Opinion: Race must be central to rebuilding and reorientating the party

Black, Asian and minority ethnic voters could help the Lib Dems could win seats from the Conservatives in 2015 if we improve our appeal to the BME community.

The Guardian ran a front page today based on a new study by Operation Black Vote which found 168 marginal seats where BME voters outnumber the majority of the sitting MP, far outnumbering the swing 100 seats that could change the government.

The study, which I authored, also reveals there are 13 marginal constituencies where Lib Dems are in second-place and where the BAME electorate is larger than the majority of the sitting Tory MP. These include the former Lib Dem seats of Guildford, Richmond Park, Oxford West and Abingdon and Truro and Falmouth.

As the Conservatives blow the immigration dog-whistle to the disgust of Liberals and BME communities alike it highlights the possibility of winning seats from the Conservatives as well as trying to hold onto the 57 seats won in 2010.

Overall there are 200 marginals where the BME electorate could play a decisive role if the race is close, according to the report which you can view here.

That means BME voters have been handed the greatest opportunity ever to effectively engage in British politics.

It proves that the BME have never more powerful and that power is shifting with demographics with an increasing share of the BME vote is up for grabs.

BME Britons have the political muscle to change not just their MP but the Government. Increasingly BME votes are up for grabs in marginal seats and any political party to seriously court the vote may well get the extra boost they need to cross the line into power.

As a consequence all political parties must wake up and realise they cannot win without the BME vote and devise policies to tackle particular concerns such as disproportionate discrimination.

Yet BAME voters will not automatically transfer over to Lib Dems, even where we are the main challenger, unless we become more diverse in appearance and policies.

There are also 18 Labour-held marginal seats where the Lib Dems are in second-place and the BAME electorate exceeds the MP’s majority, including the former Lib Dems seats of Rochdale and Leicester South.

On the other side of the coin, the Lib Dems are fighting to hold 22 marginals where the BAME electorate is larger than the 2010 majority. Seven where Labour are the main challenger, and 15 where they are Conservatives.

Of course BAME voters consider the same issues as White voters – general policies and how they affect them; topics of the day; performances of leaders and the extent of local political activity.

But in addition they look at how friendly parties are towards BME communities, how (or if) they engage, diversity in political representation and whether they have policies to combat racial disadvantage.

100 years ago the Lib Dems were eclipsed by an emerging Labour Party not because they didn’t help the poor but because they did not ‘represent’ the working class in terms of who they were. As the 2011 population census shows Britain is becoming ever more diverse in towns and villages as well as the big cities. As a result the Lib Dems are facing another historic watershed.

Having black MPs and policies to make Britain a racially equal society is not a luxury choice, it is a question of survival. If we grasp the opportunity and are the first to put race back on the political agenda the benefits could be significant and long-lasting. If we fail a slow decline to oblivion beckons.

Race must be central to rebuilding and reorientating the party. We need to consider how we can better reflect and represent our multicultural society.

* Lester Holloway is a former councillor and member of the Equalities Policy Working Group, and a member of the Race Equality Taskforce

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  • “As the Conservatives blow the immigration dog-whistle to the disgust of Liberals and BME communities alike …”

    The very first thing you need to do is stop the Lib Dems blowing the immigration dog-whistle, as they did when they presented a reduction in immigration as one of their achievements in government recently.

  • Might unfair racial outcomes include racial disparities in drug law enforcement? Eric holder is apparently shifting the US position on this at the moment. I’m sure the British BME community would be grateful too.

  • Clear Thinker 12th Aug '13 - 12:16pm

    Surely there is no reason at all why liberal and democratic principles should not be attractive to BAME voters. Indeed, civil rights movements everywhere suggest so. What is meant by “central to”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 1:40pm

    Class divisions and class inequality are huge and growing in this country as well. In fact I think you will find there is a bigger difference in wealth and prospects between people from a white working class background and from white professional background than there is between any racial groups. Yet I suspect if someone were to write “Class must be central to rebuilding and reorienting the party”, that would be regarded as extremely controversial, and the person writing that would probably be drummed out of the party.

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 12th Aug '13 - 2:30pm

    Let us take care when considering where taking advantage of “Race” might lead us
    .Thinking about those Tory Immigration Vans. Isn’t Liberalism about enhancing the status of every person, not threatening or diminishing ? There cannot be two different “levels” of human beings – every child has basic rights to a life free of threats (and worse !), everyone has a potential and our obligation is to help each one to achieve that potential whoever and wherever. It is the nature of the society we build .In Germany seventy years ago millions read the messages with their vile threats, followed by the blare of public address systems fostering discrimination, hatred and death. Liberals, in every party, must be those who work for a society that will bring people together encouraging hope and opportunity. Would not emphasising “race”build barriers rather than bridges ?A price far too much to pay for extra parliamentary seats.

  • Jonathan Hunt 12th Aug '13 - 2:49pm

    Hope this report will hit home to HQ, candidates and party activists alike. We ignore black people and all from ethic minorities at our peril.

    The time has passed when Lib Dems could just say nice things about our rich diverse community, something attacking racists, and move on. We actually have to do things to show that we are on the side of minorities across a wide
    spectrum, especially on liberty and human rights.

    Boasting of reducing immigration does not help…..

    But there may now be a sufficient critical minority to overcome the we-mustn’t-discriminate-in-favour-of-blacks line beloved by our closet racists.

    But much depends on what we want our party to be. Do we want to be in there in the Centre, battling out with the Tories and Labour, hoping our slightly more moderate dog-whistle can be heard over theirs.

    Or do we seriously target our traditional vote; the 25 to 35 per cent of voters who still take a progressive view of politics, and hate the social-engineering disguised as welfare reform; the continued bullying attack on the poor and deprived; and failed blunderbus economic effects of austerity.

    Apart from the 16-plus per cent who vote Conservative, that is where to find the majority of BME voters.

    But that’s a topic for a broader piece.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Aug '13 - 3:32pm

    Jonathan Hunt : “But there may now be a sufficient critical minority to overcome the we-mustn’t-discriminate-in-favour-of-blacks line beloved by our closet racists.”

    Are you suggesting that anyone not in favour of ‘positive ‘ discrimination is a racist?

  • paul barker 12th Aug '13 - 4:05pm

    We should be arguing in favour of immigration & trying harder to get BAME candidates in place because those are the right things to do, not because it will get us any votes. Shifting Labours grip on the BAME communities will take decades unless Labour self-destruct.

  • Jonathan Hunt 12th Aug '13 - 5:00pm

    Simon McGrath: I am not saying that those who opposes positive discrimination are closet racists. I, for one, oppose positive discrimination. In fact, I rarely call anyone a racist, although I admit I may occasionally qualify to be called one myself, especially when Arsenal are playing teams from t’North. (Like Spurs).

    Too many people who should know better don’t know the laws of the land. Positive action, which I think is what Simon is referring to, has been legal for many years. Thousands of employers use its provisions to ensure they obtain and are able to fully utilise all the talents of the staff they employ. Even the Diversity Engagement Group of the Lib Dems embraces it.

    Positive discrimination covers (and outlaws) situations such as where a body has two candidates of equal ability and experience, and picks one because of their gender or race.

    Totally agree, and have for as long as I can remember, believed we should choose able BaME candidates because that is the right thing to do. At long last the party is training candidates so they go into hustings chambers not totally naked.

    Sadly, there are still too many who require arguments like the number of black votes to do the right thing.

    (“And you should see the size of their electorate!”) Old myths die hard.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Aug '13 - 5:19pm

    @Jonathan, thanks for clarifying.

    So are you in favour of the dsicriminatin against white heterosexual men that the Leadership Program embodies ?

  • Jonathan Hunt 12th Aug '13 - 5:50pm

    @Simon. As a general rule I don’t favour discriminating AGAINST anyone; but do think we should use positive action if that is the only way members of some section of the populace will be treated fairly.

