Race, Extremism, Recruitment & Inspiration: the EMLD Presidential Hustings

EMLD Hustings - LD RadioThis week the Ethnic Minority Lib Dems became the first and only party AO/SAO to host a presidential hustings, with Issan Ghazni very ably chairing what for me was the most interesting of the handful of debates I’ve seen so far. He introduced the evening by noting that the UK is becoming ever more diverse and that our party’s lack of ethnic minority representation is an existential issue. The candidates then faced a range of excellent questions covering not just diversity in the party and the failures of the government to advance race equality but other issues such as countering radicalisation, social cohesion and the rise of the far right.

There was not much overt disagreement between the candidates, leaving it up to the audience to identify the difference in emphasis between their responses. There was plenty of opportunity for us to do so however. These were for me the highlights:

On institutional racism

All seemed reluctant to use this term to describe our party, but none really challenged it. Liz Lynne noted that we have not condoned, but nor have we rallied against it and argued that we need mechanisms to monitor it; Sal Brinton spoke of her experience with diversity training with the police and of the need for us to actively ‘challenge racism, report it, support those affected and educate’ on unconscious bias; Daisy Cooper also spoke of the need to challenge unconscious bias, to introduce for members a ‘responsibility to report’ abuse and bullying (of all kinds) and for the party to actively celebrate diversity.

On recruiting and supporting members

Sal and Liz both warned of repeating mistakes of using ethnic minority members in a tokenistic way, abandoning them once they’ve appeared in photos. Sal called for training for BAME members to enable them to overcome barriers and unconscious bias within the party. Daisy would like a national recruitment scheme, explicitly setting out to ensure that each year’s membership intake was representative of the country. She also spoke in favour of targeting resources at specific seats and candidates, much as ‘Team Science’ (www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dem-scientists-announce-their-team-science-candidates-43217.html) are doing. Liz talked of her intention to establish a ‘network of experienced activists’, to spread skills, inspiration and advice around the party. She also said the president should be actively involved in Britain’s diverse communities.

So what for me were the two game-changing ideas to come out of the evening?

  1. The first was the growing traction in favour of a ‘Morrissey 2’ investigation into the party’s issues with race and diversity. I think all of them had been considering the proposal. Sal raised the subject, and while I don’t believe there was a firm commitment from any of them to back it, both Daisy and Liz indicated that they too looked favourably on the idea.
  2. The second idea was to enable party organisations such as EMLD, LGBT+, Lib Dem Women, etc. to recruit party members directly (perhaps retaining a portion of the membership fee in the way that local parties do currently). There are some practical issues to resolve, but all seemed in favour of this change in principle.

Which just leaves me to thank Marisha Ray, Graham Neale and Merlene Toh Emerson for organising such a successful event at short notice and to www.liberaldemocratradio.com for sponsoring it.

* Jonathan Brown is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate of the Chichester Party and founder of the Liberal Democrats for Free Syria.

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  • Lauren Salerno 21st Nov '14 - 11:10am

    Think this can be welcomed but across the board as seems implied

    I appreciate this was an EMLD event but the phrase “race and diversity” is not truly inclusive and needs challenging whomever it comes from; race is after all just one of many streams of diversity

  • Teena Lashmore 21st Nov '14 - 12:05pm

    Many thanks Jonathan for a reflective piece, again raising consciousness about representation while cautioning against tokenism.
    Because the conversation is on Race Equality this does not negate the other diversity strands and those of us actively working to ensure inclusion find it difficult when comments imply that this is not the case.
    The LibDems value is inclusion and we are all responsibile for striving to that end – mindful of the historical disadvantages and the legacy that brings to the challenge.
    I’m looking forward to more interactions with the SAOs so that my diverse strands come together and support everyone else.
    If there was no racism, sexism, disablism and homophobic and transphobic-ism, then our country would not have to introduce legislation asking people not to do it. We must build on that positive element and not be drawn into which strand is above which.
    I wish to lay the proposal down: which candidate will push for Mohammed’s request that where new members joined to the party through an SAO, that the SAO can keep funds as this helps to support that work?

