Post-Christmas musings on the R word

The Queen has in her Christmas speech welcomed new members into the royal family in 2018.

Prince Harry will soon have a mother-in-law who is African American and the young couple’s future children will be of mixed race heritage. The society pages lap up the fairy-tale love story and we all cheer ourselves on how liberal we have become as a nation.

Vogue Magazine has a new editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, and we can’t help but notice the change in the complexion of many of the supermodels that grace the glossy pages. Sir Mo Farrah has not only been knighted but has also been named BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year! The list goes on.

But does that mean that there is now no longer any race discrimination in the UK?

Hold on, what do we make of the less savoury reports, such as yet another death of a black youth in custody? Deaths in police custody need to be investigated with as much urgency as murder enquiries, says a recent Home Office report.

In another news report, three judges of BAME background sue the Ministry of Justice for race discrimination. MoJ has however rejected diversity targets for the judiciary.

People from BAME backgrounds still make up 25% of the prison population and 41% of the youth justice system (despite making up only 14% of the general population).

Whether in areas of education or employment, in the criminal justice system or in political representation, by simply drilling deeper into the statistics, we can easily find disproportionate representation (or under-representation) of different ethnic groups.

And then there is the question of intersectionality. Are Asian women doubly discriminated against in cases of job promotions? Or are those who are, say, LGBT+ or disabled and from a BAME background at a disadvantage when accessing public services?

As Liberal Democrats we believe in individual rights, freedoms and equal opportunity. Every card-carrying member would no doubt have the following from the foreword to the party Constitution emblazoned in their conscience:

“to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

How we marry the above with the reality of the society in which we live is of course another matter. Fortunately, the Federal Policy Committee has set up a new policy working group on Race Equality and I have been appointed by FPC to chair this. The remit of the group can be found here and membership of the policy working group is open for any interested applicants – deadline 1pm on 2 January 2018.

I look forward to engaging with the wider membership in the year ahead to help formulate policy recommendations for adoption at Federal Conference.

* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Dec '17 - 2:01pm


    A very fine piece and your appointment a good one. I care very strongly about these areas of important concern. I am developing a musical TOM’S CABIN – The Man of Humanity, adapted from the book of the 19c that is very much an effort to unify and inform as well as convey deep rooted feeling on these issues.

    We need to be more involved in making our party move way from the mp dominance, to promote spokespoeople of talent.

    Where identifying race as necessary is important, we must. Where we identify that a person of real talent is not seen as much, not because of race, but because of not being in the in crowd on certain issues, we fail.

    Floella Benjamin should be a main spokesperson, but isn’t. Nothing to do with race, everything to do with in crowd.

    We need to be canny and caring, both.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Dec '17 - 2:02pm

    Apologies , typo, Merlene, not Marlene.

  • There is still a lot to do with regards to equal opportunities for people from BAME communities. Sadly discrimination still exists in employment prospects and promotion. Discrimination today is more subtle these days but unfortunately all too real.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Dec '17 - 3:23pm

    Good luck Merlene! I hope you have great success in this endeavour. I welcome Vince’s suggestion that all BAME Parliamentary shortlists should be allowed but judging from comments on LDV about this there are still quite a few people in the party who see positive discrimination as illiberal. Personally I don’t see how you can overturn the effects of historic prejudice without it, but I very much hope you can find a way through the quagmire.

  • Well done on taking up this challenge, Merlene. I look forward to seeing the policy recommendations the Race Equakity working group develop.

  • Marlene
    “Whether in areas of education or employment, in the criminal justice system or in political representation, by simply drilling deeper into the statistics, we can easily find disproportionate representation (or under-representation) of different ethnic groups”
    I’m not sure what it is you are wanting to do about this though?
    If I select doctors, going from the GMC stats:
    And comparing it to the 2011 census:
    We find:
    Population: 86%
    Doctors: 52.42%
    Population: 7.5%
    Doctors: 23.33%
    Population: 3.3%
    Doctors: 3.45%
    Population: 1%
    Doctors: 2.95%
    Population: 2.2%
    Doctors: 2.1%

    Complaining about representation often results in holding down hard working children of Asian origin (US college entrance requirements set the highest levels for them), which looks to me totally unfair. As for intersectionality, perhaps given girls generally better performance in education this is also the case, but I don’t tend to find that the vague statements under that banner are ever sufficient for appropriate analysis?

  • When it comes to criminal justice I would also wonder how much we look at location and income for drivers of a lot of the differences, certain urban areas being heavily policed and issues of entrenched poverty may affect certain areas. If we purely focus on race we may end up designing in effective solution.

    In political representation (particularly the LibDems) there is an unmistakable problem, but I wonder how much of the party response appears to be designed to impose solution appropriate for the Labour Party to a LibDem situation and then are found to be failing.

  • Merlene Emerson 30th Dec '17 - 5:17pm

    Thanks for your comments and good wishes! Applications are welcome to join the policy working group – please apply by 1pm on 2 Jan. Am working on offering reimbursement for travel expenses. We will then be able to discuss in greater depth some of issues raised above eg positive discrimination, quotas or so-called Labour solutions to a Libdem situation..(?)

  • Merlene

    “Labour solutions to a Libdem situation..(?)”

    The Labour approach to solving things is using their safe seats to drop in their chosen candidates AWS etc. LibDems don’t have safe seats, and a worrying number of people don’t understand this. There were a number of suggestions of approaches that could be applied during the AWS debate on here but they were all dismissed by the supporters of AWS. The same arguments when arguing for all BAME short lists:
    The reality is that there are no quick fixes but there are probably a number small changes that would skew incentives for local parties to select candidates that are underrepresented but there seems to be an oversupply of people engaged in magical thinking that some blunt object borrowed from a very different party will result in some “culture change” that will make all the problems go away. While others are pointing out that the root of problem is elsewhere (look at the membership split, or even the base appeal).

    Positive discrimination always looks appealing until you see how quickly it can blow up in your face. You reference Judges but the majority of the legal profession are Solicitors, where in 2014 87% were white. If using figures and you look like you have cherry picked it just damages the credibility of the argument.

    If comparing being a judge to being a hospital consultant, given the abuse judges get from the press I can well imagine that a hard working Asian kid looking at the options and pick the high stress area where you are likely to be well regarded and appreciated by those who you have to interact with professionally, than the one where you get you decisions raked over by the Mail/Telegraph reported in a misleading way then have some dog whistle reference made to your ethnicity or religion (they referenced one judge for being an ex-skier FFS).

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