  • Clear Thinker 12th Aug '13 - 10:07pm

    Very well said, jedibeeftrix

    However, it also seems likely that different races do have different experiences of life in Britain, and that that racism is alive and well and affects different races differently – which suggests that as a political party we need to see these things and make efforts in their regard. Doing so would not make us racist, thought exploiting the situation for our own ends would.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 12:12am

    “Research… by Operation Black Vote (OBV) concludes that any future majority government will only be possible with the support of ethnic minority voters”

    I suspect that this conclusion is absolute rubbish, but my main concern is that it can incite adverse racist reaction. It provides my racist neighbour with apparent support for his irrational feeling that “foreigners” – which for him includes second and third generation BAME voters born and raised in Britain – are taking control of our country and our culture and our identity and God knows what else. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of people like my neighbour, who would no doubt say that the Libdems have “sold out” to the foreign invader!

  • Jonathan Hunt 13th Aug '13 - 12:15am

    Lester: Just a throwaway stereotype joke to ridicule those who might only take the emergence of BaME people seriously because they now have clout, rather than because of the rightness of the cause we both support. I put it in the same category as those who make those kind of remarks.

    But he danger of irony is that some people do nor or choose not to see the iron.

    I once had the opportunity of asking Enoch Powell a question put in such a way that had the audience laughing at him, rather than viewing him as a great prophet and martyr. Ridicule is a powerful political weapon, but it requires a sense of humour to use it.

  • There are lots of issues with this article, which can be seen from an examination of Operation Black Vote report. The first issue is does the opportunity really exist and for Labour this is likely not to be true. Firstly the number of BME voters has to be reduced by 18% those who don’t register and then by those who don’t vote which varies from 40 to 25%. Then only 32% of those left are likely not to be already Labour voters. The study does not access the split within ethnic groups to the three major parties only the overall split 68% Labour, 16% Conservative and 14% Liberal Democrat. It does not look to see if these splits differ from held, target or third place seats.

    Taking Aldershot as an example. It assumes there are 11003 BME voters in 2015. So we reduce this by 18% 9022; and say 30% for non voters 6315; and 14% for those who already vote for us; leaving 5,431. The majority is 5,586. It is unlikely that targeting the BME vote would win this seat for us.

    This does not mean that we should not look at the issues raised by Lester Holloway in his later comments. As Liberals we should be looking at outcomes and recognising that BME people have different outcomes and this is very likely to be because they are disadvantaged in some way and we need to identify how these disadvantages can be overcome to provide equality of opportunity. I don’t have the answers but if companies had to report on their wage levels according to race and action was taken against companies that didn’t have equal pay would this make a difference? Assuming that certain groups of BME children are disadvantaged in school could we adapt the Pupil Premium to provide extra funding for children from these ethnic groups? Lester also talks about having more elected representatives from MBE, then as I have implied elsewhere in the context of women if the problem is getting BME to be candidates what can the party do to get more BME people to come forward to stand?

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 1:15am

    One of the reasons it’s rubbish is that it assumes that none of the existing BAME voters voted against the final winner at the last election. But suppose all of them actually voted Libdem. Then we’ve already won their vote, and we can’t win more votes from them. Those 168 seats could be a total illusion.

    There’s another reason why it’s rubbish, but it’s been a long day and I’m not thinking clearly at the moment. Something to do with voters being people not blocs. Perhaps I’ll try again tomorrow after some sleep.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 1:37am


    Here are the voting figures for seat X at the last election:

    Labour: 30,000 votes, no BAMEs
    LibDems: 29,000 votes, all BAMEs
    Others: no one

    If the electorate is 59,000, how are we going to win this marginal seat by attracting more BAME votes?

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 2:20am

    Actually I do feel that some of the suggestions in this article are indeed racist. Perhaps someone will correct me tomorrow – I hope so,, because I am sure that Lester does not intend it that way.

    Every MP, and every parliamentary candidate, should already be focussing on the specific issues that are relevant in a constituency. If the issues happen to be poverty or poor education or whatever, then those are the issues that the MP or candidate should be focussing on, and it shouldn’t matter whether the people are black, white, indian, chinese, or whatever.

    But this article seems to be suggesting that it does matter – that those 168 seats are important not because of the social issues that are involved, but because of race.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 13th Aug '13 - 7:39am

    “Actually I do feel that some of the suggestions in this article are indeed racist. Perhaps someone will correct me tomorrow”

    @Clear Thinker, I am not sure if the tomorrow that you mentioned has arrived, but I am interested in knowing specificly what suggestions you feel are racist, for I have gone through the article a number of times, but I do not see what is of concern, other than it lays the facts on the table that unless we as a Party become more reflective of the ethnic diversity of society we will ultimately lose at the ballot box.

    The simple answer for increasing the BME vote is great engagement and representation. Whilst we do not engage with and through our policies and considerable influence represent the views and aspirations of ethnically diverse people we will continue to fail to attract them into the Party in the numbers required to bring about the change that many of us wish to see. Action plus rhetoric is required to start the process of change.

    Positive Action has been previously discussed. In the UK, apart from in very few circumstances is currently illegal, and is seen as divisive by many. What is useful thoug, and is legal is Positive Action.

    “‘Positive action’ means the steps that an employer can take to encourage people from groups with different needs or with a past track record of disadvantage or low participation to apply for jobs”

    (Source: EHRC – Equality and Human Rights Commission)

    The Leadership Programme (LP) is a good example of a Positive Action initiative that we could well benefit from expanding as it empowers and equips people who face unlawful or unnecessary barriers to progression merely because they possess one or more ‘characteristics’ that they cannot change, e.g. Age, Disability, Gender reasignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, Race, Religion and belief, Sex, and Sexual orientation. The LP goes further in that it also includes other Socio-economic exclusion as well, which is commendable.

    As a Party we could benefit from turning this internally focused ‘good practice’ outward facing, which would mean that rather than looking at voters as merely numbers, we see them as individuals with differing needs, hopes and desires, and we demonstrate to them through action that the Party is committed to dissmantling the barriers that they face. This will mean modifying our communication style, which is currently, dare I say “Home Counties-centric” and very theoretical.

    Does the Party genuinly ask itself “why are we not attractive to ….?” and then seek to modify its behaviour and appearance? Doing this will assist the Party to realise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engagement and campaigning is not as effective as the Party has previously thought.

    This is not the place to list reams of “Do’s and Don’ts”, for one thing is certain even BME communities themselves are exceptionally diverse and without knowing specifics of a location it would be too easy to generalise, but a good start is to undertake a more indepth assessment of the ethnic demography of an area, and to overlay the information from the Indices of Deprivation (available from .gov.uk). This gives a snapshot of an area, and who is living there, and even superficially some of the problems that they may be facing. Armed with this information it is far easier to approach grassroots organisations and engage in meaning dialogue.

    Please read what Lester Holloway has written with an open mind, for it is a ‘truth’ for many BME people, including those of us that have joined the Party. Dismissing what BME people have to say about a topic that through academic, profesional research and personal knowledge and experience, many are qualified in is at the least rude and will result in the current unhealthy status quo continuing.

    Within the Party, the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) is more than happy to assist with providing specific information about communities, and religious and cultural matters, etc, and most probally through its extensive network of contacts will be able to ‘open a door’. Please remember though that EMLD is a volunteer organisation and as such its resources are limited, but it is a vital and positive element in changing the Party.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    English Party Diversity Champion
    EMLD – Vice Chair

    NB: if the contributor from Aldershot, or for that matter anywhere else would like some specific information and suggestions, then please feel free to contact me via [email protected]

  • Simon McGrath 13th Aug '13 - 8:22am

    @ruwan – The Leadeship Programme excludes certain people on the grounds of their race. How is that not racist ?

  • Ruwan – Just to clarify – I think your first reference to Positive Action in your recent post, should refer to Positive Discrimination.

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 13th Aug '13 - 9:40am

    Liberals must win votes because our values attract the support of every section of the community. We are the party of respect and opportunity for all. And we must mean ALL. To use “race” just to try win seats will destroy those liberal foundations.We need to attract support because people see us as the champions of all who value human rights, civil liberties and equal opportunities.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 10:20am

    The central thrust of this piece seems to be that we should value people (voters, even voter blocs) differently depending on their race. This seems racist to me.

    I know this area is a PC minefield that everyone can easily make mistakes in, but even so I find some things in the article quite offensive. The idea that there is a “BME vote” that can be manipulated, as if BME voters really don’t think much and vote en masse and that they assess candidates on trivial issues such as appearance, seems like that. The idea that BME voters can be used as a tool for non-BME politicians to achieve victory seems the very opposite of the idea of sharing power and responsibility and respect that we should be pressing for.

