Opinion: Why the Diversity Motion caused a stir at Conference

I not a massive fan of the term “Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME)” and in an ideal political world it probably wouldn’t exist. But we don’t live in an ideal world and the term is required to designate certain segments of population in order to address inequalities – an uncontroversial statement in my opinion – so why does it cause such heated discussion? Too complex to answer here so I will leave it to someone else but I have some ideas on why the Diversity Motion caused a stir at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference.

Liberalism to me is a belief in the potential of the individual, their ability to act, to be free. I wanted to support the motion prior to amendments, I wanted to take positive action to address the inequalities that exist for women and BAMEs to facilitate this ideal but as a liberal democrat I felt overall it was a bit heavy handed.

It had good intent. Agreed, “achieving diversity in our parliamentary parties is an issue for the entire party, and must urgently be addressed at every level,” but to ask for reserved places in line with Office of National Statistics data or for all BAME shortlists is not the Liberal Democrat way. One section asked that “at least one BAME member be included on a shortlist whenever a sitting Liberal Democrat MP retires or resigns, and in any parliamentary by-election.” This would have seen candidates being imported onto shortlists where they are not representative of the constituency; probably not conducive for selection and a waste of theirs and others’ time.

I’m conscious of tone in diversity debates. Designating segments of the population with terms like ethnic minority and black are potentially divisive if it hardens boundaries and boundaries are more likely to be hardened the more assertive the language of a motion is, whether speaking for or against the group designated. This I think was apparent in the main hall during the debate.

I’m also conscious that racism is a two-way street and am careful not to unconsciously contribute to it by recognising the person in front of me as the “other,” or an opponent.

The amended motion is an example of positive action, I feel to go further with it would move into positive discrimination (whatever this means). I’m able to support the amended motion and do so with a degree of hope induced by a good experience of being inducted into the Liberal Democrats through groups like Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and New Generation. Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and other influential people in the party are firmly behind the drive for diversity and I believe that the Liberal Democrats will continue to work and do the right thing by it. It would be far easier as a party to rush into all BAME shortlists or other measures for expedience sake. Judging by the comments of people I’ve spoke to and read they ignored the temptation of expedience in not supporting the original motion – and I keep hearing about Liberal Democrats placing power above their principles in recent months?

Oh, and lest we forget that diversity is also about women, it’s great that Dinti Batstone’s amendment on job shares was voted for – an idea that could easily have stood alone.

Ramis Cizer is a Liberal Democrat member in Enfield.

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6 Comments

  • Dinti Batstone 30th Sep '10 - 6:27pm

    Thanks Ramis! 🙂

    And here’s more good news on the flexible working front:

    “The right to request flexible working is to be extended to parents of children under 18 from next year, benefiting an estimated 300,000 people, the Government announced today. Ministers said the move would make it easier for people to balance work and family life and would help create more flexible, family-friendly workplaces. A consultation will be launched later this year looking at how to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, and the design of a new system of flexible parental leave, the Government announced.

    Liberal Democrats Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said: “A family-friendly workplace is a business-friendly workplace. “Companies are missing out the skills and talents of too many people who are forced to choose between raising a family and having a job, so we will be working with businesses to change this in a way that will make life better for employers, employees and the economy.”

  • Dave Hughes 30th Sep '10 - 9:22pm

    Is anyone able to explained how “minority ethnic” came to be the preferred term? It’s a bit of an ugly, ungrammatical construction, and can’t be more or less offensive than “ethic minority” as far as I can see.

  • I think anything that goes beyond giving people an equal opportunity, blind to all societal statistics and people’s perceived discrimination, is discrimination, and wrong. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry that so many people fail to grasp this elementry point. If discrimination is the only way to ‘increase diversity’, and by the way I don’t believe it is, then I’m against it.

  • Dave, I think – and others will correct me – the idea of BAME rather than BAEM is that the people to be covered are all people from ethnic groups other than those commonly regarded as originally indigenous , ie white skinned English, Welsh, Scottish, or Northern Irish people. But black people are not necessarily in a minority in particular places. But the whole concept is, in my view, very loose and self-defined. I think either BAEM or BAME could be used to combine the two ideas (ie that people whose skin colour is darker can be discriminated against, whether they are mixed, or from any background, and Irish people, travellers, people with Germanic sounding names, eg Huhne, or with continental European backgrounds, eg Nick Clegg, are also subject to discrimination. People of Afro – Caribbean and Asian backgrounds woul object most strongly if the colour issue were removed altogether from the definition, but others have been recognised as targets for discrimination, and were therefore included. I think!

  • Ramis Cizer 1st Oct '10 - 10:27am

    No worries Dinti 🙂 and great news on the extension of flexible working..

    Jez: My concern is that it can do more harm than good both in the short and long term.

    David: I think Tim’s said it.

  • Totally agree with you Jez.

    The BAME game is all about selecting discreet groups for preference, usually those who shout the loudest, and cranking up the victimhood quotient. We’ve had 13 years of this from New Labour and it’s got us precisely nowhere.

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