Opinion: Liberal Youth amendments ripped the heart out of the diversity motion

The Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats’ (EMLD) motion containing positive action measures to practically address the diversity of Lib Dem elected representatives was ripped to not much more than a review by amendments mostly from Liberal Youth, with the requirement to have at least one BME candidate on shortlists where a Lib Dem MP has resigned, or within a by-election, being lost.

Goodness me. I think the Liberal Democrats are the new Conservatives. Deciding not to act because doing so would be hypocritical? Is this not the worse kind of irony that has seen the ill-representative nature of the party prevail? WAKE-UP! The absence of an elected BME speaks volumes!!!!! You should be ashamed of yourselves with your non-productive preoccupation with meaningless debate!!!

I am young, black and female. Your target audience. I am disgusted. Your policies hit the nail on the head and are what this country needs but you might as well be the 20th Century Conservative Party masquerading as liberals for all I care. I am so torn between standing as a Lib Dem candidate – which I probably wouldn’t even get to do because of the local party machine – and just joining the established Labour ranks.

The BME vote is the only thing that prevents the Lib Dems from trumping the Labour party and the Conservatives to outright power. Until party members see that it will always be resigned to a junior partner in a coalition or third party obscurity.
So far the discourse among members in response to diversity proposals is heavily weighted by a presumption that a BME person would not have equal or exceeding merit. This isn’t about discriminating against a white candidate based on colour (which members are totally against by the way; but it’s okay to do it against BMEs: there are none *hello?*) it’s about opening the way for BME Lib Dem MPs – because there are none *hello?*.

One will never understand or have a proactive approach to discrimination until it one is discriminated against. I am of the left. I believe that this unites me with both the LibDems and Labour. Perhaps local members’ and activists’ dismissal of voices around them is the same reason for the dismissal of diversity measures by the party: denial.

And bin the discrimination excuse; it has already been said that this is positive action – how could something that equalizes opportunity be a bad thing? You all might as well unzip your sheep’s clothing now, I can see you.

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  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 5:57pm


    Immediately, you attack my “understanding” of Liberal values. How effective is debate that has lasted for twenty years without actually changing anything for the better?

    Listen to my voice: I – a BME person – find it off-putting that no-one with any official (elected) presence within the party looks like me.

    President Obama inspired change by leading from the front. Inspire me to want to join you by empathising with what I and millions of other like me have to face EVERY DAY. Instead of refusing to change.

    Belittling an ongoing, decade-long struggle to emotion is insensitive and inflexible.


  • “proactive approach to discrimination”

    To be honest I’d like there to be no approach to discrimination at all, positive or negative. The idea that someone should be given any kind of differential treatment based on race, colour or background is pretty abhorrent.

    “So far the discourse among members in response to diversity proposals is heavily weighted by a presumption that a BME person would not have equal or exceeding merit.”

    I think you may have misunderstood the argument here, it’s not that a BME person would not have exceeding or equal merit… it’s the fact that being BME has absolutely no bearing at all on whether they are of equal or greater merit than anyone else. The argument goes that each person is unique, and should be compared against each other on the basis of the merits they have which are RELEVENT to the position. If being BME has some particular relevence toa position then it should be considered as one of the cireteria, if it has no bearing (as should be the case in a completely indiscriminatory society, which admittedly we sadly don’t have) then it shouldn’t be allowed to have any relevence in the decision process at all.

    I’m not saying I disagree with you that having a BME candidate for each position would be a good thing, I do believe that the only way to encourage more people of talent from all backgrounds to put themselves forward is to increase the diversity amongst those peopel they actually see in positions alread… but lets not delude ourselves in to thinking this isn’t still some kind of discrimination, and should ultimately be both unecessary and unwanted. In my view I think the situation is bad enough that such action is, unfortunately, necessary, but if implemented it must be with a specific aim and goal, and with the knowledge that long term it isn’t a desirable way to operate.

    But I do think you are misunderstanding the arguments severely, the people voting it down are not doing so because they want to see discrimination continue, but because they are standing on principle and saying that if you want to convince people that race colour or religion are not factors in being elligible or competent in carrying out arole, making it one of the factors to decide who is on the list of people standing is not the way to go about it.

  • “Listen to my voice: I – a BME person – find it off-putting that no-one with any official (elected) presence within the party looks like me.”


  • paul barker 23rd Sep '10 - 6:03pm

    Have to agree, sections of the party are riddled with knee-jerk libertarianism. How long can we go on having the same stupid arguments over & over ? We have the potential to be the 1st Party of British Politics but not if we keep lining up white men in suits.
    Ms Kirwan, please dont give up on us. The only reason Labour can change so easily is that for them its just a matter of adding another group of voters to “their” portfolio, its about ownership. When Labour types talk of “our people” its as much an assertion of ownership as solidarity.
    Plus, its by no means certain Labour are going to survive the next 5 years.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:05pm

    Your distaste with my tool of trade ( use of words) also indicates a mentality of inflexibility. I don’t for one minute claim to even want to be just another conforming – straight-haired, plum-talking politician. You all talk about representative politics – but the minute you get someone who is different the tweezers come out.

    I understand that the majority of the party does not want to use the proposed method to address the problem. Fine. How are you going to address it in a way that actually works? Any ideas? Because I didn’t see any other groups falling over themselves to feed the white elephant staring from the middle of the room.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:10pm

    The logic of merit rather than race works internally among party members. But that is where it stops. Normal, real people don’t see this debate, doubt they would even be interested but they do see headlines. And they do see white, after white, after white Liberal Democrat prancing around ( I mean working hard for a liberal society) on the television.

    Seriously, guys. You have it. I am able to articulate these things for you. What more will it take? Yes, we fight tooth and nail for every seat that we have. But, this party has become too used to the sofa in this area, as far as I’m concerned.

    Do you want the votes or don’t you?

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:18pm

    @ Alex

    It’s a basic psychological thing. For example – soldiers identify with soldiers; Jews identify with Jews; children will gravitate towards other children: for the sake of relating by experience.

  • Davina, in ten years if I said to you “you only got your position because you are black, or because you are a woman – not because of your talent, hard work or temerity” how would you feel – perhaps you wouldn’t care?
    what would your colleagues and peers think of you?
    If you want a soft ride go & join a tokenist, results-driven party. As liberals we all start from the same place. Go and deliver some Focuses, sign up some new members, orgamise a fundraiser. . .

  • paul barker 23rd Sep '10 - 6:20pm

    Sorry to come in again but most of the comments just dont get the point. If I look at the people the Libdems put forward & I see no-one whos BAME or disabled & only a token scattering of women & people from a working class background; what am I supposed to think ? Its just co-incidence ?
    How is that even the Tories do better than we do ? If none of the things we have tried worked then we need to try something new.

  • It is really very simple. Liberals are against discriminating on grounds of race. It is in the party constitution and is also illegal.

  • Charles Anglin 23rd Sep '10 - 6:23pm

    I’ve been a party member for 20 years, stood for parliament twice – the firsttime as the youngest Afro-Carribean candidate ever for any political party. I have to say I’m a liitle shocked by the patronising and rather unpleasant tone of some of the responses to Davina’s post.

    I spoke aganst all black short lists which were dropped by the movers and in favour of the motion as a whle but with reservations, it was far from perfect but it certainly want illiberal. What it wanted was to guarantee that talented & cmmitted BME members get an equal chance to shortlists in target seats, I think it’s proposed
    method was clumsy and administratively messy but it’s movers weren’t asking for any thing different than the rule in our constitution that’s states that at least one man & one woman should be on each shortlist.

    Equality is not special treatment – if there is nothing holding back BME members why do we only have less than 100 BME counicllors out of over 2,000? Why no elected BME parliamentarians at European, devolved or Westminster? Is it because our BME members aren’t good enough, not liberal enough, are too lazy? Or is there an issue that the party has to address as it has started to do with the appaling under representation of women at senior levels?

    Perhaps the next time a young black woman has the temerity to ask to be heard in our party some of the contributors might want to open their minds before their mouths.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:30pm

    Have you even taken the time to study the history of ethnic minorities? When have “soft ride” and BME ever been seen to occupy the same sentence? Graham, I fight every day of my life – not in a literal sense but in a sense that I pray you will never have to understand. So this, is no different. And I will continue to fight because it is my RIGHT to share liberal views with other liberallists, white and black – and to hold hold public office, if I choose to.

    You still have not understood – we all start from the same place but in our party it’s only white liberals so far that have ascended higher. That is the point.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:35pm

    I would urge you to compare the lack of applicants in those seats with those of the Labour party in the same seats. I would be interested to see the outcome. I can predict the outcome.

    Mark – the reason for the lack of willing candidates is simple – staring us all in the face. I can’t – we can’t RELATE.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:41pm


    Who is emotional, now?

    If I thought this was a party of racists, I wouldn’t bother waste my time joining.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 6:43pm


    That is not what I am saying. I voted for the first time in this years’ General Election and most of the people I voted for were white.

  • Colin Green 23rd Sep '10 - 6:52pm

    There are not enough BME candidates for the Lib Dems or any other party. This should be addressed at its root where people are capable of being candidates or thinking of becoming candidates. They should be encouraged to stand and be trained and mentored to become fine candidates. They should then win on merit. I could not agree with positive discrimination. It only masks the problem. The lack of BME candidates is not, I think, due to them failing to be selected but that sufficient numbers are not putting themselves forward. The proof of this would be in the figures if I had them. If the same percentage of BME candidates were successful at selection as other groups, the selection process is fair.

    We should be encouraging more people from under represented groups to stand and training them to be good candidates, not rigging the selection process to unfairly prefer anyone.

  • I’m sorry, but “positive discrimination”, or whatever you like to call it, is racist. Let’s start with the much-bellowed claim that the Liberal Democrats have no ethnic minority MPs. That’s not what the “Daily Mail” thinks, is it? I seem to recall that organ making a huge fuss about Nick Clegg’s multi-ethnicity. Ah, but Dutch and Ukrainian are not ethnic minorities that the malcontents consider deserve special treatment, even if the “Daily Mail” thinks they are unfit for high public office. “Positive dsicrimination” is racist, and doubly racist. First, it assumes that having ancestors born in the United Kingdom is inherently bad. Second, it assumes that having ancestors born outside the United Kingdom is inherently preferable to having ancestors born in the United Kingdom, but some ethnic origins are more deserving than others, the pecking order depending on one’s ideological, cultural, and yes, racial preferences (which are usually thoroughly self-serving).

    Are Liberal Democrats such a nasty bunch of racists that they refuse to select people of colour? Or is it the case that suitably qualified people of colour are not applying for selection in sufficient numbers for enough of them to be selected as would satisfy the malcontents?

    Tony Blair filled the 1997-2001 Parliament with token women imposed on constituency parties through all-women shortlists. Not one of them distinguished herself. They were just lobby-fodder for Blair and his masters in Washington.

    Plese, please, please, don’t take the party down this road!

  • @Charles

    I think the tone of the responses given to Davina are more to do with the tone of her post to begin with. Perhaps an emotional response but a perfectly understandable one, The issue is that her points cross the line between bluntness and crassness – and instead of presenting a view on the topic at hand the post presents an ad hominem attack at those in the party who opposes her view and presents it as a point that is beyond debate.

    There have been some practical issues with the motion brought forward – rather than simply whether or not positive discrimination is a good thing in principle – and these have not been answered. Notably this one:

    “Scotland has 11 Lib Dem MPs. Only two of those MPs live in constituencies were the number of BME people become statistically noticeable. How can you get a local BME candidate from such small BME communities?”

    I am no libertarian. Positive discrimination has its advantages and is not incompatible in every situation to a liberal society – discrimination by need for unskilled jobs for instance I feel is an excellent idea – but with situations where skill does come into the equation, particularly with factors like race or gender, I often find myself opposed. I’m of the view that if positive selection is used too heavily that it implies (intentionally or not) that the BME/LGBT/female candidate is somehow less able if they needed this to obtain their position.