    I do not think we should refrain from dismissing something as rubbish just because it is said by a BME person. BME people are just as likely to be wrong as anyone else, and probably just as likely to be racist as anyone else, whether intentionally or not. BME groups and communities have internal class, educational, power, and other differences just as other groups and communities have.

    Roger Roberts from Wales expressed some of my concerns better that I did. he asked “Would not emphasising “race” build barriers rather than bridges ?”

  • @Roger Roberts/Wales
    Spot on. There is no reason why ‘race’, etc etc. shouldn’t inform LibDem policies. However, for the party to focus on’race’ and make it core to it’s “rebuilding and reorientating”, can only have one substantive outcome: the party becomes the “BAME”/immigrant party, putting it in the same league as the BNP, et al …

  • I think this thread has wrongly got itself entangled in a rather artificial disagreement. Of course Roger Roberts’s thesis that Liberals and Lib Dems care about people over and above any group they may or may not belong to, and value them for the person they are is absolutely true. It is also true to say, however, as I think Lester is arguing, that people can suffer from unfair outcomes on the basis of their ethnicity – which is to say that we are all in society together, that there are some outcomes which can occur because of racism (conscious or unconscious), and that we as Lib Dems have, and should have, a philosophy and actions to overcome that. I don’t have a problem in reconciling those positions, they fit well with my feelings of Lib Dem values. Does anyone else have a problem there?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 13th Aug '13 - 11:14am

    Sadly, some people will never be won over by any argument regarding the need for a positive approach about Race issues no matter what is said, but if those who are really concerned and may currently appear as ‘barriers’ themselves wish to engage offline on the topic, Lester and I will happily explain fully why there is a need.

    If the Party continues to ignore, and not see Race as a very real issue and one that should inform all of its policies, procedures and policies as should all of the other ‘Protect Characteristics’, then it is doomed to continue to support such crass initiatives as the Tories current immigration policies, or even such things as the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

    I will though ask one question of Simon McGrath about his comment alleging that the Leadership Programme excludes certain people on grounds of their Race. Which Race does it exclude?

    As for Tim13, may I ask that you please search “Positive Action” on the EHRC website and you will see that you are mistaken. I specifically cited the EHRC as there exists many misperceptions about this term and confusion with Positive Discrimination.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Aug '13 - 11:24am

    R Uduwerage-Perera

    This will mean modifying our communication style, which is currently, dare I say “Home Counties-centric” and very theoretical.

    Right, so you think the Home Counties consists entirely of senior professional people in comfortable employment? Are you even aware of the millions of low paid people in the Home Counties, people in manual service jobs, people who are very much NOT like the stereotype you are using there? Doesn’t it occur to you that what you write as “Home Counties-centric” is actually just as off-putting to those people as it is to people living outside the Home Counties?

    You illustrate very well the point I made about class. We are afraid to talk about class in this party, so we disguise it by talking in geographical terms. We use words like “Home Counties” to mean “upper middle class” and words like “northern” or “urban” to mean “working class”. We, who support proportional representation, ought to realise how wrong it is, how this misassumption is to a large extent caused by the electoral system which distorts representation geographically. Just because the Home Counties returns almost 100% Tory MPs does NOT mean everyone living there is a Tory.

  • Jonathan Hunt 13th Aug '13 - 11:26am

    In an earlier post I attempted to connect hard-liners (in all parties) who can only able to measure things in terms of votes with a different version of a stereotypical comment. If I failed to make that link and ridicule its targets, by being moderately amusing or satirical, I regret it and the fact that anyone has been upset.

  • “This is not the place to list reams of “Do’s and Don’ts”, for one thing is certain even BME communities themselves are exceptionally diverse and without knowing specifics of a location it would be too easy to generalise,”

    Indeed – this is my main concern with referring to the BAME vote. There isn’t really such a thing. What there are are sectors like the Asian sub-continent vote, Muslim vote, Jewish vote, Afro-carribean vote etc etc. And those split into further sub-categories. You only need to look at turnout rates to see the political differences.

    But in any electorate there are also other categories, the rural vote, the commuter vote, the retired vote, the student vote, the LGB vote. All of which have further sub-categories and huge cross-overs between groups.

    There is a need to appeal to all of those groups as part of a winning campaign. That means understanding those groups – and sometimes the issues that concern them aren’t what you’d think. Immigration for example – whilst the issue of spouse visas is important in some communities, generalised liberalisation of immigration policy is less so. For example there is a strand of thinking I’ve heard expressed among immigrant communities opposed to an amnesty for illegal immigrants as they “pull up the ladder behind them”

  • Meral Hussein Ece 13th Aug '13 - 11:35am

    @Lester, An excellent piece of work and a good article. Simply ignore the usual cynical voices who seem content to ignore electoral reality. Interesting that the Tories are taking this very seriously, with Lord Ashcroft warning that they must take the BAME vote seriously. Until we wake up to the fact that society and demographics around us has changed substantially, and engage accordingly, then we will not be taken seriously. l

  • Ruwan – sorry to be nitpicky, but you are not looking at your first reference to Positive Action, but your second, where there is no doubt you are using it correctly! Above that, you say “Positive Action has previously been discussed. In the UK, apart….. it is currently illegal… and thought divisive.” I don’t think you mean Positive Action in that context.

  • *(anti positive discrimination)This line of reasoning is seemingly oblivious to the fact that society already treats Black people differently*


    All I see is that society doesn’t really treat the poor uneducated masses very well, companies don’t want to hire them, or if they do it’s on “exploitative” wages.

    That a proportion of these people are black, seems to be because of historical hangovers, but then if they are not black, or white, but just people.

    Why does it matter that % of whatever color of skin is unemployed etc.

    Unless of course they are different (different doesn’t mean unequal), in which case you need to confront that maybe black culture is an issue that needs to be addressed (and it’s not really “black” culture, but Afro Caribbean culture, who just typically have black skin, no more of a cause then if they typically wore read sweaters).

  • Meral Hussein Ece 13th Aug '13 - 5:52pm

    We need only look across to Obama’s campaign strategy for re-election, where he successfully and ruthlessly targetted the black and Latino vote, while the Republicans alientated them, and focussed on the older white voters.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 13th Aug '13 - 6:00pm

    @fake – I think you need to read up on the negative impact of racism on black communities. With around 60% of young black men currently unemployed, its not simply a result of poor education. Recent research showed that 36% more people with foreign sounding names were not shortlisted for jobs, in the private sector, than those assumed to be white. To,suggest there is no such thing as inequality based on race is dangerous and complacent. My cousin who is a head teacher was recently asked to get more coffee at a head teachers conference – they assumed she was there for the
    catering, simply because of the colour of her skin.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 6:41pm

    The fact that you can win by doing something bad is not an acceptable reason for saying the bad thing is a good thing to do.

    If racial discrimination is the issue, then it’s combatting racial discrimination that needs to be on the agenda, not race.

  • Jonathan Brown 13th Aug '13 - 8:01pm

    “100 years ago the Lib Dems were eclipsed by an emerging Labour Party not because they didn’t help the poor but because they did not ‘represent’ the working class in terms of who they were.”

    Congratulations on a fantastic article Lester – one of the most important things I’ve read on LDV since beginning to follow it.

    The above quote is just one of many important points you make, but I pick it out because I think it deals with some of the concerns some people are raising. Being aware of issues specific to BAME communities and wanting to address them does not mean we can’t also deal with our failure to appeal to working class voters, and other under-represented groups. It is not racist to want to do so.

    Some people ask why our policies should not attract BAME voters just as much as white voters, but they’re missing the point you make above. Maybe they should, but they don’t: they’re not enough. Politics is about far, far more than policies, as our electoral results have always shown and continue to show. ‘Caring for’ issues dear to a community is not enough for a democratic party, any more than ‘caring for the masses’ justifies a king or tyrant ruling undemocratically. We simply HAVE to represent the people of this country. There are historic reasons why our vote is concentrated in certain parts of the country and not others, but we CAN and MUST do something about it!

    We are not a philosophical debating society. We have to become a party that represents the people of this country. We can’t just fight for the people of this country: if we are to have any future we have to BE the people of this country.

