Race equality – a new Liberal Democrat approach: SLF/EMLD Conference takes place soon

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, is the keynote speaker at one of the most important race equality events this party has held in recent years. Organised jointly by the Social Liberal Forum and Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, it takes place from noon on Saturday 1st June at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre, 25 New Inn Yard London EC2A 3EA. The conference will be of immense help to all those who realise that, particularly in London, the ethnic minority vote will be key to whether we sink or swim in the next elections.

Race equality is supposed to be hard-wired into our DNA – the party’s trailblazing campaigns against racism and Apartheid in the seventies was the main reason I joined more than 30 years ago. But in recent years the party’s taken its eye off the ball. The 2010 manifesto had little to say, and in the last few months somehow the party found itself acquiescing in a Tory attack on the Equality Act.

Thanks to a brilliantly effective campaign by EMLD (led by Baroness Meral Ece in the Lords) and SLF joined also by the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, we managed to pull some of this back. Fair play to Lib Dem Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, who inherited this mess, for listening to the party and backing down last week on the proposal to abolish the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s mission statement, after losing the vote on this twice in the Lords. But the big plaudits should go to Baroness Campbell for her phenomenal work and the amendments which our campaign supported.

This party needs a race equality policy that will deliver real improvements to the lives of ethnic minority citizens. It needs to be adopted now and implemented by this government as soon as possible so that at the next election we can prove to ethnic minority voters not merely that we believe in race equality – but that we’ve delivered on it.

If anyone thinks racism is a thing of the past, think again. In education, for example, DWP figures show that the fewer black children there are in a school, the more likely they are to be excluded.

In higher education, when Leeds University moved to name-blind marking, the marks of ethnic minority and female students shot up by 12% overnight.

And in employment, we’ve all probably seen that half of black youth under 24 are unemployed compared with just over 20% of white youth.

So what do we do about this? Last year Nick Clegg established a task force on race equality, chaired by Meral Ece. Its first report, on race equality in education and employment, contains 30 specific recommendations and it will be launched at the 1st June conference.

There will be ample time for everyone to discuss and debate these issues and in addition to Vince Cable’s important contribution there will be Tom Brake MP, Meral Ece and the leadership of SLF and EMLD.

The TUC will be there: the noted race campaigner TUC Race Equality Officer Wilf Sullivan will be speaking, as will the internationally respected educationalist Professor Gus John.

The race conference will enable Lib Dems to discuss a new approach to race equality and pave the way for what we hope will be a major debate at the federal conference in the autumn and urgently needed government action.  This party has to get its act together, now.

You can get your ticket here.

For further information email: [email protected]

* Janice Turner was chair of the Young Liberals from 1983-85 and is now a member of SLF Council

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