    And I don’t think that is ideal – it is a terrible shame we lack BME MPs but I would rather we had none than have a token few who have their abilities questioned because they had this positive discrimination – effectively having their abilities questioned because of their race! In a society like that of 20 or 30 years ago when racism was so incredibly rife I would have a different view so even this isn’t hard and fast, but I don’t think this kind of response is appropriate today and in this party.

  • Regardless of how women or BAME candidates get through to selection and (eventually) election, people will always whisper or even openly question whether they got there through special treatment. So the argument that positive discrimination leads to such talk is a non-starter, because people say those things any way.

    Is maternity leave sexist? No, because women, whilst equal, are different and women who want to have children have different leave requirements than men.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 7:42pm

    @DunKhan – you can never have seen crass language before. The text is blunt, strong without expletives and you call it crass? Emotional, even?

    I am of a different generation, a different background – when confronted with difference, one should not seek to pound the diversity flat with a conformity hammer. I consider it a great advantage that I can communicate wit within my expressions to you all. I can amend them as I need to, when necessary. This is not that time.

    If I were not Black, I would be blue in the face. It is unfortunate that my approach – or the gift I have been blessed with – the gift of rhetoric is a barrier for som eof you. If everyone in a party were in agreement with the other, this would not be politics.

    I do not seeek to have everyone agree with my point. Liberallism is fundamentally fighting for those without a voice, how can we do that if we can not even hear them ourselves?

    If this organisation were a public institution, we would have been slapped with a productive equality and diversity strategy at the beginining of this century. This organisation is at least 10 years behind everyone else. That is the point.

    The Met Police had to do it, local authorites have had to do it. The Conservative conceeded to sense and did it. Are we so arrogant as to conclude that we do have to do the same thing?

    The problem IS people putting themselves forward – that problem has arised as a consequence of the make-up of the party. Labour DOES NOT HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM.

    And contrary to the spirit of liberallism, you may pick apart my language, my understanding of my politics, you may even attack my competence – but you still have not heard my voice.

  • To try and take this to a calmer level, I think mark V gets it spot on. There is a debate to be had, aswe are clearly failing, but the measures in this motion were prettyinpractical, whether or not they were illiberal. For a start,we simply do not have enough bme candidates to impose a guaranteed space on shortlists for target seats. What would you do if we had this rule, and no bme candidate applied? Force one to? Not proceed with the selection?

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 8:13pm

    If no-one applied – so be it. At least we have covered the basis and allowed for equality of opportunity. I do not think for one minute we should be forcing BME candidates to apply or even making it easy for less competent BME candidates to apply. It is making a provision.

  • Davina,

    Honest, non-confrontational question:-

    What makes BME’s different from other people to warrent action to pushing them to the front of the queue?

    Kind Regards


  • Ok – but then the plan would fail – there is a problem of BME candidates not getting selected but there is a bigger problem of not having BME candidates coming forward.

    In a recent selection I was invoilved with for a key seat, we had two BME applicants – both were shortlisted, neither was selected. The guaranteed shortlist idea would not have made a smidgeon of difference in this case.
    I would suggest that if a good BME candidate goes forward for shortlisting, they are likely to get shortlisted, because there is an unacknowledged form of positive action in place in many selection panels already – i.e. if a good bme candidate comes forward – you shortlist them because you know it is good for the party.

    The two candidates I mentioned above are both very good, and thankfully both relatively young – I would like to see them both as parliamentarians one day.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 8:32pm

    If this country were a bed of equality, we could all tie our laces and head home. Answer this: if you had to attend prison lifers’ conference and spotted a yellow flag emblazoned with a bird, where would you head to? When the police were accused of not being representative of the communities they policed, did they complain that BME applicants weren’t applying? Closing the electoral gap, reducing the representative – not the political – difference to the competition warrants a proactive strategy.

    @Andrew, I’m sure none of us are proposing preventing candidates from having the opportunity to stand. Your issue is there are six places on a shortlist – five are white candidates and the sixth is a BME candidate using the reserved place: that BME candidate is preventing another white candidate from having the opportunity to stand?

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 8:44pm

    I cannot tell you why there are no BAME candidates for the presidency. I simply do not know. But I can say that it seems to me all we have been doing is specualting on why change won’t work instead of changing and then observing the facts. The problem and the solution seem to me to be walking hand in hand. “Build it and they will come”.

    This party is in need of a serious revamp. It just seems that members are naturally on the defensive as if changing will harm the party in some way. It hasn’t done any harm to Labour or the Conservatives to make a cohesive effort to come across as the party and vehicle of choice for the UK electorate. What other variable is there that can account for the lack of numbers if not BME representation and the BME vote?

  • @Davina

    Thank you for that, but that wasn’t really an answer as to why you propose segregating people on racial grounds. What, in your opinion, makes BME’s different from other people, to warrant being pushed to the front of the queue?

    Your comment regarding the police begs other questions. Should we object to a black policeman patrolling a neighbourhood where most people are white? Should the muslim community object to a jewish policeman patrolling their community?

    It’s all fruit of the poisonous tree. If we are to formally recognise that humanity is not equal, and that people should be segregated on religious, racial etc.. grounds, then where does it end?

    For the last hundred years quite rightly the civil rights movement has been a fight for equality. I don’t remember hearing Martin Luthor King arguing for anything other than:-

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

    Supporting the segregation of humanity, however noble your goals (and I do believe you clearly have noble aims here) is a very dangerous road to go down.

    “You should get the nomination because your black”
    “You aren’t allowed onto the shortlist because you’re white, and the community around is predominantly black”

    I hope those are things I never hear coming from the Liberal Democrats.

  • Charles Anglin 23rd Sep '10 - 8:49pm

    I regret to say that I think a lot of the comments on here are willfully blind – to deny that there is ever racism during our selections is ridiculous, I do not beleive that the LDs are somehow uniquely immune to an issue that effects every other British institution to some degree. Now that said, I don’t think we are in anyway the worst but the state of denial I’m reading on here is worrying.

    I have enormous respect for Mark V who is one of the most thopughtful & instictively liberal people I know in the party but I do fear he is being rather naive. I can only point to my own experience, where after being rejected for a shortlist in a held seat I went for feedback only to be told that I was ‘too urban’ and instead an all white luist went forward to the Local Party members, what would you call that – ‘a lack of cultural affinity’?

    Of course most situations aren’t like that but we don’t know how many are, and just dismissing these concerns just helps to turn black people off the party even more. The larger reason for BME candidates not getting selected is of course the lack of applicants coming forward, but why are so few candidates coming forward? Why do so many BME people see the LDs as out of touch & irrelevant? If we beleive in empowering communities, all communities then we need to reach out to those communities and bring them into the party – that will not work though until they see the party trying to reflect their communities and yes that means more BME candidates in winnable seats.

    The motion wasn’t a great one – there are other ways of doing what they were seeking, for instance the English, Welsh or Scottish Candidates Committees could be given the right to scrutinise shortlists in target seats to ensure they reflect the diversity in their region. If not they could be allowed to add additional names to the list, anyway the point is not the exact mechanism, its that positive action needs to be taken to ensure that BME and other minorities get a fair chance to be heard by local members when choosing candidates.

    Simply saying that there is nothing stopping BME communties getting involve misses the point entirely – freedom is not just the absence of restraint, it is the opportunity to exercise your choice free of hindrance and sometimes that means giving people who are excluded, or feel excluded that active help and support to engage. That doesn’t sound like racism that sounds like liberalism.

  • @Charles Anglin

    “to deny that there is ever racism during our selections is ridiculous”

    Not disputing what you say at all, but all you can go on is the evidence and try to fix it as best you can. Could you please provide some examples as to when a BME candidate was passed over in a questionable manner?

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 9:03pm

    With all due respect, I believe Charles just offered up his own experience of being passed over in a questionable manner.

  • Charles Anglin 23rd Sep '10 - 9:04pm


    I thought I just did

    “I can only point to my own experience, where after being rejected for a shortlist in a held seat I went for feedback only to be told that I was ‘too urban’ and instead an all white luist went forward to the Local Party members”

    Anyway, my central point is not active racism blocking BME candidates but inertia alienating BME communties and isolating the party from people whose support we desperatelky need if we are ever going to win places like Sheffield Central or Islington South. We need to pro-actively recruit BME people, give them support to get selected – as we now do through the Gender Balance Taskforce for women, and yes to take pro-active measures to ensure that target seat shortlists reflect the diveristy of their region.

  • Meral HUssein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 9:12pm

    @Davina – I want to thank you for your inciteful, honest piece. Yes another woman from a BME background is joining this debate! As the outgoing chair of EMLD can I put it to the gentlemen who are so against any form of action to create a level playing field, address the complete lack of pluralism, and apparently (I hope I’m wrong) are only too happy with the status quo, and the only contribution being made thus far, is a lot of theatrical hand-wrining.
    Can we slay some myths please?: positve action is legal, and used all the time. As Davina set out here:

    “If this organisation were a public institution, we would have been slapped with a productive equality and diversity strategy at the beginining of this century. This organisation is at least 10 years behind everyone else. That is the point”
    “The Met Police had to do it, local authorites have had to do it. The Conservative conceeded to sense and did it. Are we so arrogant as to conclude that we dont have to do the same thing? ”

    I would go further: are some of the contributers above suggesting that the Metropolitan Police are acting illegally, by adopting positive action measures to employ more BME police officers?, without whom they would not be able to effectively police one of the most multicultural, multifaith cities in the world?

    @Matthew Shapland – I am extremely disappointed that you still insist on saying that we were proposing all black short lists. I spent a lot of time explaining to you what is Liberal Democrat policy – that if legislation to allow all black short lists came before Parliament, then we as a Party would support it. Just as we did for all women short lists. Nick Clegg has given this pledge. It doesn’t mean we would adopt these measures, should they become law. I also told you that we had agreed to take that line out, as it had become a distraction from the modest measures we were proposing.
    Yet you still used your speech to say how we were calling for all black short lists – and you are repeating it again here! I’d be pleased to here what exactly Liberal Youth would like to do. We know what you’re against. What are you for??
    For all those who keep saying how ‘BME people are not coming forward’ including @mark valladares. Have we figured out why this is yet? We are a predominately white male party. We will not attract BME people easily, until we have BME representation at every level in our Party. That means MPs, AMs, MEPS, more councillors, Party chairs, etc etc. Its not rocket science.
    There is nothing liberal about preserving the status quo.
    This motion was an EMLD motion, and not intended to address all other equality sections. It was given this name by the FCC. If other SAOs are so concerned about the lack of diversity in the Party, then they too can put forward their own motions. Its taken 5 years of trying to finally get a motion on BME representation onto the conference agenda.
    I and my colleagues are even more determined and will be working hard with the Party Leadership, the FE, and other bodies to ensure that we take urgent action to address this unacceptable deficit. And please dont tell me that we had 40 BME PPCs at the last election. Only one of those was in what was termed a target seat.
    Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Or are we saying we don’t want to widen our membership base and attract more votes?

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 9:24pm

    @Douglas There you go again – my personal passion is a fundamental flaw to my aproach. Can you show me somene who has achieved something without being passionate about it or committed to it?
    The solution does not lie with the BME community – this is shifting the focus. You can not change the BME community; you can change the party.
    Do you suggest the BME cmmunity do not ut themselves forward becasue there is something wrong with them? After 20 years – we still don’t know what the barriers are? Or is it that we haven’t really bothered to actively cnfront that yet?
    I invite you to show me where I have called anyone racist – and what is crass, Douglas, is the disregard of issues or the deflection of responsibility of a problem important to your fellow liberals.

    I do not in anyway feel attacked. I understand that this cause is one few would choose to champion; the reasons for this are quite aparent.