  • There are several strands which bring people close together as a political party. I would pose the following:
    1. close relationship with the policies of every minister, council member, local worker – they all seem to understand me.
    2. the party listens to me and makes its points directly to me so together we support the same policies come what may.
    3. my party always stands boldly for what it believes, doesn’t make arbitrary decisions but remains trustworthy.
    BME or any other group, party, religion, locality, family, assembly – any close relationship of society – will feel the same.
    Think of the recent past of the Lib Dems, and do you feel proud and together? That will be your key to later outcomes.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 8:43pm

    Jonathan Browne’s interpretation of “race must be central” translates into “we must attract more BAME people to be members and then office-holders/candidates for the party”. By doing this, the natural existing and evolving democratic procedures in the party will mean that more BAME people will move into prominent positions and that we “become” the wider range of people who we will represent.

    That seems to be pretty innocuous and obvious, one of the first lessons of politics. But selling this message does not seem to need the racist undertones that Lester’s article appears to contain. “Race must be central” seems very far removed from that message. Maybe one of the things that the party needs to do is develop guidelines about language – how to discuss and develop support for these types of issues without such undertones, inadvertent or otherwise.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 10:51pm

    It’s you who have to wake up, Lester.

    There is nothing in your article that advocates race equality, except in the very last paragraph where you essentially use equality to issue a threat in “Having black MPs and policies to make Britain a racially equal society is not a luxury choice, it is a question of survival. “. Threatening people with extinction if they do not change is no way to get their support.

    I cannot find the words “unequal racial outcomes” in your article. What you article is saying instead is that we should focus on race because that is the way to win elections. Not because reducing inequality is right. Not because that’s what makes for a better society. But just because it’s a way to win elections. What incredible cynicism! Your last comment spends most of its words saying the same thing.

    You need to learn how to communicate better, because your language shows not one ounce of sensitivity about this issue. Jonathan Browne’s interpretation is an acceptable and rather generous one of a rather badly written article. Are you using racial issues as a way of furthering your own ends? Try being humble, it’s a great teacher.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 13th Aug '13 - 11:01pm

    Tim13, you are correct in that I made a typo and put PA when I meant PD. must goes to show how easy things get mistaken. The definition of PA is correct though and I stand by the benefits that it can offer any organisation.

  • Clear Thinker 13th Aug '13 - 11:13pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera . Can you not help here? Lester may have good intentions, but the way he’s going about things is very counter-productive, unlikely to persuade, but likely to induce the reactions he complains about. If UK politics turns into battles between races, or between which party can satisfy which race the most, then principles of liberalism and democracy – which include equality- will just get lost in the gunfire. We don’t have anything like a bright future.

  • Absolutely, Ruwan – I don’t argue with you on that point.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 13th Aug '13 - 11:29pm

    Where on earth does Lester’s article even suggest this”What you article is saying instead is that we should focus on race because that is the way to win elections. Not because reducing inequality is right. Not because that’s what makes for a better society. But just because it’s a way to win elections”?

    Lester is pointing out the business case for those who seem to ignore or dismiss the moral ones for greater inclusion.

    As for suggesting that Lester or anyone else that challenges racism or any other form of bigotry is doing so for self gratification, then clearly those proposing this have never been involved in standing up for the rights of others. The personal cost of being involved at the level that Lester and others are is beyond many people’s comprehension, as these issues become all consuming negatively effecting careers, relationships and even ones health.

    Frankly Clear Thinker the manner in which you have chosen to attack Lester personally, rather than the words that he has stated is pathetic. Lester has considerable gravitas in this arena and I would suggest that dismissing his perspective so flippantly is rather foolish.

  • Jonathan Brown 13th Aug '13 - 11:45pm

    @Clear Thinker – I don’t think Lester is scaremongering when he says that we’re threatened with oblivion. We’ve spent the best part of a century on the absolute margins, and even if we manage to make it in to another coalition in 2015, it’ll be down to constitutional fluke. There’s no reason why we couldn’t be consigned to history again. The last few years haven’t been healthy for party membership or support. It’s uncomfortable to hear it said, but it’s nevertheless true that we have become dangerously detached from large parts of society and we simply have to catch up with the changes in society if we want to survive, prosper and contribute to the country’s political development.

    I also think Lester is right to put it as strongly as ‘race must be central’. The electoral results speak for themselves. If parties as nasty as the Tories and UKIP are able to win as much BAME support as us, there’s no other explanation than we’re doing something wrong. With the best will in the world, and with some notable exceptions in certain constituencies, we are not as a party connecting with BAME communities. That’s terrible for us, and (I believe, as a Liberal Democrat who thinks Lib Dem policies will benefit the country) terrible for them. Tweaking a few policies and procedures isn’t going to do it.

    We must attract more BAME members and candidates/office holders, but we’re stuck in a vicious circle: we’re not going to do that unless we can talk about race equality in ways that connect with BAME citizens. I don’t mean to say that BAME members, bloggers etc. can’t be wrong, but we have to realise that as a party WE have been going wrong. Not out of malice, certainly. But we have to be willing to seriously listen to BAME members and take their concerns seriously. When we hear something that makes us feel uncomfortable (this party has a problem with race / this party needs to talk explicitly about race), we must take a deep breath, and focus on ‘black youth unemployment is double white youth unemployment’. That fact matters far more than fighting over ‘we’re so post-racial that we can’t talk about race’. If necessary, we can come back to it once we’ve sorted out black unemployment!

    I also believe that if we can rise to the challenge, can be the party that BAME citizens feel represents them, then we will also serve the rest of the country much better. When issues are left to fester, they ultimately have a negative impact everyone. When we address issues dear to BAME communities, we’ll find we actually are solving other, wider problems too, whether it’s housing, police tactics, educational standards, etc.

    I also think Lester is right to put it in such stark, tactical/strategic terms. There’s nothing wrong with princples (indeed, I’m sure one thing we could all agree on is that they’re vital to the kind of politics any of us would want to support), but this is an article about implementing them. It’s about converting principles that we’ve done a terrible job at putting in to practice in to action. No one likes criticism, especially when you feel that you’ve been trying to deal with a problem. But as a party we’ve been failing. We really need to learn from members like Lester, and if they rub us up the wrong way, we need to listen even harder. They are telling us things we need to hear.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 12:24am


    Your argument is astonishingly the same as Lester’s – we should do something, not because it is right, but because it wins us votes. Are you even suggesting that we should ditch some liberal and democratic principles, not because it is right, but to get votes? Principles are not unimportant luxuries, they are the vital things that persuade peoples to trust parties. Ask any BAME person. Ask anyone.

    Principles are also vital in solving problems like youth unemployment and like black youth unemployment being twice white youth unemployment. Principled analysis will allow us to identify the cause, and so begin to rectify the problem – which might or might not be prejudice, but education or job preparedness for example. Unprincipled analysis is likely to simply transfer the problem from one group to another, at best, or make the problem worse not better. Doing things according to principles can also prevent unfairness and prevent the bitterness that can arise from the impression of unfairness.

    Whether Lester’s shock tactics are the right way forward is something for Lester to gamble on and the party to decide. No self-respecting BAME person that I know would respond kindly to his threats. No BAME person that I know would respect a party that did so.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 12:47am


    It seems absolutely astonishing that neither you nor Jonathan seem to have grasped the importance, or perhaps even the concept, of making choices on the basis of principles rather than expediency.

    In all cultures and all ethnicities and all religions, principles lead to stable government that can foster equality and satisfy most of the people most of the time. Expediency leads to corrupt government and major inequalities.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 12:49am

    Come off it Lester, you have threatened LibDems with extinction if they don’t follow your path.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 1:07am

    Very amusing Gareth Epps. Not a comment that makes sense to me at this minute.

    Anyway, as every self-respecting BAME person and every self-respecting LibDem knows, freedom is a fundamental pre-requisite of democratic choice. Now that Lester seems to have withdrawn his threat, and may even have recognized that not all LibDems do things for expediency, we might have achieved just enough freedom of thought to have a sensible discussion on demographics. But not for me at this late hour, maybe tomorrow.

    May your dreams be sweet too! 🙂

  • Critically important issues. Lester thanks for leading the charge!

    Really think Jonathan Brown makes a profound point “But as a party we’ve been failing. We really need to learn from members like Lester, and if they rub us up the wrong way, we need to listen even harder. They are telling us things we need to hear.”