  • Lauren Salerno 21st Nov '14 - 2:05pm

    Agreed Teena – my one question is about people attracted to multiple SAOs? Would it not be better to have one pot which is equally shared? At least that way prospective members are not forced to choose

  • Jonathan Brown 21st Nov '14 - 4:13pm

    @Lauren – I take your point that diversity is not just about race, and indeed, several of the points raised both by questioners and by the candidates recognised this.

    As you say, in the context of an EMLD meeting, there was rightly an emphasis on race, but EMLD are certainly not exclusive – many of us are members and/or supporters of multiple AOs / SAOs, and I think there is much appetite for working together to advance a common cause.

    I certainly support the idea of party organisations being able to recruit members directly, and how any money would be distributed is one of those ‘practical issues’ I mentioned as needing resolving.

    I suppose there are two ways of looking at it: people who spread their time between multiple constituencies (say home and university) are forced to pick one or the other to be a member of. This logic would suggest that whichever AO/SAO recruits a new member should be the one that gets the financial benefit of doing so, even if that new member goes on to join other party groups. It also incentivises friendly competition between parts of the party to go out and recruit, as the current scheme does for constituency parties.

    The alternative – and I think this would be pretty easy to implement for people who joined online and joined multiple AOs/SAOs at the same time – would be to have the new member indicate which organisations they wished to spread their payment between.

    Without thinking about it further I don’t think I have a preference.

  • Teena Lashmore 21st Nov '14 - 4:15pm

    My humble opinion: no. Each diversity group aspires to overcome its own institutional bias. Each requires different approaches and each existing group has achieved and continues to do this work.
    I, as an individual battling institutional racist sexist and homophobic practices etc, am blessed because I was raised in England and exposed to these ugly behaviour but I was also shown how to navigate, mediate and when necessary challenge. The LibDem values mean I can support each and every fantastic SAOs where I and they feel I can be effective. If we are to heal and restore some of us that have been utterly broken at times by these ugly bias behaviours, then we must listen to those stories. These stories are many my friend and that is why we have different groups.
    I will conclude by saying I hope I will always demonsrtate respect for peoples different narratives of oppression however and whereever I find them, and I hope that as a party we can share that value and that we can demonsrtat that in our behavious and practices and different groups.

  • Jonathan Brown 21st Nov '14 - 8:30pm

    Absolutely Teena, I don’t think I’m disagreeing with you!

    There will be times and issues where the different AOs/SAOs can cooperate to the benefit of all, and I would argue that we’re all inspired by the same principle: a desire to see everyone have the opportunity to be all that they can be and to tear down any barriers which prevent people from living their lives to the fullest.

    Different barriers will affect people in different ways, hence the need to have different AOs/SAOs focussing on those issues, and pursuing different short term goals and making different strategic decisions. But I don’t think there’s any contradiction in that.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Nov '14 - 7:52am

    Institutional Racism Defined:

    The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
    The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999)

    “Institutional racism is that which, covertly or overtly, resides in the policies, procedures, operations and culture of public or private institutions – reinforcing individual prejudices and being reinforced by them in turn.”
    A. Sivanandan, Director, Institute of Race Relations

    “If racist consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs or practices, that institution is racist whether or not the individuals maintaning those practices have racial intentions.”
    The Commission for Racial Equality

    There is nothing to fear about the term ‘institutional racism’, but merely things to change. ‘Unconscious biases’ leads to institutional discrimination, what on earth is the issue?

    Until our Party can accept that along with the rest of society it does discriminate albeit unconsciously at an institutional level, we will never get to grips with this problem, and it will continue to thwart us from “walking the talk” with regard to our core principles.

    When we reach the level of sophistication to accept that we genuinely acknowledge that racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination exist, then we can start to do something about it. At this point I am confident that we will win support from the differing communities that currently look at us with some suspicion.