    You seem to want to be fluffed and nudged softly to address this issue; after putting it on a back burner for 2 decades, I am quite satisfied that my “angry and sarcastic” voice seems to have frightened and offended the life out of you.

    It is frequently said, when a person of colour addresses something with passion, that they are branded ‘angry and sarcastic’, has ‘attitude’, is ‘confrontational’. I am quite familiar with this. I can not be held responsible for members reaction to my words. I do however accept all of them as equally valid.

  • The arguments against positive discrimination are usually somewhat ill thought out.

    The first point I often here is that it is wrong to discriminate on any basis, ‘discrimination is wrong: full stop’.

    Yet jdiscriminating based on intelligence and ability is seen as perfectly acceptable. SO the problem is not with ‘discrimination’ per se.

    You could say ‘racial discrimination’ is unacceptable. Yet positive discriminate (and please do call it positive discrimination, because that is the correct term) is used to combat negative discrimination. It is used to readress the balance, not promote a balance in favour of ethnic minorities.

    Discrimination based on how far a person is deemed ‘acceptable’ to the electoral is also discrimination, some of it is legitimate…. but some can be tied to pandering to racial or irrational stereotypes.

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that there is systemic bias both within politics and a raange of professions. The fact is that a minority candidate in a number of jobs (including politics) is less likely to be accepted

    When you have biased people making the decisions, conciously or not, then there is little that can be done to counter this bias than artifiically discriminate to compensate for the bias.

    Are you all against positive discrimination for state school students vs private school students for example? WHen state schools get to university traditionally a larger proportion achieve better grades than their privately educated counterparts at the same universities…. but these counter parts have had an inherent advantage. It is a fact that white males have an inherent advantage over minority groups.

    You can either beat about the bush and keeping saying ‘it’s only because minorities are not interested’ or you can accepted the well documented systemic bias and support limited positive discrimination. There is no other feasible solution to the problem, partly because a party which lacks minorities is self-perpetuating in that lack of minorities. No other solution will wrork in the long-term, it never has and it never will. Eventually, when minorities achieve adequate representation, positive discrimination can probably be discarded….. but I see nothing wrong with giving a helping hand to those who are at a disadvantage. Postive discrimination is necessary to compensate for disadvantages.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 9:35pm

    @Andrew – so let us do that. Let us make and back a motion for ONE reserved place on THE shortlist for a BME candidate.

  • Charles Anglin 23rd Sep '10 - 9:40pm


    I’m not sure that you calling people liars or me naming & shaming people is a very productive way to conduct a discussion among fellow liberals

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Sep '10 - 9:41pm

    This is my line in the sand: I will not tolerate discrimination on any basis other than ability. I don’t care what your excuses are. Selecting candidates based on their skin colour is wrong. It does not become less wrong when they are brown.

    I do not have any time or respect for any person who thinks they should be treated better than another because of the way they look.

  • Stuart Wheatcroft 23rd Sep '10 - 9:42pm

    I’d like to thank Liberal Youth for their efforts in turning this motion from a dangerous endorsement of discrimination into something far more acceptable. Yes, there is a problem. No, the motion as amended was not radical, and no, it doesn’t contain all the answers. But the party is reviewing the nature of the problem. We need to find out exactly what is going on. If there are cases where people feel they have been discriminated against, as Charles Anglin is saying, then that suggests that there is a problem, at least in some areas. However, it’s a problem which the motion as originally proposed simply dodged. There may be other problems. It may also be that many potential BAME candidates self-deselect against much the same criterion, thinking that the colour of their skin or perhaps even just their name might reduce the chances of securing the election of a Liberal Democrat – in which case the proposed measures wouldn’t even succeed in papering over the cracks, never mind resolving the fundamental issue. The solution to discrimination, where it exists, is not requiring discrimination in the opposite direction. That is honestly one of the things I dislike most about the Labour party, and I am proud to be a member of a party which refuses to go down that road.

    We need to find out what the problem is before we can treat it. Is the problem one of membership? With the approved list? (I understand not, from the debate.) With the geographic distribution of where BAME potential candidates seek to stand (if five people want to stand for a seat, four will inevitably be disappointed)? With the selection procedure? At the hustings? Or perhaps it’s just that we didn’t get the electoral breakthrough we wanted, and if we had things would look different. I don’t know the answer. I don’t think anybody does for sure yet.

    As a liberal, I dislike putting people in boxes. Or rather, I like to see each person as their own box, the contents of which are not my business unless that person chooses to share. I dislike the term BAME, and indeed terms such as LGBT. These words seek to create artificial collections of people, with the implication that they have common interests. That in turn carries the highly disagreeable suggestion that those interests are not shared by those outside. Discrimination against (and I fear I must again resort to the term) BAME people is not something which only concerns them. It is offensive. It is an outrage. And discrimination in favour of BAME people is just as bad, however noble the intentions (and I do not doubt that it was nobly meant). It reinforces the barriers which separate people from others because of ancestry, and which liberals must always seek to tear down. The sky would not have fallen in had Conference accepted this, but the party would have become that little bit less liberal, and that little bit less fair. It was for that reason that I voted for amendment two, and for that reason that I would have voted against the motion itself had amendment two failed.

  • Simon Cowell 23rd Sep '10 - 9:43pm

    @Davina sorry to break it to you love but if this discussion is anything to go by, you really dont have the gift of rhetoric

  • Ruth Bright 23rd Sep '10 - 9:43pm

    Davina, I joined the Liberal Party when I was 18, I am now 43 and I wish I’d kept count of every time in the last 25 years I’ve been told that it was all about to change, ‘one more heave’, a bit of mentoring here and awareness training there and we would have the lovely diverse party we wanted.

    I seriously believe that in another 25 years time I will be wheeled into the conference hall by one of my grandchildren, turn up my hearing aid to the max and be told it’s all about to change etc. etc etc.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 9:49pm

    @Andrew Tennant – The line that was taken out of the motion – as I’ve explained ad nauseum, was reiterating party policy. I will try again: All black shortlists are not allowed or lawful, because the legislation has not been passed. We stated that in the original version of our motion, that SHOULD this become law at some point in the future, then we believe if no prgress has been made, then the should be applied – at some point in the future..
    I accept that the wording was not as clear as it should be. Hence whay IT WAS TAKEN OUT.
    Its pretty unhelpful for you to accuse people of lying. Not sure how you think this takes the debate forward in any way, or how you think you are in any way contributing anyhting positve in this debate.
    On @Matthew – I reiterate, I have no problem with him or anyone else disagreeing with our view. What I have a problem with is after having a face to face meeting, explaining that this line was being removed by the movers, then Matthew goes on to repeat that he is against the proposal for “all BME shorlists”
    As I said to Liberal Youth, the fastest growing section of the youth community in the UK is the BME youth. How are they going to attract and recruit more BME youth? What is their strategy?. Perfectly reasonable question to put to an SAO, who have made it clear what they are against, but not a word about what they propose instead.

  • No one has respondedto my point that a guaranteed placeonashortlist would not see more bme candidates selected nor elected as long as we have a shortage of bme potential candidates.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 9:53pm

    @”Simon Cowell” That depends on your perspective. And your persective is not one I’d be in a hurry to experience. Out of this entire discussion, if that is the first thing you can think of to say, then your input and your perspective are both – irrelevant.

  • I understand your frustration Davina, but it was not a Liberal Youth amendment – it was one voted on and supported by many, and I feel that your title is too emotive, because the amendment agreed there was a problem, and offered many many ways out of the problem in the near future.

    Jo Swinson’s argument was the most persuasive: CGB has been going for a long time with some positive steps – but never ones which many members felt were perhaps illiberal. Because of its work, 50% of the top 10 target seats were women this time round. But EMLD has not adopted these methods, and I believe that if it did operate like CGB it would have far more success. Can I join the Campaign for Ethnic Minority Balance? Because I would support similar actions as CGB as these have proved so successful.

    But we should also bear in mind that all the calls for quotas etc… were made with a dis-regard of all the work currently being undertaken by the party. This work, research and review into the problem – which I agree is terrible – will produce some fruit, but it only began properly 18 months ago – way to late for decent selections in target seats. And the motion was introduced without consultation with many in the party. It was top down. Hence we had regional selectors having to explain that the practicalities simply would not work (I accept their judgment here).

    3rd – to call for research, and publish what that research should recommend in the same motion is illogical.

    On another note – Every instance of discrimination heard should be reported, publicly. I was appalled by some of the stories, and the local party chair who said someone was too ‘urban’ should be expelled immediately.

    I care passionately about this issue, but the motion was a bad, unconsulted one and though I disagree – it is a good article. (Some of the comments are unfair.)

  • And Davina, you are right, Simon Cowell’s comment is weak, and in my view bordering on sexist.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 9:59pm

    @Dom – in London Region, where they have taken decision that for the all party list for GLA, one out of top four should be BME, and two out of six. I’m informed that over 30 potential candidates have so far expressed an interest in applying. The issue that hasn’t really been mentioned much here, in that when we see positive action – ie, measures put in place as with the Met Police, to attract more people from a particular group, that this often sends out a signal to potential candidates that they are being positively welcome. In our case that the LDs are open for business. It does work. Local authorities, and the NHS, have been using these lawful measures for decades.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 10:02pm

    @dom how can you be sure if it has never been done?
    @Douglas, I think we have had enough people who adjust their mesages for their audience. In this case – how would you ever hear anything different if each message was crafted to sound the same? I have a message. I have delivered it. To be honest, some of the responses I have got just tell me that this party isn’t the one for me. I should take my liberallism and stick to Labour. With Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Oona King, David Lammy and Chuka Umunna.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 10:10pm

    @Henry – EMLD receive a very small sum of money from the Party, less than 5% of CGB funds. We are all volunteers. Despite this we fundraise and were instrumental in the developenment of the ‘New Generation Programme’ consisting of more that 60 BME party members, many young, talented, who are keen top play a role in our Party. I personally recruited many, and initiated this programme. Because we did not have enough candidates after the last election. We will not have this excuse next time. We have many talented BME approved candidates. All EMLD called for in its motion, was to allow at least ONE BME approved applicant to be on the shortlist when we had selections for a by election, a retiring MP, or in seats where we need a 5% swing. Very modest. You’d think that Liberals, with a sense of radical politics would have welcomed something positive to address the complete lack of diversity. This meausre would have ensured more BME people applied for seats. I will await to hear what measures everyone above who is so against this, think we should use. (while not holding my breath)

  • Rabi Martins 23rd Sep '10 - 10:11pm

    Thank you for giving us the perspective of an ordinary prospective BME voter — until the Liberal Democrats in Parliament reflect the people it serves there is little incentive for you and other BME voters to support us –

    Simon Wooley, who works tirelessly to encourage BME participation in politics had this to say after the result of the Diversity motion yesterday