  • It seems very common for a privileged élite (privileged by virtue of being born into conditions than assure them of certain societal favours) to assume that because they can’t perceive certain forms of discrimination (i.e., because they don’t experience them) that they don’t exist, and that those who *do* perceive them (because they suffer from them) are just maladjusted, resentful whiners who want special privileges (that is, they want to abolish the privileges which the élite cherishes). As such, “colorblindness” and similar rhetorical tricks are simply a monument to the blind, self-satisfied, assumed superiority of the members of a rigidly segregated upper hierarchy — people who claim to be egalitarian so long as they don’t actually end up equal to anybody below them.

  • Clear Thinker – you are suffering again from a lackof this clear thought! For Lester to “threaten” extinction for the Lib Dems (or even to withdraw his threat, as you now say), he needed to have the power to do that. What he was doing was warning that problems would arise for any party that didn’t properly take into account issues of minorities, partly because of their making up a greater proportion of the population. What we have heard from Lester, and what we know of him from other sources, makes it unlikely towards impossible that he does NOT take into account the sort of principles that we all value on here. Our principles include valuing diversity, and encouraging people to participate from the diverse range of backgrounds should be key to that – to demonstrate very clearly that all parts of the British
    population are involved and can have a part of those values. It seems peculiar that you seem to reject this in areas of race, whereas you seemed to be embracing it in your comments on gender? I am now very confused by your clear thinking. Sorry.

  • Simon McGrath 14th Aug '13 - 8:30am


    ” I wasn’t actually calling you a racist. I was pointing out that if I wanted to apply for the Leadership Programme (I don’t) I would not be allowed to do so because I am white. Were I from a different ethnic group I would be able to do so. That is racism – ie distinguinging between people on the grounds of race.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 9:25am

    @ Simon McGrath, Do you, or do you not acknowledge that currently in society people face unnecessary barriers to their progression as a result of an unalterable characteristic such as their gender, sexual orientation, a disability and in this case their ethnicity, and that racism exists towards specifically people of colour, as well as other minority ethnic groups such as Gypsy Rome communities etc?

    If you do not accept this then I can understand your confusion, but if you do, then what exactly is your agenda, for in this and every other thread that discusses the issues of Ethnicity, Race and EMLD , you are plainly obstructive and exceptionally dismissive of any positive arguments or changes?

    Frankly Simon, I have followed and commented on your stated apparent illiberal opinions in the past, and I am amazed that you have not joined the Tories, or even UKIP.

    One thing that I will commend and I respect you for is that you do not hide and snipe at others from behind a nom de plume as some of the other negative commentators do.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 14th Aug '13 - 9:45am

    @Simon McGrath – The Leadership Programme is not simply for non white people, but intended to promote candidates from under represented groups within our party. That is women, BAME, disabled people etc. I dont see how that is “racism” I think you should ensure you get your facts right before casually throwing around that accusation. Given that 80% of the UK Parlimament consist of white men, and we only have 7 female MPs, none from a BAME background, perhaps you could explain why you feel aggrieved enough to even complain that the Leadership Programme is ‘racist?’ Positive action programmes like this are not racist, and allowed within the law.

  • I tend to agree with Paul Barker, that we should do these things because they are right and not because they are likely to get votes. If they are done only for the second reason it is going to be transparent. While I might agree with some of the proposals this article is intended to pave the way for, I do tend to disagree with the idea that it can be central to the party’s recovery – particularly outside of a few cities like London and Birmingham.

    There are many groups (e.g. football supporters, dog lovers, people concerned about their neighbours looking at page 3 etc.) whose numbers are enough to swing a large number of parliamentary seats, but only given two assumptions 1) that they are currently voting for the first placed party – otherwise they could only make it harder to win, not swing it, and 2) that they are likely to block-vote, and block-change-their-vote. In the case of the BAME vote I would contend that we need to reduce some of the figures quoted in the article as 1) will not always be true and 2) is very likely not to be true: when you start to propose policies about problems specific to BAME citizens – e.g. telling Chinese businessmen they need to hire more young black people or face action, taking a tougher line against forced marriages – it suddenly becomes clear that BAME people have different and competing interests and beliefs just as white people do.

    Lester – “but was Editor of an African and Caribbean newspaper,” The fact that it wasn’t a general BAME newspaper is possibly a clue that there is not a BAME block-vote out there to get.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 9:46am

    @Clear Thinker

    Thanks for speaking up for all Liberal Democrats and minority ethnic person in society “as every self-respecting BAME person and every self-respecting LibDem knows…”

    Although you may well possess the wisdom of Solomon himself! I would sooner as a LibDem, and as someone possessing BME antecedents speak for myself, for you do not represent the opinions of the countless people whom Lester, myself and the numerous other people reading this thread work with and meet within the many diverse ethnic communities that now exist in the UK.

    There is one point that I would tend to support and that is “Expediency leads to corrupt government and major inequalities”.

    As you will have read previously, I could at least respect your opinion if you actually identified yourself and did not hide behind a nom de plume.

    As I ask Simon McGrath, it would only be courtesy to do the same with you, what exactly is your agenda, for you are plainly obstructive and exceptionally dismissive of any positive arguments or changes?

    If you or anyone else would like to continue this discussion offline then please feel free to contact me via [email protected]. I know that Lester and other members of EMLD would be only too happy to meet with you, and others to discuss your concerns in a different environment.

  • By the way, the assumption that black people are always going to vote Labour is actually Labour’s achilles heel because they have a habit of ignoring and taking for granted people they think have nowhere else to go. Such people need to be activated by grass-roots campaigning around a specific candidate though rather than national messaging. For comparison look at Redcar and the equally strong assumption that steel workers would always vote Labour no matter what.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 9:59am

    In the words of Tina Turner, what’s race got to do with it?

    What Lester and Jonathan eventually seem to be arguing is that LibDems should put demographics at the forefront of their strategies for continued success, not race. As several previous commentators have mentioned, demographics includes class as well as race, and it includes a lot of other ways of categorizing people too, including income, life expectancy, education, career prospects. If LibDems want to improve the match between their demographic and their constituents, they perhaps need to step back a bit from all the emotion surrounding the “race” concept. Think clearly, don’t be driven by those second-hand emotions!

    http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/decline_liberal_party.htm has an interesting take on the liberal decline 100 years ago. While some of it may have been due to a mismatch between the party’s demographic and the people it previously represented, there were other reasons too – principally some disastrous policy mistakes, some possible corruption, and a split in the leadership. Sounds kinda familiar!

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 10:35am
  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 10:51am

    @Clear Thinker

    Ironically you mention Tina Turner. GIven Oprah Winfrey’s recently experience in Switzerland whilst attending Tina Turner’s wedding I am pretty sure that she would not be overly pleased with your misquote. ‘Race’ it would appear has a lot to do with it!

    I ask agin of you what exactly is your agenda, for your statements are plainly obstructive and exceptionally dismissive of any positive arguments or changes?

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 11:04am

    Very simple, R Uduwerage-Perera. my agenda is Clear Thinking. 🙂 It is the only way forward that has any chance of success. Clear Thinking includes assessing arguments based on their merits, not on who makes them. Of which mine have many! Have a nice day.

  • You have clearly not listened to my views on this “clear thinking”!

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '13 - 12:01pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera

    Ironically you mention Tina Turner. GIven Oprah Winfrey’s recently experience in Switzerland whilst attending Tina Turner’s wedding I am pretty sure that she would not be overly pleased with your misquote. ‘Race’ it would appear has a lot to do with it!

    Try going to a posh shop and addressing the staff in a southern accent, and you will find just the same sort of judgment is made of you. By “southern accent” I mean the way most people in the south speak, i.e. what is sometimes called “Estuary English”, and not “Received Pronunciation” or “BBC English” which is as far removed from the language of most southerners as it is from the language of most northerners. Class discrimination is rife in this country, and when people like you write off the very existence of working-class southerners by using language which suggests the south is all wealthy people, you further that class discrimination.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 12:04pm

    “Clear Thinking” to what end, for your statements merely appear as dismissive of some that clearly has a greater understanding of race inequality.