    It is for these reasons that I am committed to the belief that we need an inquiry into race inequality within our Party, for I believe that we will emerge far wiser and demonstrating greater inclusivity.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Nov ’14 – 7:52am
    “Institutional Racism Defined:
    It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness …..”

    Ruwan quotes from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry Report, fifteen years on from the publication of that report.

    As the party’s Diversity Champ he often patiently reminds us of such things. The failure to shift from knowing and saying the right things to doing the right things is by no means exclusive to this party. However, given the central beliefs of this party we ought already to have done better and we ought to endeavour to do better over the next few months.

    There will in the next few months be an opportunity to rebuild the party after the electoral disasters of recent years. Having been in a coalition with a party with very different values and outlook especially on matters of diversity it appears that some Liberal Democrats have gone backwards during this period. In rebuilding the party we should make sure that the “..processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness …..” are designed out.

    A first step might be a recognition of the fact that whilst 93% of us attend state schools, the percentage of our candidates and MPs who attended schools for the rich and privileged is shamefully high.
    This is one of the most extreme and blatant examples of unwitting prejudice.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 22nd Nov '14 - 9:50am

    Jonathan – thank you for sharing the event here for those of us who couldn’t attend, and Congratuations to those of you who organised this. I will continue to challenge this notion that we can never talk about race without including other strands of people from disadvantage or unrepresented groups. I don’t see this constant criticism of other SAOs. Ensuring greater race equality, challenging racism, cannot be watered down in this way. Other major parties and institutions like the Metropolitan Police have positive action policies on race equality and representation. The clue is in the title of this SÃO – ETHNIC MINORITY Liberal Democrats. Open to all Lib Dems from all backgrounds who agree with the aims and objectives. Constitution sets out what we were set up to do. And there is much work still to be done.

  • SIMON BANKS 22nd Nov '14 - 6:20pm

    Well done EMLD. Perhaps before long it can do the same for a leadership contest?

  • Toby Keynes 23rd Nov '14 - 9:25am

    Surely it is already the case that any local party, SAO, AO or indeed party member can directly recruit a member to the party, by thrusting a membership form into their hand or sitting down with them in front of the website membership page.
    The only question, then, is whether their part in recruiting the member should be recognised and/or rewarded by the party in any way.
    Again, it would seem logical to do so – but there is an issue with impoverishing local parties further; many will be dependent on those membership incomes to keep going.
    And I think it’s reasonably likely that someone who joins the party through an AO or SAO will also join that organisation, so they get their financial boost direct from the member anyway.
    Now a really enterprising group might just produce a membership form or webpage that allows people to sign up to both at the same time.

  • Jonathan Brown 23rd Nov '14 - 6:06pm

    @Toby you’re right, but there are a few things to bear in mind. Some local parties are pretty much beyond help and/or actually put people off joining. Anyone joining the party through an AO/SAO would still automatically become a member of their local party, but picture these two possible conversations:

    – “We’ve just spent 20 minutes talking about an issue we both care passionately about. Join the party (and the AO/SAO at the same time) and you’ll be contributing directly to the influence of the organisation within the party!”

    – “We’ve just spent 20 minutes talking about an issue we both care passionaetly about. Join the party and the local organisation that has been morribund for years and whose 30 members don’t care about this issue much / at all, will get a financial reward to reflect their success in recruiting a new member!”

    Obviously the above are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not saying anything new by saying that personal contact is important, and that potential new members ought to be encouraged both into the party and then to be active (as much as they wish to be) within it.

    The point of the incentive is to get people recruiting. It’s not actually working as an incentive if a member of an AO/SAO is doing the recruiting and the local party gets the financial benefit.

    In some parts of the country, it may also be the case that the Lib Dem brand is poor, and puts people off joining, but being able to join via an AO/SAO is a way of getting people over that hurdle.

    I agree it would be very helpful if people could join party organisations at the same time that they join the party.

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