    “I’m depressed. There’s no other term for it. I’ve just sat through two hours of the Liberal Democrats’ diversity debate that sought to address the fact that they, as elected politicians at Westminister, the Greater London authority, the Welsh assembly, the Scottish parliament and the European parliament, are all white, with very few women, and none have disabilities. And yet they voted to do nothing. They decided to throw out every practical measure aimed at addressing the structural inequality that has persisted for the last 50 years.
    The former councillor Charles Anglin summed up the fundamental problem within the party when he informed conference that he was told by the local party chair of a target seat that he didn’t win the nomination because he was “too urban”. The party’s only deaf councillor, David Buxton, implored the conference to recognise the inequalities within the party for people of disability and minority ethnic communities and demanded positive action. His pleas held no sway.
    Instead, speaker after speaker passionately reminded the conference that any intervention, including having black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates on shortlists for target seats, or having a programme to recruit more BME members, was discriminatory and therefore illiberal. In spite of being told that the colour-blind approach would simply maintain the status quo, that well meaning but misguided thinking prevailed.
    What was particularly depressing about this debate is that we’ve been here before. Many times before. It usually occurs every five years, or when a new leader takes the helm. In 1997 Paddy Ashdown showcased some 30 BME candidates for that election, proclaiming that, although it was unlikely any would be elected, the next election would be the breakthrough. Similar noises were made by Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell and as recently as last year, Nick Clegg stated that if the Lib Dems remained all white after the election he would consider it a failure.
    Actually the real failure is within the party leadership. Having promised to prioritise the issue, other than Simon Hughes – who made an impassioned speech in favour of the motion – the leadership were nowhere to be seen.
    Ultimately, today’s decision will not help the party become more appealing to minority ethnic communities. Under the Cameron project the Conservatives realised that a 21st-century party had to be more inclusive and representative. They also realised that to make the breakthrough strong leadership would have to convince the party that change needed to happen, and where necessary they would use positive-action measures such as the A list, or persuading Tory grandees to mentor brilliant candidates. Their efforts made history. They went from a miserable two BME politicians to a respectable 12, the largest increase at one time by any political party.
    The Liberal Democrat bosses face many challenges in the weeks and months ahead, not least implementing coalition cuts at a rate that would normally have their rank and file manning the barricades in opposition. But they must not ignore the inequality within their own party. Confronting their internal problems of representation will also aid in bringing in a new generation of supporters, who will see that this isn’t a party that just talks the talk when it comes to diversity, but walks the walk too ”

    @ Martin Shapland – you did a huge dis-service to the Party yesterday by orchestrating a vote against the motion especially as Meral has already pointed out in her post the the movers of the motion agreed to delete the lines relating to support for all black lists. Incidentally Nick Clegg is already on record that if the the Party did not elect a BME MP within the next two elections (the 2010 and 2015) then he would support an All BAME lists. Those lines were merely giving the leader the right to support the expected legislation because to do otherwise would be scandalous
    Liberal Democrats should be at the forefront of the fight to make Parliament more representative – not lagging behind the Conservatives

    @ Mark – You were right to change your mind and support the motion because you recognised that we just cannot go on election after election fielding BME candidates in no hope seats. You are wrong to suggest that BME candidates are not prepared to travel where-ever necessary and do whatever it takes to get elected I know from my discussions with candidates that if they were given the opportunity to fight a potentially winnable seat they are prepared to do what it takes.
    You also know from your role as returning officer the number of appeals that leading BME candidates have had to face in good seats.
    And please dont anyone tell me we dont have enough capable BME candidates
    In 2001 we fielded 17 – more than either of the other two Parties
    in 2005 we fielded 36 and in 2010 – 46 .
    Many of them applied for and failed to get onto short lists of winnable seats
    Agreed much of evidence is anecdotal – but that does not make it any less true just because the sources happens to be BME
    Sorry if I sound angry … I am
    But more than angry – I am sad because once again my Party has refused to adopt measures that could end the ethnic deficit
    What I cannot understand is why the Party felt able to we create special condidtions to help our Women get into positions when they could have a fair chance of gettineg elcted but dont feel able to do the same for BAME candidates

  • Davina, I live in a moderately marginal seat, some 150 miles from London. Presumably at some time we shall be advertising for a PPC.

    Because we are moderately marginal, we would expect the PPC to show up and do something two or three days a week, and increase this as we get closer to an election. Obviously, there is no money to subsidise travel from outside. And time is at a premium. So the PPC would almost certainly have to come and live and work in the area. There are not very many low paid jobs and medium paid jobs going begging as it is, and high paid (London-style ones) even fewer..

    No doubt if you (or whoever) were to come here to work the patch as it needs to be worked, on a daily basis, you might make some headway. If not, not.

    The last time we had a London-based candidate (white, male etc) , we failed miserably. Wealthy Londoners do not “look like us”, you see. Your phrase, I think.

    It has to be recognised that, round here, people (in general) are pretty tribal. If you are born here, grew up here, work here and have hundreds of cousins round here, it certainly helps. The alternative is to have some incredible fame, charisma – even wealth – to make any headway.

    Putting up a token BME candidate just to make up the numbers will not win the Lib Dems another seat in our case. And members are aware of that when they make their choice..

    Footnote: Labour don’t do that either. They send only white candidates to the slaughter round here…..

  • Keep it up Davina, you’re absolutely right! Our BME record is dismal and the party has become bogged down in “meaningless debate” on the issue. We clearly need to do something. I’m not sure that all black shortlists are necessarily the solution, but the party does need to seriously address this issue one way or another.

    Can I suggest that you ignore the patronising remarks in this thread, DO stand for the Lib Dems and keep campaigning! We badly need more passionate young activists like you, black or white.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 10:20pm

    I have been asked by Simon Woolley to publish my “Open Letter to the Liberal Democrats” (as it was titled before the LDV editor added the current headline) on the Operation Black Vote website. It will be published in the morning. I would appreciate someone from the party – someone against the motion providing a counter article to the BME electorate for balance. Email to [email protected]

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 10:26pm

    @John – totally agree. Totally against the parachuting in of candidates who haven’t lived and breathed the area. For this reason, Hackney is where my eye will remain.
    @trurojoe – thank you, deeply.
    @Douglas – my sheep’s line was intended to provoke reflection and a response – nothing else. If it has achieved that than use of it is justified. Whatever solution we agree to – we need it now and it needs to work. That is my message.

  • Davina Kirwan 23rd Sep '10 - 10:28pm

    I meant to thank trurojoe and others for their messages of support.


    Labour imposed an all-women shortlist on the Welsh constituency of Blaenau Gwent for the 2005 General Election.
    It was the safest Labour seat in Wales, 5th safest in the UK. Labour had won 72% of the vote in 2001.

    The result in the 2005 election? Labour’s 19,000 majority was overturned by an independent candidate (the former Labour Assembly Member). Who won with a majority of 9,000.

    It wasn’t anything against women: the present AM for BG is a woman. It was resentment at Labour hq parachuting in an outsider and imposing their choice. Voters want local candidates who understand local issues and connect with the local people. Not outsiders who fulfil some quota set in party hq.

    The population, btw, is (2001): White: 99.2%; Asian: 0.3%; Mixed: 0.3%; Other: 0.2%, so finding a local non-white Lib Dem candidate could be tricky.

  • Elaine Bagshaw 23rd Sep '10 - 10:33pm

    As the person that drafted the amendment to the motion and moved it yesterday, I feel the need to comment.

    Firstly, as Henry pointed out, this was not a Liberal Youth amendment. I drafted it as (at the moment) an armchair member of the party who read the motion and felt that whilst a number of excellent points were made, the conclusions on what needed to be done to resolve the issue would not be effective, and that the huge effort and resource that has been put into working on this in the past 18 months was disregarded by the motion. I then discussed the amendment with people from across the party and got 13 delegates to support. Some of these were Liberal Youth delegates but were not on my recollection a majority.

    Secondly, it is a complete fallacy to claim that those of us who moved the amendment did not propose other measures, there was a substantial section of the amendment that called for the continued support of the Next Generation program and similar programs. These have only been running for 18 months and therefore have not been able to affect our Parliamentary party representation for a number of factors, a substantial one being that 18 months ago we had already selected the candidates for our target seats, and a number of our “moving forward” seats. Myself and the other supporters of the amendment have already spoken to a number of people who will be working on the review that EMLD’s motion called for and have suggested areas that need to be looked at and ideas that we have for resolving this issue. This includes looking at where in the selection process BAME candidates are dropping out e.g. is it at shortlisting or selection; and how we do selections, such as the proposal made in the debate of a regional A-list along the lines of Cameron’s A-list.

    Some of the stories heard in the debate were, indeed, appalling and any instance where discrimination occurs or is thought have occurred must be reported and addressed by the party.

    The issue of training is not supposed to come across as patronising or assuming that BAME candidates are less able PPCs or MPs. But there a lot of nuances to becoming a PPC and everyone should be empowered to seek selection if they wish. I am immensely grateful for all of the help I’ve had from the Campaign for Gender Balance on things such as how to run a selection campaign, and I want to see this kind of enabling program extended to other groups we don’t have enough representatives from – not just women and BAME.

    Most who spoke in favour of our amendment yesterday stated they recognise this is an issue and as the drafter of the amendment I am well aware that we are not representative enough. But the motion had not been drafted well, nor for that matter composited well by FCC, other SAOs and relevant organisations weren’t consulted and it ignored the work of the party’s Diversity team and the fact that there is already a review of this going on in the party at the moment. Campaign for Gender Balance was only successful because like Jo Swinson drove forward the project, and myself and the supporters of yesterday’s amendment are looking forward to developing our proposals and working with the party’s Diversity Unit on their implementation.

  • Elaine Bagshaw 23rd Sep '10 - 10:38pm

    Hit post and then remembered my other point.

    The HUGE issue that no-one seems to be discussing or recognising that cuts across all of our Diversity strands is money.

    Just to get selected you have to travel around a constituency, meeting members, going to every jumble sale and raffle going and meeting as many members as possible. That takes money. There was an excellent motion put to FCC that didn’t get picked for proposing grants for candidates. Yes, it doesn’t fix the issue of selection but you can see what it’s getting at.

    This is one thing that I am lobbying for the review called for yesterday to look into, and I think grants for candidates are a possible way forward on this.

  • As a young female who will soon be standing for candidacy approval, if I were to get on a shortlist just for being a woman, I would instantly step down.

    All women short-lists offend and disgust me as it suggests we can’t make it on our own – all BME lists would no doubt offend a lot of the BME community as well. There should be no bars or discrimination based on colour, gender or sexuality and that means there should be no positive discrimination either

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 10:42pm

    @Davina – You would be most welcome, and a valuable asset to the LDs.
    @ trurojoe – spot on
    @Jo Christie-Smith – totally agree. No-one else seems to have spotted the implication of Lib Youth’s ill thought out, and impractical amendment: try and inflate the approved candidates, but forget doing anything about helping them get anywhere near any seats where they might stand a chance.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 10:51pm

    @Elaine Bagshaw – with respect, calling for:
    ” .the continued support of the Next Generation program and similar programs” will do nothing.
    What does it mean?
    Why do you and others think that BME people need lots of training, while white men do not?
    Were white people born to be MPs?
    I think in your earlier amendment that was not taken, you stated that BME candidates should be ‘sympathetic to the Party’, and be ‘competent’. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I have heard these arguments for the last 10 years. Why do we assume that people from a BME background, who have gone throught he same approval system need to demonstrate they are as equal as any other man or woman?
    Your amendment just said – keep doing more of the same. ie nothing.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 10:52pm

    @Elaine Bagshaw – forgot to say, I agreed with your point on funding

  • Charles Anglin 23rd Sep '10 - 10:53pm


    thank you for injecting a note of moderation into what was starting to feel like unceasing shrill argument against Davina’s stance. I would only point out though that the motion, which I agree was poorly drafted would only have resulted in guaranteeing fair access to target list shortlists for BME candidates in the same way that the party’s constitution has done since it’s inception in 1988.

    Training for BME potential is vital but I fear that unless the Lib Dems are unique among British institutions then his will not be enough. Let’s do for BME candidates what we already do for women – including positve action

  • Meral Hussein Ece 23rd Sep '10 - 10:56pm

    @Jo Christie-Smith – totally agree.
    I would urge people to read the Report of the Speakers Conference on Parliamentary Representation, which all Parties supported. http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=navclient&aq=0h&oq=&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GFRE_enGB317GB317&q=speakers+conference+report

  • George W. Potter 23rd Sep '10 - 11:36pm

    I am white, male, middle class and disabled. Since so many people seem to be stating their background when commenting (as if it somehow makes their argument more valid) I thought that I should do the same.