    This is not a theoretical debate, but one that impacts on people’s lives, so is it possible to assist the debate to progress in a positive manner, for you are clearly someone who is articulate and engages albeit in my opinion on this topic negatively.

    How about joining in the debate under your real name, you will certainly have my respect for that at least.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 4:05pm

    Clear thinking has a number of benefits, one of which is that it gives a better chance of finding causes and solutions that are effective. I don’t see much understanding of race inequality in this discussion, nor of how to make things better. I see people’s ego’s dominating responses, not clear thinking at all. Things really do stem from the grassroots level, but I don’t see anyone offering, for example, practical help to local associations to help identify the demographic in their area – which is much more difficult than it seems – or in developing ways to attract a more diverse membership.

  • Clear thinking, when demonstrated, has a number of benefits.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 4:26pm

    Repetition, Tim13, tends to dull the mind. Would I infer correctly you personally would not be willing to work with a local group to help identify a demographic or to help them work out how to attract a more diverse membership?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 5:03pm

    @ Clear Thinker

    I note your assault on Tim13, which is odd. The reality is that Lester whom you have also decided to demonise works directly with grassroots organisations and individuals as an advocate and with the Party at the same level to increase community engagement.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 5:15pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    I like your thinking, although I am not sure how I have dismissed working class southerners.

    You are clearly supportive of the Marxist belief, as I am that ‘Class’ is one of the major negative contributors in society.

    Although I may not be white and working class, and possess what some call a Home Counties accent, I never dismiss ‘Class’ as a huge problem, and within the Party I would suggest that it is possibly one the most overtly prevalent of the ‘isms’ apart from sexism. Recently I added to Lord Avebury’s posting about ‘Caste’ discrimination that I believe that ‘Class’ should be added as a ‘Protected Characteristic’ within the Equality Act, so I am not so much of a demon, and come the revolution I intend being on the side of the righteous.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 5:31pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera. Assault? Which planet are you on? But yes, it would be your job to do that, wouldn’t it? Or at least to facilitate that kind of help. I’m sure you are already doing something, I just don’t know what. Perhaps you could report on what you have been doing, how far you’ve got, and what/whether you need extra help, at the Glasgow conference?

    I have not demonized Lester, there’s no evidence of that, quite the contrary if you actually read my posts, he’s young and the party needs his energy but I do suggest he would be more effective if he was less hostile to his audience – suggesting people only do things in order to win elections is a bit much really.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '13 - 7:27pm

    @Clear Thinker

    “Which planet are you on? ”

    Earth, that is populated by billions of people who do not look or think like you I would suggest.

    “Perhaps you could report on what you have been doing, how far you’ve got, and what/whether you need extra help, at the Glasgow conference?”

    Sadly, I cannot afford to be in Glasgow, but EMLD will be putting forward a motion about education and employment which even has support externally from some Unions and members of the Labour movement. The motion is based on the recommendations of the 20,000 word report ‘Towards Race Equality: A Liberal Democrat Approach’ which Lester was instrumental in researching and writing. This is but one of the things that we have been involved with within the Party.

  • CT I am sure that if anything is blunting my mind it is likely to be age! As a matter of interest, I am a Membership Development Officer for a local party. I cannot say I am proud of my record in that respect, but of course I am interested to develop a more diverse membership. To answer your question, if I had rather less family issues at the moment (as I have said before), the idea of investigating the demographic make up of a local party would be interesting, and quite likely useful. I am actually particularly interested in encouraging the many unregistered to register as voters, and to encourage voting behaviour among those who have either never done it, or not for a long time. In ethnic terms around us, there are quite a number of Polish and other East European people who have not registered.

    You speak as if you have some experience doing some of these things, and yet you attack people for taking what, for the Lib Dems, are fairly mainstream positions. Am I correct in assuming that you have got some experience here? In which case, why are you not trying to cooperate, rather than confront? You accuse Lester of being “h*stile” above, for instance, when you are regularly being so. There is really no point in debating, and implying that your clear thinking would lead to useful action, unless you follow through in a positive manner.

    I do genuinely wish to understand what is motivating you to post, and also why you are being negative to people. You have mentioned ego once or twice, and of course, those involved in politics quite often have substantial egos, but you must have realised that before you came?

  • Thankyou, Dave Page. I think one or two have said that to Simon! Thanks also for your very liberal posting. Just to say, I have come across quite a few Lib Dems who fall into what you describe as “the socialist trap”. I don’t know who you define as “socialists”, but I know many people on the left who don’t stereotype as a first reaction. I do, on the other hand know many many people on the right of politics who do it. You could, for instance, argue, that anyone from a nationalist background always stereotypes. Dare I say that you have stereotyped by calling it “the socialist trap”?

  • Agree, Dave.

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 9:28pm

    I hope Lester becoming amused rather than offended by all this.

    The thing that is difficult to do is to work out the demographics of the people that we are trying to represent in a constituency, ie. the whole electorate in a constituency.

    Part of the difficulty is that data is not very easily available. Part is because it’s incomplete or imprecise or time-consuming to interpret or not meaningful in terms of likely opinions and votes. Part is because the demograohic changes. Part is because many voters vote in one area, work in another, shop in a third, get heathcare in a fourth, and play in a fifth. Anecdotal data is even less reliable because, as individuals, we tend to have most of our interactions with people we know and are reasonably comfortable with – we also tend to see ourselves in others, rather than see others, and we tend not to register well people who are significantly different. We tend to interpret news and statistics in terms that we understand, and our understanding is often limited.

    All of this is basic psychology, and I’m sure there are also whole academic disciplines on how to do demographics. In my bookcase there is a book called “Economics for Dummies”. What is probably needed is some simple constituency-specific advice and guidance, plus maybe a clear local pointer or two to get started.

  • @ Lester Holloway

    “Your assumptions, however, are deeply flawed.”

    I made no assumptions but used the figures and assumptions from the Operation Black Vote report. Perhaps you don’t like my “It assumes there are 11003 BME voters in 2015”? This does not mean I am disagreeing with the assumptions used to achieve the 11003, which I think is about the ratio of people who are under 18 and will still be under 18 in 2015. My reducing the figure by 30% means that 70% are voting and as you say this is higher than for white voters. Therefore nothing you have said negates the figures from the report that I used. My point was that even where the number of BME voters is twice the size of the majority just trying to win the BME vote is unlikely to be enough to win the seat. The other point I was implying was that the percentage voting for the party that won the seat might be higher than stated in the report because the percentage stated is an average across the sample seats. Also I was stating that no matter if there were enough BME voters to win the seat we should be looking at our policies to address the concerns of BME people as I believed Lester Holloway was calling for.

    I would like to thank Lester Holloway for reading the comments and taking the time and trouble to reply to them and to make more than one follow up post. (I wish our MPs and Lords who write articles here would do it as well.)

    @ Clear Thinker

    “Your argument is astonishingly the same as Lester’s – we should do something, not because it is right, but because it wins us votes.”

    My argument is that there are fewer seats that Lester suggests that can be won with the BME vote, but because we are Liberals we should address the concerns of BME voters.

    Lester Holloway brings some interesting data to this discussion with “Projections_of_the_Ethnic_Minority_populations_of_the_United_Kingdom..pdf” and that the ethnic minority populations (including the ‘Other White’) by 2056 will be 43% of the UK population. However it appears from this report that 33% of the UK population will be non-white ethnic minorities. This means that we should be looking at why these people are disadvantaged and include within our policies, policies to address these disadvantages and the sooner the better.

    @ R Uduwerage-Perera

    “but EMLD will be putting forward a motion about education and employment”

    The motion has a section entitled “Accordingly conference calls upon Liberal Democrats in Government to:” and this might mean the coalition government rather than a future government with Liberal Democrats in it after 2015. I do not feel that the seven clauses under this section are very radical and I wonder if they will address the issues BAME face with regard to education and employment.

  • Jonathan Brown 14th Aug '13 - 9:57pm

    @Clear Thinker “It seems absolutely astonishing that neither you nor Jonathan seem to have grasped the importance, or perhaps even the concept, of making choices on the basis of principles rather than expediency.”

    On the contrary. I am (as, I suspect, is Lester) taking fundamental liberal principles as as my starting point. I want to live in a society where everyone has the opportunity to ‘get on in life’ and be the best they can be. We live in a diverse society, and I want our party to reflect that. I want our party to practice and promote our liberal democratic values.

