. This is nothing new: one finds young candidates saying things like “I believe we need more young people participating in key decisions. I’m 23 and…”, or at least implying it. Of course, it’s not just a matter of how we vote, but also of positive action (not the same as positive discrimination): noticing people who might with encouragement step up a level and giving that encouragement.

  • A Social Liberal 11th Nov '14 - 6:35pm

    Teena – if I follow your argument correctly you are saying that in loading the dice in favour of one group or another we are demonstrating our liberalism. We are saying, ‘look, we have a woman candidate – this is because we are liberal’.

    You have not demonstrated in your argument how discriminating against men/hetero/white/fully able applicants is liberal and therefore acceptable. You seem to be saying that the ends justify the means and that I cannot accept.

  • Lauren Salerno 11th Nov '14 - 8:03pm

    Social Liberal add disabled, LGBT+, gender variants, age and other sexualities to the list all of which this BAME only “suggestion” discriminates against

  • Ruth Bright 12th Nov '14 - 9:29am

    A Social Liberal – I think Teena puts her argument with admirable gentleness and she uses her own name too! The dice are already loaded in favour of male candidates. Twelve years ago as a PPC I discovered that there was no provision for candidates to take maternity leave. I checked with the candidates’ office the other day and there is still no such provision.

    If you look at the Ashcroft polling and our national position it is perfectly possible to predict that we will have no Lib Dem female or BME MPs in 2015. Surely such a prospect should provoke the party to begin its greatest soul search on equality since the force feeding of the suffragettes?

  • Lauren Salerno 12th Nov '14 - 10:02am

    Ruth Bright the same dice are comparatively loaded in favour of women and BAME compared to the disabled, LGBT+, certain age groups, certain genders and sexualities.

    How does loading in in favour of BAME and women advance the cause of these and other groups?

  • Lauren I cannot for the life of me understand why proper maternity provision for PPCS would disadvantage anyone.

  • A Social Liberal 12th Nov '14 - 12:27pm

    Just for the record Ruth, I have posted my real name on here – but for your pleasure I am willing to do so again. Stephen Walpole of Skipton at your service !

  • A Social Liberal 12th Nov '14 - 12:34pm

    Further to Lauren and John Tilleys points, there is a plethora of minorities who are not adequately represented in parliament. I would throw into the pot the working classes.

  • Lauren Salerno 12th Nov '14 - 1:28pm

    Ruth Bright wouldn’t but focusing on that to the exclusion of other issues does

  • I welcome the comment about the working classes from A Social Liberal (Stephen Walpole)
    Class discrimination underlies and reinforces many of the other inequalities in our society.

    How many black women appeared in that famous picture of the Bullingdon Club with Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson?
    Not rocket science is it?

    If you take as a pretty good marker of class background the split between those educated in state schools and those educated in schools for the rich and privileged — it is totally transparent that the 93% of us who went to state schools are a “majority” of the population but are UNDER-representated in both house of parliament to a staggering degree.

    I would suggest that if we were to do something about this gross inequality first it would automatically result in a lot more BAME and LGBT and women candidates and candidates with disabilities being selected and elected.

  • Teena Lashmore 15th Nov '14 - 10:49pm

    Apologies for typo in previous comments as I could not see them initially.
    Interesting points made. I do not believe there is one magic bullet to fix all diversity strands and Lauren, if there was, we would be using it by now. I can also see some coments have done the ‘classic’ she is only BAME and does not have a disability for example. But this is not a competition on how many diversity strands do I meet. My proposal was to draw our consciousness fully to voting and to use evidence where it exist. In this case the electorate voted in favour of me above my male counterparts but sadly our local party did not listen to that and voted, in many cases, on what was familiar. I now understand what the public mean when they say our local party is unable to represent our electorates’ wishes. We have to work together as a team but we should also have the skill to look back on our decision making and to see how we can make it better – for the whole team. Our party membership is 53% female and this has never been reflected in our leadership roles. What are your proposals?

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Nov '14 - 11:58pm

    Teena Lashmore
    I’m intrigued by this statement in your last comment: “In this case the electorate voted in favour of me above my male counterparts but sadly our local party did not listen to that and voted, in many cases, on what was familiar. ”
    I don’t understand what this means. Which “electorate” do you mean? If you weren’t chosen as a candidate, who voted for you above your male counterparts? (I realise this is not the central point of the posting, but this sort of thing bothers me!)

  • Teena Lashmore 19th Nov '14 - 8:46pm

    Hi Malcolm… Taking local Cllr elections as evidence of electorate views (not perfect but better than nothing). I’m in the party for only 8 months. My male counterparts have been in my community and party for years but I received three times the votes of one man and there was only two votes between myself and the other male. Our ‘campaign’ prioritised my male counterparts because it was believed they would win! Putting aside our anomoly in one ward, my votes were higher than one and matched the other. If the tables were turned, I’d listen to the voice of electorate were they spoke and we were lucky as the electorate had just been to the polling station and demonstrated ‘their view’.
    My point is about us using our consciousness when we vote and where there is evidence I’d listening to it. And on that note, I’m researching party members to understand which lady would fulfill the party’s aspirations – in our President. This is not so I follow majority but that I understand the impact of my vote. The party is a team and agreeing on a President must be easier than choosing one just because she happened to engage in a conversation with me. On this note, I hope our choice for President can advocate all of our concerns and I know I will support whoever that may be!

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