    I try to view the colour of a person’s skin in the same way that I view their hair colour, or whether they’re left handed or not, or any of the other trivial differences that distinguish one human from another. I fail sometimes, of course, because no one is perfect and because it is human nature to try and pigeon hole people. However, to discriminate between people on any grounds other than merit is wrong, plain and simple. I don’t see how it helps to patronise people by acting as though they need a leg up – what we can and should do and (as far as I am aware) do do is to ensure that those who select candidates are not racist and do not discriminate between candidates other than on merit. The best we can do is to ensure that the application process is as free from discrimination as we can make it – to do less is to betray our values but to introduce what is (despite how people try to dress it up) selective racism betrays our values just the same.

    Davina, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion, just as I and others are entitled to ours. To essentially call us racists is very offensive and I hope that you adopt a less combative and insulting tone in future.

  • George W. Potter 23rd Sep '10 - 11:39pm

    Incidentally, I think the best thing to do to remedy the disparity is to encourage more people of *all* backgrounds to stand as candidates and to provide more resources on how to become a candidate. <— As the Americans say, just my two cents.

  • Jonathan Huint 23rd Sep '10 - 11:45pm

    Sorry, first one escaped uncorrected.

    I am a white middle-aged Anglo-saxon male. Yet I am proud to say I am an ethnic minority in the south London constituency where I have lived for 37 years. Non-whites are now in a majority. And when next year’s census figures are released, many inner-city areas will be much the same.

    This will add up to millions of votes that these ignorant, prejudiced, illiberal bigots have lost for the party wherever black and minority ethnic people live.

    The term positive discrimination was so continuously and wrongly used that it must have been planned as a deliberate co-ordinated act to mislead delegates.

    As we all know positive action is legal and used by thousands of employers to correct past discrimination and allow them to make use of the talents of groups who are under-represented in their organisations. It embraces such actions as fast-tracking, training and mentoring.

    We need to do this to lay a strong foundation of trained and confident council and parliamentary candidates for the future, especially where they may have been regarded as “too urban”.

    But we also need to counter all that past discrimination (which these over-priviliged young advocates of exclusion think it fine to ignore) by dramatic and effective means. The motion embraced both these needs.

    But while it did not include positive duscrimination, let us look more closely at discrimination in this context.

    It is more a matter of morality than legality. We discriminated in favour of slaves and against slaveowners when we stopped the slave trade. We discriminated in favour of small children and against sweeps, mill and mineowners when we stopped them going up chimneys, into mills and down mines.

    Any worthwhile change or redistribution involves a form of discrimination. That is morally right when it benefits the needy and havenots at the expense of the haves. But there have always been the equivalants of the supporters of yesterday’s wrecking amendment to stand up for the haves.

    It makes us all the more determined to come back in the spring better organised, better equipped to put the facts to conference and with an even better motion and to let right prevail.

  • Others are right to point out this is partly a wealth, class and education issue.

    The fact of the matter is that in this country, due to both discrimination adn the fact that minorities may come from poorer backgrounds initially… a greater proportion of ethnic minorities is of a lower class, less wealth and have less access to education than the average white male.

    So whilst there is a problem with institutional racism (even if it is not intended as such: see ‘too urban’ above) there is an economic and social component to this also.

    The fact is that the Li b Dems, more so than Labour, are a middle class party primarily supported by people at and above the national average wage.

    The fact that ethnic minorities are already at a social advantage would likely make it even more difficult to appeal to middle class selection commitees who are trying to win over middle class voters. This might partially be due to career and educational oppertunities, which are already poorer for those of ethnic minority groups.

    So even if the ethnicity issue is not often an issue with selecting candidates (which IMO, I believe is underestimated purely because we consider ourselves the most tolerant party)…. then the societal issues that come with being a minority candidate may well be,

    I can not imagine it is easy to campaign to be a councillor or an MP (or be selected as such) unless you already have a substantial income and lot of spare time.That favours the more wealthy middle class candidates and that in itself presents a systemic bias against people from ethnic backgrounds. you also have the problems of social connections, where ethnic minorities, being distinct from the same groups that most lib dem candidates come from, are less likely to receive patronage and are perhaps less easy to relate to for some middle class people (cf

    In reality, candidates will always be chosen on grounds other than purely ‘abilility’. They will be chosen partly on the demographic that they are meant to appeal to, and whether they appeal to the selectors. That is not ‘discrimination absed on ability’. SO those who say ‘discrimination should only be on grounds of ability’… I’m afraid that fight is already lost.

    Postive discrimination programshave been largely successful in talking under-representation of poorer people in society, where they have been implemented. It has always been the case that someone, for example, from a more inferior educational background may well have the potential to do just as well or better than somebody from a privileged education background. Universities have shown this to be the case, qualifications before university are deceptive in indicating how well people will actually do at university.

    From that premise, if we address the problem of lack of minority problem as more of a ‘social’ problem as opposed to a ‘racial’ issue, perhaps people here can begin to see the benefits of correcting systemic bias via postive discrimination.

  • Mark Valladares

    I think you make a good point, which fits in what I say below.

    Part of the problem might also be that the party chiefly appeals to middle class voters, and as such candidates from ethnic minorities will always be underepresented if Lib Dem safe seats are in middle class constituencies.

    But then again, part of the problem might be that we have less seats in minority constituencies because of theunderepresentation of minorities in our party, it appears we are less relevant to them?

    And such is the problem, the cycle perpetuates itself.

    The only realistic, effectual way to break that cycle would be limited positive action. I definetely do not think it should be done the way that Labour does it. Labour’s attitude seems to be populist in nature, ours should be constructive.

    The aim should be to take positive action only so that there are ethnic minority candidates competing on an equal level for selection for roles within the party.

    People can keep running in circles patting themselves on the back for asking ‘why are ethnic minority candidates under-represented’… the fact is the answers are obvious and can only realistically be addressed with limited positive action.

  • The fact that there is an underepresentation of people from working class backgrounds and an over-representation of people from private school backgrounds in our party kind of supports my earlier point that this may well be linked to social issues more than issues of racial bias (ironically I say this as a voter who attended private school).

    You don’t just need to tackle the problem with lack of representation of ethnic groups, although that is a priority, you need to make our concerns and sell our concerns as more relevant to working class people. Our party is more ideological and philosophical than the other parties, this debate highlights that, we need to find a way tp make liberalism obviously relevant to working class people. The ethnicity issue is related to this.

  • Meral – the key point then, is that EMLD needs more money. I know nothing of its structure, but are non-EMLD members allowed to join / vote etc… when are the next elections, and what are we doing – not to fundraise – but to get more funding?

    And also Meral – a) you are absolutely right: ‘Next time we will have no excuse.’ and b) the Next Gen. programme was great, but obv too late – this time we’ll get it right.

    I agree with most of the points on either side, I just don’t see the link between the motion, and the problem. It does not make sense to call for some genuine research into the issue, and then pre-empt the results.

  • Rabi Martins 24th Sep '10 - 9:40am

    @ Mark It is one thng to speak your mind and put your views across . Chris Lucas and Munira did just that and I have no problem with that
    And I have no quarrel with Martin doing the same

    However I stand by my line that Martin was wrong to oragnise a mass vote against the motion (or in favour of amendment 2 – which was the same thing ) It was wrong for “his people” to be alerted to come into the hall just to vote without hearing the debate. This sort of organising belongs to the Labour Left – not Liberal Democrats

  • Meral Hussein Ece 24th Sep '10 - 9:40am

    @Mark – I think its unhelpful to resort to this kind of language. I was responding to your point that not enough candidates are ‘coming forward’ That will apply far more to BME people on the approved list. I’m pretty certain that information from Cowley St will show that very few, if any, BME approved candidates applied to seats like Richmond Park, and Cambridge. Why would they bother? Its almost a given that they would fail in the present climate. (see Charles Anglins point above) If those local parties had been required to at least go out and attract BME canddiates from our excellent New Generation list for example, then that would’ve been a start. The key to your argument, is as I and Davina have said very clearly above, is that we do not have enough BME members, joining us in the first place. Many more have given us their support at local and general elections. But that hasn’t translated much into actual members. Mainly because of what we look like.
    @Dave Page EMLD may have had problems in the past – and what SAO hasn’t? But in the last 3 years we have had a very strong Executive of 12 people, all from very diverse backgrounds. I think with the 2k funding we receive from the Party, we have proved the value we bring many times over. We have had numerous fringe meetings and a stall at every conference. And as I explained above, we were instrumental in developing the New Generation Programme, and introducing many young, talented BME people to the Party. I think its unhelpful to compare DELGA to EMLD. I could ask you what DELGA has done to support BME LGBT members? We certainly support BME people who face greater discrimination. Perhaps you are working hard to recruit BME members, I simply don’t know enough to comment in the way you are doing. Thats why its important that we work together under the umbrella of the Diversity Engagement Group, which represents all strands of equality SAOs

  • Regardless of how women or BAME candidates get through to selection and (eventually) election, people will always whisper or even openly question whether they got there through special treatment. So the argument that positive discrimination leads to such talk is a non-starter, because people say those things any way.

    Is maternity leave sexist? No, because women, whilst equal, are different and women who want to have children have different leave requirements than men.

    Similarly, BAME people, who have had historic disadvantages in terms of being passed over for jobs they were qualified to do, have different requirements in terms of being able to get selected.

    We as a party have over 100 approved candidates of BAME background. So why no MPs?

    Since when did “being liberal” mean “doing nothing”? Should we have stood by and let slave-owners continue having slaves, on the grounds that stopping them would’ve been positive discrimination against slave-owners in favour of slaves?

    So many Lib Dems have accepted the Coalition. They have accepted the cuts as a necessary measure to undo the damage Labour did to the economy. This is despite having agreed with Labour on the timing and scale of cuts just a few months before. Drastic situations call for drastic measures. We have no non-white MPs, MEPs, MSPs, or AMs. No party of government can be all-white. If you are prepared to accept drastic interventionist methods when it comes to cuts, or to education, or to gender balance, why not drastic action to correct racial disadvantage?

    Because these poor little white middle class people from England don’t want to be passed over in favour of someone who is non-white. I’m sorry, I want to support the party but it is nothing more than a circle-jerk, a little club for white men and some white women.

  • Btw Martin Shapland’s actions in organising a mass vote by text just before the amendment, with him almost bussing people into the hall just for that vote who had not heard the debate, smacks of the worst kind of SWP student politics.

    Is it possible that Martin is a classic case of “pull the ladder up beneath you”? He’s managed to make a name for himself as a BAME LD, he doesn’t want anyone else taking his claim to token fame away? It’s disgusting.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 24th Sep '10 - 9:54am

    @Jon Aston
    ‘We as a party have over 100 approved candidates of BAME background. So why no MPs?’
    Good question. We heard time and again from speakers at conference, that BME people aren’t applying. (ie. its all our fault)
    Perhaps I’ll leave it to people to draw their own conclusions.

  • Jon>We as a party have over 100 approved candidates of BAME background. So why no MPs?

    Er, wouldn’t that be because none of them was a candidate in the 57 (out of the 649) seats where the voters chose a Lib Dem winner?

    I don’t care if candidates are black/white/straight/gay/whatever. I want to see candidates who actually have some chance of winning. And that means local candidates who represent local people. Not people parachuted in from outside who’ve never been to the area before and are motivated by national politics rather than being a good constituency MP.

    Lembit lost Montgomeryshire because he was perceived as being more interested in partying in London than in the constituency.
    If you parachute in a party-approved candidate there in 2015 (Pop. 2001: 99.4% white, so you’d probably find it hard to find anyone local), they’ll not go down well either. Unless they learn to speak some Welsh very quickly AND learn a lot about farming and rural issues.

    The people on here complaining about “white middle class people from England, hogging things for themselves’ btw, could also be accused of disregard for the millions of people in the UK who live west and north of that landmass.

  • @Cassie: Or those of us who are simply poor.