    Where we are disagreeing is over how we do this. I am saying that we have been failing to do so in respect of the ethnic diversity of this country for a long time, and failing badly. Lester is simply telling us that if we continue to fail at this, we face absolute ruin and irrelevance. And he’s suggesting things we could do if we’re serious about improving our record of practicing and promoting our liberal principles. As someone who’s got a wealth of experience in these issues, and done a tremendous amount of good work on this, his recommendations are worth taking very seriously, even if your instinct is to feel uncomfortable at his challenge. And it is a challenge to us all.

    However, nothing in the above means that principles should be abandoned. On the contrary, we should actually start doing things that will demonstrate them to the voting public.

    One final point – this isn’t even just about BAME voters. In the last years of the last government it was common for polsters to describe Conservative policies to voters who withdrew their support for them when they were told they were Tory policies. The messenger matters – a lot. I would argue that our lack of credibility amoung BAME voters undermines our credibility when we’re dealing with non-BAME voters too. Just as being Tory undermined support for Conservative policies, the fact that our party looks so unrepresentative harms our credibility with the wider public. And even worse than that, undermines our ability – no matter how much we may care or try to empathise – to understand and therefore represent the country we live in.

    Lester’s article is about tactics. We are a political party: it’s okay to want to win elections and to discuss how best we can do so. It’s about how we can implement our liberal policies – how we can engage a lot of people we’ve been failing for a long time. This is about how we can be better politicians!

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 12:23am

    What practical help is being provided, to grassroots levels, to address the issues that Lester’s demographics highlights? Who is providing that help?

  • Answer, I think, CT, is very little, if any, because there is very little money to come from anywhere. Certainly outside the “60+ byelections”, which we are told will constitute the 2015 General Election.

  • * I think you need to read up on the negative impact of racism on black communities. With around 60% of young black men currently unemployed, its not simply a result of poor education. *

    We used to have institutional racism = racism caused black people to be poor = poor people lived in certain areas = lots of black people lived in poor areas because of racism (and that we imported lot’s of poor black people to fill jobs like bus drivers) = poor areas very typically have worse levels of education.

    Of course poor education is a large factor (and by education I also include extra curricular activities).

    So then we have to ask is this just an issue of poor people, in which case should we deal with them equally, or is it a case of poor black people, in which case you want positive discrimination, but then if black people should be considered equal, why is that needed. The Jewish and Irish, neither of them need or had positive discrimination. I see very little outcry for positive discrimination for Asians, many of them seem very successful (as well as many black people).

    So no, I don’t buy it, I see this as an issue of poor people, not poor *black* people, positive discrimination is just divisive

    *Recent research showed that 36% more people with foreign sounding names were not shortlisted for jobs*

    Every black person I know has an English name?

    What has foreign sounding names got to do with being black?

    Since when were indian, polish ect names black?

    Could it be that people don’t want to hire FOREIGNERS, hmmm, must be cus they black

    **My cousin who is a head teacher was recently asked to get more coffee at a head teachers conference – they assumed she was there for the
    catering, simply because of the colour of her skin.**

    Really, she asked them that did she?

    Had nothing to do with how old she looked, how she dressed, how she presented herself.

    How did she know it’s because she’s black?

    Sounds like an Ali G sketch, real life becomes parody, parody becomes real life.

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 12:01pm

    Sad Fact of Political Life No.493

    If there isn’t any money for it, then it usually doesn’t happen

    True or False?

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 3:22pm

    Perhaps Lester would like to look again at my comments, some of which question whether some statements are racist, and none of which claim that he is personally racist – indeed in one comment I suggested that he probably didn’t mean things the way they came out.

  • *The whole point of it is to address under-represented sections of society. *

    The great internet tells me that the black population is 1-2% of the population, and that 1-2% of MP’s are black?

    Where is this democratic deficit?

    I’m not really getting the point of any of this, I just don’t see any racist laws that need changing, I don’t really see any particular institutionalized black racism?

    This just seems like divisive politics, “let’s get the black vote”, why?

    What exactly do you intend to do with it other than positive discrimination, which seems distinctly unfair if no one is actively discriminating against black people.

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 3:54pm

    The 2011 population data for England and Wales is here: http://www.nomisweb.co.uk/census/2011/QS201EW/view/2092957703

    86% of us are white, 7.5% are asian , 3.3% are black, 2.2% are multiple, etc. So, for every 500 MPs, only 86% x 500 = 430 should be white. About 37 should be asian, 17 should be black, 11 should be of multiple race, etc

  • Jonathan Brown 15th Aug '13 - 6:53pm

    “Of course BAME voters consider the same issues as White voters – general policies and how they affect them; topics of the day; performances of leaders and the extent of local political activity. But in addition they look at how friendly parties are towards BME communities, how (or if) they engage, diversity in political representation and whether they have policies to combat racial disadvantage.”

    This seems to me to be a central point of Lester’s argument, and also what seems to show that some of the criticisms of his article are unfounded. He is not arguing that we should crudely or patronisingly pick a black frontman (or woman) and ask or expect EM voters to support us because ‘we is black’.

    When we canvass and campaign, we try to identify issues and interests and then deliberately target potential Lib Dem voters with messages that will resonate with them. That goes for ‘soft cons’, ‘soft lab’, ‘students’, ‘pensioners’, or whoever. An article attempting to wake us up to the threat of ignoring part of our society is overdue. Lester does more than warn however: he presents us with a golden opportunity. He argues that we can and should step out of our comfort zone and engage with parts of society that historically we’ve been very bad at reaching, even though you might think from our policies that we’d be pretty successful.

    Crudely put, ‘target the black vote’ is no more cynical than ‘target the student vote’ or ‘squeeze the labour vote’. Of course it matters why we (or any other party) would want to do this, and the how is incredibly important too. Done badly, it could be divisive and/or racist, but he’s arguing that we should do it well! There’s no getting away from the fact that one of the things that puts of EM voters is the lack of diversity within our party. And one of the things that discourages EM voters from getting involved is the impression that they are not wanted or that their concerns are not taken seriously. If EM voters believe this, then we have a problem and we owe it to them and to ourselves to try to overcome it.

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 7:40pm

    “Of course white voters consider the same issues as BAME voters – general policies and how they affect them; topics of the day; performances of leaders and the extent of local political activity. But in addition they look at how friendly parties are towards white communities, how (or if) they engage, diversity in political representation and whether they have policies to support racial advantage”

    Anyone see anything wrong with this, which is not far from an attempt to support racism?

  • I may sound cynical, or lazy, or both, but recent experience in our Region tells me that we would need to invest money in order to get a reasonable result – I may have the wrong end of the stick or something, and I am not envisaging the same thing from a “demographic mapping” exercise. And, if I am wrong, and indeed it is fairly straightforward with trained canvassers / analysts on the Electoral Register or whatever. But if you are involved in a) a fair amount of training, and / or b) writing and sending, by whatever method, questionnaires or other written material, then you are already involved in a deal of expense. You can always put together a half-arse project using less money and resources, but what quality of result you would get, I would be dubious. Perhaps Lester or someone in EMLD may have a pilot project up and running?

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 8:19pm

    Here’s another one:

    “Of course straight voters consider the same issues as gay voters – general policies and how they affect them; topics of the day; performances of leaders and the extent of local political activity. But in addition they look at how friendly parties are towards straight communities, how (or if) they engage, diversity in political representation and whether they have policies to support straight advantage”

  • I think, CT, and I may be wrong here, and Lester will correct me if I interpret incorrectly, this term “racial advantage” is meant to refer to whether “BAME” voters see a perceived bias against them and in favour of the “indigenous” population in the way a political party seems to present.
    There is, of course, a mass of evidence suggesting that there are still inbuilt biases against ethnic minority people in British society. If you are someone who doesn’t believe that (and there are many people who desperately don’t want to believe that), then you will tend to perceive any action intended to help eliminate these various biases as “biased in favour, of BAME people”, and presumably, in your eyes, racist. Is that what you believe?

  • @Tim13: The fact that “CT” deliberately changed the word “disadvantage” to “advantage” without, apparently, realizing that that changes the entire tenor of the paragraph, suggests that he’s not fully .prepared to think clearly about these issues.

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 9:17pm

    I think Lester and Tim13 and Jonathan Brown and perhaps even R Uduwerage-Perera may need some training in how to approach racial issues without inadvertently being racist or seeming to be so or seeming to support or incite racism. Quite a lot of what you say I also get from my very racist neighbour, with virtually no change of words, and he also uses projected statistics to try to spread his fear.

    I know it’s a PC minefield and we all trip up sometimes. It might be interesting to see what the Equalities Commission make of these comments, if it still has personnel and offices.

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 9:18pm

    … and David too!

  • I think your clear thinking has defeated us all! Please lay out clearly why you think what you do about posters here “inadvertently being racist or seeming to be so, or seeming to support or incite racism”? I for one, don’t understand. To repeat in other words my last posting, what you seem to think (and I am trying to read your words for subtext meaning) is that any assumption that racism exists and we should try to discourage it, is dismissed as a form of racism, or as “seeming to incite racism”. If, indeed, that is what you think, I think you and I (and quite a lot of others here) will have to agree to disagree.

  • You mention your very racist neighbour – those of us who canvass quite often come across a need to engage with people like that. Not easy, I agree, but if I feel that anything I can say may have a positive effect, then I do. If not, and they are a Mr / Mrs Angry, then I would just depart agreeing to disagree. None of them have ever told me they agree with me, which presumably they would if they thought I was also a racist?

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 9:46pm

    Tim13. What you and others here are presenting is probably the same kind of brick wall that gay people face when dealing with anti-gay prejudice, and women faced in the UK when fighting for the vote. You construct what seems to you like a justification for what others see as prejudice or, in this case, racism. Look at David, he grabs a small point in order not to see the bigger picture.

    I have no idea how to communicate with you, it would take an expertise far beyond what I possess. But I do know how ordinary people on the street react to expressions like “putting race at the centre” of things. It means something very specific for them, and it’s nasty. It’s just not the way to say what Lester probably means.

  • David – yes, interesting. I think CT, by the way, is a woman, at least from what she has implied.

  • CT I still don’t get it. Most people, criticising me for my faults, would say I see too many angles, and don’t come down on one side or the other. I think the last thing they would say is that I construct brick walls. If what you mean is, I don’t give up, and I don’t let people get away with lazy, unclear thinking, then I am afraid I admit to that! But bigotry is not my usual style!

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 10:13pm

    Tim13. I give up.

  • @ Lester Holloway

    As an exercise to “reappraise assumptions that their (BAME) vote has no impact” then it is meaningful and I am not trying to counter that. I don’t think that Lester in his report should have reduced the size of the potential BAME voters by their under registration percentage or their turnout. However for a political party to use the data provided then under registration and voter turnout are important to discover if there are enough BAME voters who we could convert to win the seat, which is what I was doing for Aldershot to show that there really needs to be more BAME voters that twice the size of the majority and if we have already made progress and achieved more than 14% of their votes then there needs to be even more BAME voters.

    Lester didn’t seem to like my 70% turnout, his OBV report states that the BME population of Aldershot will be Asian 10,326 (77.3%) and Black 3,025 (22.67%) and that turnouts are Bangladeshi 75%, Pakistani 73, Indian 74, Caribbean 66 and African 60. Therefore for the Asian voters averages at 74% and Black at 63%. If this is calculated out the percentage is 71.25 not 70% as I used. Lester assumes that non registration will decrease and that voter turnout will increase. However Lester does not numerate the progress made from one election to the next or forecast what progress is assumed by 2015. Therefore if some progress is made then more than 5655 voters could be BAME voters who are not already voting Lib Dem which is higher than the 5586 majority. However we cannot assume that we could take actions to convert all these people to our voters and therefore my conclusion is still correct – “It is unlikely that targeting the BME vote would win this seat for us.”

    Lester has twice stated that “we would also need to factor in White non-voting”. However I believe that the result last time has already taken into account turnouts. If we were suggesting targeting a sub-group of the white population and we had identified its size then it too would need to be reduced by under registration and turnout so we could discover if it was large enough to make a difference.

    Lester has suggested further research. I would suggest that work could be done to discover the actual share of the BAME vote that each party won in the seats under discussion. For example in Aldershot we may have achieved 25% of the BAME vote rather than the 14% average and this would again reduce the potential gain that could be made.

  • Clear Thinker 15th Aug '13 - 10:40pm

    When I say to someone that they see too many angles, what I actually mean is that they fail to see value, so they are unable to identify which angle is relevant and which is not. Or I mean that they find ways of wriggling out of anything that looks like a criticism. Often I mean both at the same time. It’s my way of exiting from an irritating situation politely.

  • *86% of us are white, 7.5% are asian , 3.3% are black, 2.2% are multiple, etc. So, for every 500 MPs, only 86% x 500 = 430 should be white. About 37 should be asian, 17 should be black, 11 should be of multiple race, etc*

    Oh, they *Should* be?

    We have about 11 instead of 17, a rounding error in statistics.

    What about areas where 80% of the county is white, but 20% black, should that county have a white MP, or a black one, if it has a white one, is the black population “unrepresented”?

    What a load of divisive racial bull.

    I see no evidence that blacks are “unrepresented”, what anti black laws do we have, we have plenty of schemes targeted at helping minorities.

    I’m not sure if this is a well intended policy suggestion, or one that is aimed at exploiting racial tension for votes.

  • Jonathan Hunt 16th Aug '13 - 10:48am

    Thank you Lester for your generous remarks.

    Older readers may recall a Private Eye cover with Enoch Powell’s arms outstretched like a fisherman describing a lost catch, eyes staring wildly, with the caption: “I tell you, some of them have got ones this big.”

    I thought that did more than all the angry letters and shouting from the likes of me to put down this obnoxious man, and make him a figure of fun in the eyes of the public. If only we all could achieve this standard of ridicule, perhaps we could dissolve much of the ignorance and bigotry on which racism is of necessity based.

    Sadly we can’t, and that is why we must redouble our efforts to achieve the levels of fairness and equality that all ethnic minority people deserve. Black people in this country continue to get the worst education, justice, jobs and housing. How can anyone achieve their full potential in such a discriminating, obstacle-strewn society?

    And what much-needed talent the nation is missing as a result. Think what those BaME citizens who do break through could achieve if they started from the position as most of us majority whites. While I agree with much of what Matthew Huntbach says about class, black people have the additional barrier of race to combat.

    And to our eternal shame, continue to do so. While there are myths, attitudes and people to ridicule and parody, to general amusement, there are still far too many things in our essentially racist society to make us angry. We have covered many of them is this debate. And will doubtless do so again.

    While many of us have fought for years for more equal representation, because it is morally right, the publication of these figures that may force others to take it more seriously is cause for some celebration.

  • Jonathan Hunt 16th Aug '13 - 11:10am

    Shaun Bailey, the likeable and perceptive black Tory former candidate and adviser to Cameron, has made some interesting points reported on page 19 of the Guardian today (copied below) .

    It makes us wonder if we have anyone who be quoted saying the same.

    “The Conservatives still have questions to answer about race and the party’s attitude towards ethnic minority voters, one of David Cameron’s only black advisers has said.

    “Shaun Bailey, a Tory and former Downing Street aide, spoke out after a survey showed Britain’s minority ethnic vote might determine the outcome of the 2015 election. He said the Tories should talk about race and be more welcoming if the party wanted to increase its share of the minority ethnic vote, which stood at 16% at the last election compared with Labour’s 68%.

    “The Tories still have to “win the political game” by persuading people “you can join us, we are no more or less racist than the other bunch”, he told a Telegraph podcast.

    “Bailey, who was a member of Cameron’s inner circle until he was moved to the Cabinet Office, said black people do not vote for Tories mostly for historical reasons, because the party is associated with “the establishment”. However, he admitted: “The Conservatives haven’t been brilliant around race. I’m not telling you it’s a whole big lie and they’re spot on. No, they’ve had questions to [answer] and many of the questions they haven’t answered.”

  • Clear Thinker 17th Aug '13 - 7:00pm

    Gee, all this heat, and as far as I can see no-one is suggesting any concrete proposals other than we must do something. What? No-one is denying that BAME voters matter.

  • Clear Thinker 17th Aug '13 - 8:28pm

    Lester, you know that is not true!

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