  • Martin Shapland 24th Sep '10 - 11:24am

    @Rabi Martins @Jon Aston

    As a young black man I find both your remarks highly offensive.

    I did not orchestrate a vote nor send out some mass text to get people in to the hall to vote against the motion and indeed urged people to vote for it in my summation speech – as far as these ludicrous claims that I tried to stuff the vote are concerned or that I want to ‘kick the ladder’ for other young black people – I won’t give them the dignity of a response.

    The fact of the matter is that EMLD put forward an argument calling for positive discrimination (and removing one line for an all black short-list the night before doesn’t exactly disguise that) and myself and others put forward a different path calling for less top down intervention, and more grass roots participation which conference agreed to after a vigorous debate.

    I think it speaks volumes that the only racial abuse I have ever experienced in this party has come from EMLD members following a debate on diversity. It speaks volumes that during conference BME speakers who said publicly that they would support the amendment had people bully them and try and have them withdraw their speaking card, it speaks volumes that your response to dissent is to bully, insinuate and slur as the above demonstrates.

    Frankly if this is EMLD’s attitude to diversity in this party – both appearance and views – then I am glad I have never been a member – you certainly don’t represent me.

  • I am appalled by accusations about ‘bussing people in’. I only noticed a handful of Liberal Youth members, who had signed the amendment coming in to the hall before hand – so I think the claim is a bit false, but more importantly, do you knock up on polling day? Do you canvass? Do you campaign? Because you should do, and if you didn’t, then you have only yourself to blame.

    This is so very low compared to some of the better points made on both sides in this debate and the insults going either way are not helpful.

    Meral’s comments, and the unwritten assumption among some of the comments that it was ‘young people’ voting for the amended motion (which is not entirely weak in itself) are not only not true, but also ageist (and at the end of a diverstiy motion, that was perhaps ironic).

    When are the elections to EMLD’s executive? And can I join EMLD as a normal volunteer if I am not BAME? And finally, if Chris Fox (or an unbiased friend of his) is reading the vitriol on both sides here, I am sure he will see the need for more funding (I think Meral has a point @Dave Page – but I think you do too).

  • A few years ago I would have spoken against the motion at conference. As it was I put in a card this time (not called) to speak in favour.

    I personally have real problems with reserved places on lists and look forward to a day when we don’t have to have them.

    But the sad reality is that the lack of BAME individuals in roles like MP or target seat candidate is having two effects. Firstly it is subconsciously reinforcing, among those who vote in selections, the feeling that BAME people don;t do this or don’t really want to do this. Secondly, and more damaging in my view, it is reinforcing subconsiously the feeling among potential BAME candidates that “people like me” don’t do things like that.

    We all have a tendency to apply to do things that look like people like us do them, and to select in our own image. You have to make a real effort to avoid these tendencies. Lots of us do make the effort but if in the meanwhile BAME candidates have been discouraged we won’t be able to use that effort.

    Recently I took part in an Operation Black Vote mentoring scheme in Liverpool. A group of BAME individuals shadowed individual councillors. In some cases there was a lot of mentoring and involvement. When it came to the elections however, there was no increase on the part of any political party in Liverpool, in the number of BAME candidates. Mentoring and training has its uses and we need to make sure it is readily available. But I am afraid that I just don’t think it’s enough any more.

  • Rabi Martins 24th Sep '10 - 12:33pm

    EMLD membership is open to all Party members. You can apply to join online via the EMLD website As a member you will be free to seek election to the Executive at next year’s AGM

  • Davina Kirwan 24th Sep '10 - 12:51pm

    We are still getting caught up in one-upmanship and I have gone to bed and woken up again.

    @Martin – I think you have achieved something amazing. I also think that this is your opportunity to be the bridge and not conform. You didn’t like the motion; how about proactively finding one that works for Liberal Youth and then submitting that.

    We have all had the chance to air our views but the fact still remains. We need to address it together and to achieve some common ground.

    @Cassie – I totally agree with a passion that local candidates should fight for local seats. FULL STOP. Let’s address the seats where there is a significant BME proportion and there are competent BME candidates that put themselves forward. Let’s educate our selection panels with diversity training so that they can identify and appreciate cultural diversity. If members of selection panels reject training, they should not be allowed to sit on the panel. It is easier to embrace difference when we understand it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Sep '10 - 12:59pm

    Goodness me. I think the Liberal Democrats are the new Conservatives. Deciding not to act because doing so would be hypocritical? Is this not the worse kind of irony that has seen the ill-representative nature of the party prevail? WAKE-UP! The absence of an elected BME speaks volumes!!!!! You should be ashamed of yourselves with your non-productive preoccupation with meaningless debate!!!

    I am young, black and female. Your target audience. I am disgusted. Your policies hit the nail on the head and are what this country needs but you might as well be the 20th Century Conservative Party masquerading as liberals for all I care. I am so torn between standing as a Lib Dem candidate – which I probably wouldn’t even get to do because of the local party machine – and just joining the established Labour ranks.

    The language and arguments used here are enough to demonstrate that the person who wrote this is TOTALLY unsuitable to be a Liberal Democrat candidate. It has all the air of “Here’s a pushy person on the make, someone with no principles, just using whatever she can to push her way above others”. There are BAME people close to me who I know are appalled by this sort of approach, because they know it damages their case rather than enhances it.

    Look, here’s two ways it can be approached:

    1) “I’m female and/or of visible BAME background. So it might be good to choose me as candidate, because that will make the party look more balanced.

    2) “I’m female and/or of visible BAME background. So, if you don’t choose me as candidate, I’m going to badmouth you, misrepresent all your arguments, and go running off to the Labour party and accuse you all of being dirty rotten racists/misogynists”.

    I’m very happy with 1). It’s a good point, and something I definitely bear in mind when making choices. If I had a vote in a PPC selection, and had a choice of two people who apart from skin colour and gender were roughly equal in my judgement on the other things that matter to me, I’d go for the female/BAME one for that reason. But if someone throws 2) at me, I’m afraid it’s a “no”.

    There are arguments on both sides, and one of the first things I look for in anyone to judge if they are a true liberal is that they can see that. They don’t have to agree with the arguments on both sides, but be liberal enough to understand what they are.

    As others have noted, there are reasons such as the Liberal Democrats’ strength, particularly in where they elect their MPS, in rural and fringe parts of the UK where there are few BAME people, which do explain some of why we have few BAME members and no MPs. To jump to the conclusion that it is purely due to racism, and then to go on from that to issue a stream of pejorative comments is, well, hardly showing a capacity for thought or reason, is it? As is also ignoring the good liberal reason why some here dislike the idea of “positive discrimination”. I’m not saying accept or agree with those reasons, just acknowledge they are there and have some respect for the arguments for them instead of dismissing them as just an excuse for racism.

    On Ms Kirwan’s use of the term “local party machine”, well I have in my time been a member of local Liberal Democrat and before 1988 Liberal associations up and down the country. One thing I have ALWAYS encountered in them is that they are short of people to do things, particularly to stand as councillors, and so that anyone who even hints at wanting to do so will find themselves welcomed with open arms to do so and pushed into it. I’ve NEVER seen a “party machine” which stops people from getting involved. What I have seen many times, however, is an assumption from people on the fringes that somehow there is a great deal of money and organisation in the party they can tap into. Sometimes this leads people who have started getting involved to assume that because resources were not thrown at them and because they were expected to do a lot themselves, it is because of “discrimination”. No, it is because the party does not have the money or people. Sometimes this also means letters and calls go unanswered because the local party does consists of half-a-dozen people running round and hardly able to cope.

    The first time I ever stood for a council seat as a Liberal (actually defending a Liberal-held seat), I found no-one was doing anything for me. I didn’t moan or complain that I wasn’t getting supported, or I was being discriminated against on the basis of my age (24 then). I went out, produced the leaflets myself, paid for them, and distributed most of them myself. I ran a four leaflet campaign. The ward had 7,000 electors. I delivered three quarters of the ward myself every week. That’s how our party is – there’s no “machine” stopping you mostly because there’s no machine at all.

    Just as an explanation, what I later found had actually happened here is that there had been some big collapse in local organisation of the party, and the candidature was dumped on me at the last minute for that reason. It happens.

    I have often come across things I dislike in our party, sometimes to the point of thinking “what the hell, wouldn’t I find a more comfy career in the Labour Party?”, but I hope it’s a mark of my attachment to liberalism that even at the worst of this I’ve always agonised about it, and never used “I’m going to go running off and join Labour and issue insults at you from there” as any sort of threat. My view is that the person who changes political parties for principled reasons acts like this, it’s a difficult decision, they do it quietly, they maintain respect for former colleagues in their ex-party. Using the threat to defect as a tool to gain influence or position is unprincipled, and marks someone we are best rid of anyway.

    I hope Ms Kirwan is just young and can learn to moderate her language and think more deeply about those issues. Those older people here who should know better but have given her uncritical support, however, should be ashamed of themselves, because they have NOT helped their cause in this way.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 24th Sep '10 - 1:21pm

    @Henry – EMLD held its AGM at conference last Sat. You are very welcome to join and to contribute in our campaigns – and there will be many – to address the total lack of diversity in our Party.
    @Paula thank- you for your insight. We can only welcome, bring people into the various ‘mentoring, training’ and other schemes, but we can’t make local parties reach out into their own communities. Its interesting that those with real experience on the ground, have drawn the very same conclusions. Unless we take action to address these inequalties, then nothing will change.
    We all want outcomes, but unfortunately, there have been few suggestions as to how we may achieve this.
    Handwringing really isn’t enough.

  • paul barker 24th Sep '10 - 1:40pm

    Davina K, a great article & its certainly hit a raw nerve. The number & tone of the comments demonstrates how embarrased we are about these issues & thats a good basis for going forward, Dont give up please.
    On a related point, can I make alast appeal for Lady Benjamin to enter the race for Mayoral candidate. Now Oona is out it would be good to have a serious candidate for Mayor of London who wasnt another white man.

  • Davina Kirwan 24th Sep '10 - 1:44pm

    @Matthew Huntbach – this is me. And here you are sawing off my corners to fit your circle. This is the problem with the party. Once again, I will not water down my voice to please an organisation that thus far has not budged for the other watered down voices. Honestly, Matthew – did you read my article and skip the comments? Because I have had the language/attitude, etc attack already.
    It’s funny that even in the absence of expletives and even the word “racist” – you still have subconsciously judged my entire approach in the uniform way.

    “Using the threat to defect as a tool to gain influence or position is unprincipled, and marks someone we are best rid of anyway. I hope Ms Kirwan is just young and can learn to moderate her language and think more deeply about those issues. Those older people here who should know better but have given her uncritical support, however, should be ashamed of themselves, because they have NOT helped their cause in this way.”

    Your narrative is of the worse kind. I am happy insulting the ill-representative nature all by myself -actually. You will note that I am not a member of any group but of the Lib Dems. In fact, I would invite you to find a member who has even met me before. I WILL CONTINUE TO NOT CONFORM TO YOUR TICK BOXES from my little sofa, in my little incompetent, working-class life if it means that I can speak with my own voice the plain truth that seems to be evading many.

    I do acknowledge your support for approach no 1.
    But I fear you have regressed the discussion, slightly.

    @Tom. I totally agree.
    “On a more general note, can anybody provide figures for
    1) The number of BME Lib Dem PPCs in 2010 (because the problem may be the electorate rather than the party)
    2) The proportion of BME people who were short-listed but not selected (which might show that there is a problem at local party level)
    3) The number of BME people who applied (which may show whether the problem is a lack of BME people even seeking office through the Lib Dems).”
    I will put this to HQ and see if I can glean some.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 24th Sep '10 - 1:47pm

    @Martin Shapland I’m sorry you feel this way. I said to you after the debate that EMLD are happy to work with yourselves and other SAO’s to reach a common view. I meant that. Of course its important that we have at last a non-white chair of Liberal Youth – its been a long time coming, and I hope you won’t be the last. Dozens of young black people have joined EMLD, because they are not getting the support they need elsewhere in the Party, and I have personally mentored many. We have to cut through the noise and distractions and work together.
    No-one ever said politics was a walk in the park.

  • @Davina

    I have no idea how many applications there were but I think there were 46 Lib Dem BME PPCs selected for the General Election in 2010. I campaigned for one of them: Columba Blango and, although he made a huge increase in votes and although Peckham has a large black community, he was beaten by the white Labour candidate – Harriet Harman.

    The problem is not just that we fail to get BAME candidates elected in areas with large BAME populations, it’s that we fail to get ANY candidates elected in areas with large BAME populations. A lot of this is because BAME voters identify with Labour. When I spoke to people in Peckham, they didn’t mention whether Columba looked like them or not, they talked about our party policy (and Nick’s atheism in fact!)

    I’m sure the party could do more to encourage, retain and mentor candidates that would change the outward appearance of our party but this is probably even more an opportunity to ‘be the change you want to see’: hand out leaflets in your area, make yourself visible, run for councillor, recruit other BAME members to your local party and keep on writing for LDV (though maybe think about a less confrontational tone!)

    If you offer to more actively support to your local party or the national party I’m sure they’d be delighted to have the help. If you run off to Labour then you will just be assisting the vicious cycle of having too few BAME role models.

  • George W. Potter 24th Sep '10 - 3:38pm

    @Jon Aston – Your remarks about Martin were deeply offensive and seem to me to be very close to racism. I would suggest that you owe Martin an apology. Most people on here seem to be able to debate this without getting personal, why can’t you?

  • Davina Kirwan 24th Sep '10 - 3:39pm

    @Bernard – this is me, deal with it or don’t. But I do appreciate the advice. My first concern is talking straight. I am least concerned with making allowances for weak stomachs or backs. You may attribute this to whatever you wish – let’s revisit my approach in two years to see where it has got me.
    I have come from a professional world where fluff-talk gets you zero but a comfortable pigeonhole. In fact, I have already been given a pigeon-hole by some members before they even meet me.
    Like I said – attempting to change voters to suit us is the entire reason we are in this mess.

  • Dinti Batstone 24th Sep '10 - 3:54pm

    @Ed: “it’s that we fail to get ANY candidates elected in areas with large BAME populations”
    Sarah Teather’s triumph in Brent Central (and before that in Brent East) is a shining example of what we can achieve when we roll up our sleeves, go out into communities and start building relationships. The Brent local party also has one of the most diverse membership bases I’ve come across in my travels around London local parties.

  • This debate is being driven by half-baked notions of who does or does not belong to an ethnic minority, which groups of people are entitled to be known as ethnic minorities, and which of these groups is more deserving of special treatment than others.

    The term “Black and Ethnic Minority” seems to suggest that Sub-Saharan Africans are the group that proponents of special treatment have most in mind. But what about people of mixed race? Do they get less special treatment or the same treatment as people who are exclusively Sub-Saharan African? Will they need a DNA test to enable us to categorise them correctly? Oh, and do they get extra-special treatment if they belong to a “non-white” religion in addition to having dark complexion?

    Then we come to South Asians. They tend to be diferentiated more by religion than genetics – an elephant in the room that no-one thus far has dared address. Some South Asian groups are more successful economically than others. Do we grade their special treatment entitlement according to group per capita income, or some other factor?

    And what about Turks (the category that includes Meral Ece)? Are Turks “Black and Ethnic Minority”, while Ukrainians, just a hop across the Black Sea, are apparently not – thereby disqualifying Nick Clegg as “BAME”? And what about Greeks? After all, many Turks are descendents of Greeks who were forcibly converted to Islam. Does that make Greeks “BAME” too? And let’s not get on to Roma, Irish travellers, the Cagots of the Pyrenees, etc.

    The proponents of what is unfortunately termed “positive discrimination” are attemping to impose a kind of Nurnberg Law on this party, and as liberals, and anti-racists, we should refuse to have anything to do with it.

  • Davina Kirwan 24th Sep '10 - 4:27pm

    @Bernard. I have no problem with and am not adverse to people whose opinions differ from my own. Diversity of opinion is a good thing. I do have an immense problem that people who do disagree still have not produced change, getting tangled in debate – instead of acting. It seems likely that selection panels are part of the problem – what are we going to do to investigate and address that?
    Will we wait for measures to be opposed on the party from the top down and then whinge that it should have been left to those on ground-level?
    We at grass-roots level have only shown for the last decade or so that the only thing we are good at is chewing the cud.
    Granted the diversity panel are working hard to address this now – and just by writing a paper on the History of the Liberals, six of my people have joined as members. People are curious, interested. They want to know. The live television debate before the General Election stirred something among people around me – but I am afraid that as a party the Lib Dems have not followed through.

  • Davina Kirwan 24th Sep '10 - 4:29pm

    @Sesenco – the poltical term of BME, BAME, etc has already been defined for us by the UK government working with each community. Let’s stick to that, shall we?

  • Davina,

    So what does the UK government say? Is the “political term”, “BAME”, founded on objective scientifically defensible criteria, or special interest lobbying? Who is a BAME? Is Meral Ece a BAME? Is Nick Clegg a BAME? Is Lembit Opik a BAME?

  • Davina Kirwan 24th Sep '10 - 5:02pm

    @Sesenco – without devaluing your question; please refer to Google or Wikipedia for answers to your questions. @Tom – will also try electoral commission. Whatever I find, I will collate and present to members via LDV. Kindest,

  • Davina,

    I asked YOU, Davina, not Google or Wikipedia, and I expect YOU to furnish me with an answer. Your refusal so to do speaks volumes.

  • Bernard Salmon 24th Sep '10 - 5:19pm

    Perhaps the problem is not that we are failing to talk to black people, or to select black people, but that we are failing to attract voters from lower socio-economic groups.

    Indeed, and I would love to know what the figures are for Lib Dem candidates in 2010 who were educated privately or at Oxbridge – I suspect it would be substantially higher than for the population as a whole (and I wonder whether it would be higher than for the other major parties). These issues relating to class/economic status are probably less visible than those relating to ethnicity or gender, but are just as pernicious.

  • Bernard Salmon,

    “These issues relating to class/economic status are probably less visible than those relating to ethnicity or gender, but are just as pernicious.”

    Perhaps. But they are different. We would expect Oxbridge graduates to be represented disproportionately in Parliament for the simple reason that they have an average IQ that is substantially in excess of the national mean. Having an Oxbridge degree is a mark of excellence, though it does not of itself necessarily mean that a given individual will be a good constituency MP or policy maker. When we talk about ethnic minorities, however defined, we are referring to groups of people with broadly similar IQ ranges, who in some (but not all) cases are under-represented in certain walks of life. The ability to do the job is the same in grey matter terms.

    “Positive discrimination” is being pushed by ambitious individuals who wish to use their race to leapfrog the system. I sense no demand for it among rank-and-file ethnic minority members. And the same is true of women. The ghettoisation of ethnic minorities (horrible word), which “positive discrimination” would encourage, is the wrong road to take. It benefits bad community leaders and gravy-train boarders, no-one else.

    Tom Papworth’s comments about areas inhabited by poor people is well made. Some of those areas house asylum-seekers, people who were politically motivated and high achievers in their own countries, but are living in poverty in this one. They are the kind of people, perhaps, we should be encouraging to join the party.

  • “We would expect Oxbridge graduates to be represented disproportionately in Parliament for the simple reason that they have an average IQ that is substantially in excess of the national mean”

    But private school students and those from the upper middle class are grossly over-represented at Oxbridge, and it is mainly not to do with innate intelligence (as can be shown from IQ scores) but the quality of their education and their motivation.

    Thus privately educated politicians and the upper middle class are over-represented in parliament, and their own decisions and life experiences mean that they often show little concern for adressing the self-perpetuation disproportionate representation in parliament and higher education. I would say the same is perhaps true of our own party in regards to selection.

    Oxbridge is generally mark of excellence (although there are strong variations) but part of the problem is that they receive too much prestige than is reasonable, OXbridge graduates are generally preferred over graduates from other universities even though education at Oxbridge in itself does not necessarily indicate that a particular candidate is more able. We have the situation where a large amount of people ‘deserve’ to get into Oxbridge based on objective quantitative grounds (grades) and there are simply not enough places for them…. that means that people are selected on interview: and guess what… a self perpetuating bias in favour of upper middle class and privately educated.

    I would think the case with Oxbridge nicely indicates what the problem with our own party may be, and that the only realistic to adress it is postive action.

  • “We would expect Oxbridge graduates to be represented disproportionately in Parliament for the simple reason that they have an average IQ that is substantially in excess of the national mean”

    Is there any proof that they have a higher IQ, or are you some kind of weird racial supremacist?

    “When we talk about ethnic minorities, however defined, we are referring to groups of people with broadly similar IQ ranges”

    Ok, so Oxbridge graduates have higher IQs. but all blacks and Asians have similar IQ ranges? What a dirty little racist you are.

  • “We would expect Oxbridge graduates to be represented disproportionately in Parliament for the simple reason that they have an average IQ that is substantially in excess of the national mean”

    Is there any proof that they have a higher IQ, or are you some kind of weird racial supremacist? ”

    I take objection with you calling someone a ‘racial supremicist’ for pointing out that it is likely that the most selective universities in Britain will have students with a higher than mean IQ.

    That has nothing to do with race whatsoever. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t people with equal IQ’s or abilities (because not all ability is intelligence) who didn’t go to Oxbridge or any university at all. Unfortunately, due to social circumstances, members of ethnic groups are less liekly to receive an education which would allow them to get into the highest tier of universities. That said, I would suppose that there is, if anything, an over representation of people at Oxbrige from ethnic minority backgrounds, because of many students coming from overseas.

    ““When we talk about ethnic minorities, however defined, we are referring to groups of people with broadly similar IQ ranges”

    I agree with you, however, on this matter blanco. Senseco, on what grounds do you suppose that people from ethnic groups are of ‘similar IQ ranges’, the ranges vary just as much as in the general white population. Disparity in IQ due to race seems to be negligible Rather, disparity in IQ points in average for ethnic groups tend to vary no more than about 5 points, which is within the margin of error and can be put down to social circumstances as well as the fact that IQ tests given in English and in relation to our society may cause a misrepresentation. For examplet IQ tests in the past asked questions about the ‘roles’ of middle class people from pictures provided to them to kids. Working class children did inexplicably badly, it was found when the pictures were changed to represent working class roles they did much better.

  • ““When we talk about ethnic minorities, however defined, we are referring to groups of people with broadly similar IQ ranges””

    The fact that you write this indicates to me that you don’t understand the concept of normal distribution. The vast majority of people in Britain (white, black or green) have an IQ score which is about 100… as that is the mean. 1-2% of people have an IQ score of 130. TO talk of ‘range of IQ scores’ in relation to this is plain nonsense, as the test is fixed so that the majority of the population will always have an IQ of 100.

  • And I regard to Davina, I sympathise completely.

    The fact of the matter is there is a lot of irrelevant hot air about the ‘philosophy’ of postive action, when frankly it is the only effectual way of addressing a system which is inherently biased in the other direction.

  • Rabi Martins 24th Sep '10 - 9:24pm

    For those of you who think EMLD was way off the mark to propose positive action to give the Party a fighting chance of electing BME MPs here is an extract from the Runnymede Trust Report on the motion and what Nick said at the Parliamentary Candidates Association Reception —–

    The rejection of the motion took place despite Nick Clegg’s suggestion that he supported positive discrimination measures in a fringe event earlier in the conference. At the event he said that “a parliamentary party that is unrepresentative of modern Britain and that must change”, adding “I have changed my own mind on this quite considerably: I was always quite hostile – for all the good reasons we have heard before – of interventionist ways of changing the representation of our party, even on a one-off basis. I think we are now really in the last chance saloon on this.””

    Interesting eh ?

  • Rob (and I won’t even bother to reply to the clown who called me a racist),

    What I stated is that ethnic groups in this country have broadly similar IQ ranges. How can that be racist? How can it be racist to say that the IQ distribution within ethnic group A is the same as that within ethnic group B? I was pointing out that Oxbridge graduates are over-represented because they are more intelligent than the average, but because ethnic groups have broadly similar IQ ranges their under-representation (if they actually are under-represented) must be for other reasons. How is that racist? It’s the exact opposite, surely?

    I write in simple language, but still we have people wilfully misrepresenting my words.

  • Davina Kirwan 25th Sep '10 - 7:59pm

    @Andrew Tennant: ?
    “If Nick Clegg has stated that he supports positive discrimination then that would leave me disappointed and, on this occasion, make me doubt his, normally impeccable, liberal credentials.”

    What I find most odd about this party is that frequently members tend to strip each other of and question their liberal-ness. Just because the party is called Liberal Democrats – it doesn’t mean you are all in charge of the definition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Sep '10 - 9:58pm

    Davina Kirwan

    And here you are sawing off my corners to fit your circle. This is the problem with the party. Once again, I will not water down my voice to please an organisation that thus far has not budged for the other watered down voices. Honestly, Matthew – did you read my article and skip the comments? Because I have had the language/attitude, etc attack already.
    It’s funny that even in the absence of expletives and even the word “racist” – you still have subconsciously judged my entire approach in the uniform way.

    I am struggling to find a meaning in that. I have said what I felt – that you did yourself no favours in the way the wrote. You came across as an unprincipled person on the make, you showed no sympathy whatsover with the Liberal Democrats or with liberalism, you issued insults which were untrue and damaging to the party. If you feel insulted by what I wrote, well tough, I’m saying what I felt just as you say your were saying what you felt. If you think I am some faceless “organisation” man, you might try reading some of the other stuff I’ve written on this site, where you will see though I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats, I’m often fiercely critical of the party.

    You accuse me of “subconscioulsy” judging you. No, Davina, it was entirely conscious.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Sep '10 - 10:10pm


    My family all went to some of the best public schools in the UK, I’m doing an MBA and my older sister was at LSE plus my younger is at the stock exchange. We are all lib dem in thought but you ask them why they still feel there is a glass celing in terms of getting somewhere as a minority.

    So sod off then, there’s far too many people of your type in politics. People like you should be savagely discriminated against in political selection. That should continue until the proportion of MPs who went to private school is equal to the proportion of people in the country who went to private school. It should continue until the number of MPs with a City business background is proportionate to the number of people in the whole country who have that background.

    I’m being a little sarcastic here, but see, how does it feel when the arguments are turned round like that?

    The biggest discrimination in this country is on class, not race. The difference in education performance between white working class kids and white middle class kids is bigger than the difference between any racial groups.

  • If liberalism is about extending freedom and equality as far a field as possible, then surely some kind of action could be taken? It’s not about favouring BME candidates, but recognising that even in today’s world non-white people sometimes start from further back. I see no reason why the party couldn’t make it a priority to be more representative of Britain, and actively look for talented BME people and make them feel genuinely welcome in the party. It shouldn’t necessarily take positive discrimination in formal sense, but an aspiration of the party to look and feel more inclusive.

  • Mark Valladares,

    “I’ve got to admit that it looked suspect to me when I read it.”

    Right. So any sentence that contains the acronym “IQ” and the word “ethnic” is inherently suspect, and that the author should be presumed to be a racist even if such a presumption is immediately rebutted on reading the actual text?

    Of course, there will be those on the dinosaur left who regard saying that Oxbridge graduates are more intelligent than the national mean is way beyond the pale, but that is another debate entirely.

    I see that the much-vaunted comments policy doesn’t catch people who falsely accuse other users of the site of being a “dirty little racist”.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 26th Sep '10 - 1:56pm

    @Sam – that is precisely what the motion, before it was amended, set out to do: extend opportunity to a section of the public that is completely unrepresented amongst our elected representatives. We have already done a lot of work in going out headhunting and supporting talented individuals. We neeed to take action to remove inherent barriers that clearly exist, so that people from BME communities (and for this can those who in 2010 still don’t know what this may be, check the government’s/local authorities/ health auhtorities definition) have an equal chance of being selected in winnable seats, and then elected. I agree it shouldn’t take positive discrimintation (which is against the law), but we have to move towards positive action to make a breakthrough. Sadly its not a ‘priority’ for enough people to have a diverse, and representative party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Sep '10 - 12:14am


    If liberalism is about extending freedom and equality as far a field as possible, then surely some kind of action could be taken? It’s not about favouring BME candidates, but recognising that even in today’s world non-white people sometimes start from further back. I see no reason why the party couldn’t make it a priority to be more representative of Britain, and actively look for talented BME people and make them feel genuinely welcome in the party.

    Sam, I think there’s hardly anyone in the party who would disagree with you on that. I’m not arguing against that all. I am arguing against the insinuation that our lack of BME MPs is because we are racist, and I am arguing against people who move from that to using threats “I’m going to storm off and join the Labour Party” to gain advantage – because it seems to me that someone with that attitude is someone whose first wish is political prestige for themselves, and they’ll go with whatever party gives it to them.

    Some years ago I remember speaking to someone who was a senior member of an African Liberal Party, and I remember him saying how strange he found it that people who were associated with Liberal and Conservative parties back home still tended to join up with Labour here. In my own campaigning too, I was always saddened by the way if someone black opened a door when I was canvassing, I would get the response “No, we’re Labour” many times more often than I got it from white people. That has slowly changed in recent years, but there’s a circularity here – we get few BAME supporters because we have few BAME supporters. So I’m happy to see some sort of action to try and break that.

    What I’m not happy with is the way some are so ready just to throw this “racist” label at us when I don’t think it’s deserved – my experience is that most white members of the party are very much pained by our small number of BAME members and would very much like to see more. I’m also concerned that crude “positive discrimination” measures can be used as a gateway by unscrupulous careerists who are effectively using the line ‘ never mind my political principles, look at the colour'”. Sure, there’s plenty of white unscrupulous careerists as well, people who know how to say the right thing or have the looks and manners that attracts support, but whose only real principle is personal advancement. Bad experiences in the past have led me to have a great wariness about this sort of thing. This is why I reacted so badly against Davina – she may not have meant it that way, but she came across as an unprincipled careerist trying to use insults and our own fear of being accused of “racism” to push herself forward. But I did end by hoping that wasn’t the real her, and that perhaps she had just got worked up and come across in a bad way. And that, also, is why I think she was not helped by those other more experienced people who cheered her on in this.

  • I’m going to wade in here.

    I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned Sajjad Karim MEP, or Parmjiit Singh MP, or President Navnit Dholakhia, or going back in time, Pratap Chitnis or Satyendra Sinha. This party and it’s current structures, and even its historical structures, have elected EM candidates to the highest levels. I am with Mark Valladares and Jo Swinson in their arguments that it is not these structures that provide the problem. Positive action must be taken at the groundswell level amongst members and local parties, not imposed from Cowley Street.

    The original poster and Baroness Hussein Ece are absolutely right about this: members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats must know the party is open for business, that they will not be quietly suggested away to “urban” areas or otherwise kept out of leafy white liberal suburbs. There is a closet racism in this party that is fed and nurtured by the lack of a positive political culture. Individual opinions no longer have the same space to disseminate and spread amongst an LD local party (there are many exceptions to this) that they maybe had 30 years ago.

    Forcing local parties to adopt candidates according to statistical data deals such a crushing death-blow to the hope and idealism of “wherever you come from you can make it”; the candidates chair who spoke was quite right when she pointed out that this would exclude black candidates from majority white areas.

    I helped to draft an original LY amendment to this motion, before it was passed from our policy group to the motion’s movers. We were all devastated that FCC changed the wording to what essentially became a wrecking motion, rather than the constructive choices we originally put forward. I hope that we will have the opportunity to revisit this issue after the AV refererendum and do so united and on the basis of the fullest understanding of each other and the real problems underneath.

    LY Membership Development

  • Mark AVlladares,

    “On the other hand, you might want to work on the way you address people who don’t agree with you. You do come across as angry and, frankly, it doesn’t work for me.”

    You come across as arrogant and careless with the way you phrase criticisms of other people’s words. That doesn’t work for me.

  • Mark Valladres,

    I do consider that I am owed an apology for what amounts to an imputation on your part that I am a racist.

  • Nikki Thomson 30th Sep '10 - 1:01am

    I have a problem with this statement :

    “If this organisation were a public institution, we would have been slapped with a productive equality and diversity strategy at the beginining of this century. This organisation is at least 10 years behind everyone else. That is the point”

    All that most equality and diversity strategies have done is mean that organisations monitor who applies for jobs and who gets them. The voluntary organisation that technically I’m employed by does this. But it also does what modern recruitment practice expects of it. We don’t ask ages. Gender and ethnicity questions ONLY exist on the equal opps monitoring form which applicants may choose not to complete. Applicants use only their initial and surname on their application forms and even then that and other information such as where they live is removed from the bit of the application forms that the shortlisting panel get to see. They only know after interview how many BAME candidates applied. Disability is different in that the staff member coordinating the recruitment process does tell the shortlisting panel of any applicant with disabilities. This in itself has led to problems. In one recruitment process a disabled applicant who hadn’t been shortlisted screamed discrimination until they were given an interview, where it quickly became obvious to everyone present that they lacked any necessary qualifications or experience for the post. In another situation an applicant turned up to interview with their guide dog: nothing wrong with that, but the DDA doesn’t seem to cover what happens if an existing member of staff is seriously allergic to dogs. But I digress. The point I would like to make is that if candidate shortlisting panels were to follow standard recruitment practice, they would not know from the first sift anything about the applicants other than their ability to promote themselves on paper. Would that be better or worse, do you think?

    Perhaps I can throw some more logs on the fire.

    Admittedly it was some time ago now, but I’ve been a token woman on a number of shortlists for target seats, and stood in the 1999 Euros because we had to have another woman to make ‘zipping’ work. I’ve gone the rounds of the constituency socials and spoken to the membership, encouraged by people in the candidates’ office that I’m a strong candidate. I’ve suffered the frustration of explaining the basics of party policy and structure to male candidates before they made their hustings speech (how did they get through the approval process with such a sketchy understanding of the party?) – and they then went on to get selected because theirs was the face that fitted the members’ idea of the perfect candidate. And we didn’t win the seats.

    Being a candidate making up the numbers for gender balance was so demoralising that it’s one of the reasons I’ve not considered applying for seats since. And unless you’ve actually done it, I don’t think you can really know just how bad it feels. Particularly when you know that you’re a stronger candidate than many of those higher up the list, but the members have decided you’re too young, too overweight, aren’t well-enough connected, and/or don’t have a high enough profile job.

    We have to recognise that it doesn’t actually matter what rules are put in place to have perfectly balanced shortlists with the right number of whatever kinds of labels you want to use to compartmentalise the would-be candidates – the local party membership have the final say and from my experience when it comes to selecting candidates local parties ARE small ‘c’ conservative and are most comfortable selecting the married white middle class man with the attractive wife and photogenic children. And they do this because they believe that’s what the voters want their elected representative to look like.

    Of course there are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

    So I’m sorry, but setting quotas IS illiberal and against everything we as Liberal Democrats stand for. Concerted action to change the narrow mindset of many of our armchair members is needed if we’re to really crack this.

    Of course, the other solution hasn’t been mentioned in this thread. Real electoral reform, of the kind that we used to espouse, with the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, could make an enormous difference, because the membership would be able to select more than one candidate and the electorate could decide which ones to elect.

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