We must deliver upon the Alderdice Review

Before I discuss this report I want to put it into perspective:

  • An article in the Guardian, some time ago now, stated that there were 159 seats where the winning margin in 2015 general election was lower than the number of Muslims in the constituency;
  • Of Sikhs and Muslims, over 70% of them vote Labour;
  • Newspapers reported in the elections following the Iraq war over 20% of the voters originally from Pakistan and Bangladesh voted for the Liberal Democrats and in 2010 and 2015 general elections Runnymede points to this same voting group going down to 2%;
  • In the 1960s 13% of the Asian community voted and by 1997 that had gone up to 48%;
  • In the 2015 elections BBC Asian Network/ICM pool showed that 24% of Asians were undecided; and
  • The 2011 census shows that about 8 million people in the UK are classified as ethnic minority (out of 63 million).

With the Liberal Democrats “flat lining” at 8%, with about 2% of the ethnic minority support, the statistics above highlight the growing importance of ethnic minorities in the electoral contest.

The Lord Alderdice report is good and his knowledge of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland certainly gave him an insight into the issues faced by ethnic minorities in the party. I give credit to the party for asking Lord Alderdice to investigate the process and culture, looking specifically at race and ethnicity in the party. Some of the findings however I found to be startling:

  • Everyone agreed that the party is not representative of ethnic or racial diversity of the country;
  • The recommendations of the report initiated by Lord Dholakia in 2001, which reported in 2004, and the report done by Assan Ghazni (when he was the National Diversity Officer) in 2008 were never fully implemented. Lord Alderdice proposes that the recommendations of those reports be fully implemented;
  • The report also notes members have experienced negative attitudes because of their ethnicity (page 4 of the report).

I could go on quoting from the report. But I think the point is: do we view this report negatively or positively? I applaud the initiative to start a social media campaign to improve diversity. I particularly like the idea of parity by prioritising focus on ethnicity for members and representation as the party has done for women and LGBT, as well as establishing a structure to address the BAME underrepresentation. I would not be surprised if the party appointed a Vice-President for BAME communities who was an ethnic member. I do urge members to read the full report.

My one concern is that the party already has diversity officers at Branch, constituency, regional, and state levels, and in Head Office, and yet we still have all these issues. Why have these issues not been addressed before? One reason could be that as a party, we are a medium sized organisation with more issues to deal with, compared to the resources we have. Consequently, the one who shouts loudest gets heard, and that’s understandable. The party is at last (or once again) listening and is willing to do something about ethnicity. My fear is Tory failure on Brexit negotiations is a few months away and the party attention and resources, rightly, will change focus. This may affect the implementation plan for the changes recommended in the reports. I would therefore like to see someone independent of the party hired to specifically implement these changes regardless of any shift in party priorities or hindrance by individuals.

We have to get this right so that the Liberal Democrats are, and are seen to be, an open party that progresses everyone on capability, as this will allow us to target the growing number of ethnic minority voters (the 24% who were undecided in 2015 for example and more) who should look seriously at us as a credible political partner. We really can’t afford to miss the opportunity to reach out, recruit and offer a political platform to young Asians (who culturally are British) and risk losing this young voting generation to other parties.

I close by restating the remark made by Lord Alderdice in his report;

Liberalism means diversity…

* Tahir Maher is a former Chair of South Central Liberal Democrats and lives in Wokingham.

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13 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 26th Feb '18 - 10:47am

    John Alderdice is also a qualified psychiatrist whose patients have included Sinners.
    He is exceptionally perceptive, as Tony Blair found out (and he had been taught to think by top barrister/s ISBN 9780091925550).
    During the wars in the former Yugoslavia the UK government granted Leave to Enter or Leave to Remain (XLTE or XLTR) to Bosnians, many of whom are Muslims. In these cases being a Muslim for asylum purposes meant meeting the inclusion criteria on grounds of nationality or ethnic group and not necessarily religion. This is a consequence of the actions of the former Ottoman Empire on the European continent (such as discrimination through taxation). We should therefore be careful about bias masquerading as alleged common sense, for instance on visibility issues such as skin colour.
    The Tribunal had the power to deem an entire ethnic group as persecuted. It did so in the case of Kosovans (ethnic Albanians, but not citizens of the Republic of Albania who were considered individually at appeal, and not Serbs from Kosovo).

  • Tahir

    This is an interesting article. It would be interested to know if in those 159 seats our membership reflects the ethic make up of those seats. You also ask what do regional diversity officers do. Good question. Last year our region passed a new development plan. I urged conference to reject it. I stated that it should include the objects set out in the regional constitution, but the development plan only has, the “Region exists to do two things:
    To support Local Parties to allow them to work efficiently and effectively in their areas.
    To help getting Liberal Democrats elected at all levels.”

    Accordingly the drafters must have rejected including “to promote diversity of cultures within the Party and to represent the interests of under-represented groups in the Region.”

    It identified 9 key areas of work, none of which mentioned diversity.

    I wonder if this is true for other regions?

    Perhaps regions should include in their development plans monitoring the diversity of their local party members and the diversity of the area covered by the local party and where there are areas of mismatch to get involved in the local party over an extended period of time so that the local party engages with those communities it doesn’t reflect in the ways set out in the Alderdice report. Perhaps regions need to be proactive in these areas even if the Local Party has not identified that there is a problem.

  • Michael BG.
    We can monitor local parties progress in this area if we wish, but it is part of our culture that local parties are pretty independently minded and might resist pressure from region. Having said that, any local party which doesn’t try to reach out to all groups in its area isn’t doing a very job and isn’t being very, well, liberal. Does constantly surprise me that we have to spend so much time ruminating over an issue this should be hard wired into out party’s psyche. And while we are troubling ourselves with these equality issues (which should come naturally) we are not taking on Labour/Tories over Brexit, housing, NHS, education, employment opportunities , economic inequality and all the other issues which worry the average person on the street.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Feb '18 - 2:27pm

    Tahir is correct in much here.

    We must see the main thrust was that Lord Alderdice did not find racism at the heart of any of the backward and myopic tendency he found pockets of. Much as I would prefer not to, my description in , shall we say , colloquial speaking, is more as he saw it.

    I believe the new suggested role here, someone to shake it up and make it happen is terrific.

    I would like to apply to do it .

    Any connections or suggestions welcome.

  • OnceALibDem 26th Feb '18 - 4:33pm

    “The recommendations of the report initiated by Lord Dholakia in 2001, which reported in 2004, and the report done by Assan Ghazni (when he was the National Diversity Officer) in 2008 were never fully implemented. Lord Alderdice proposes that the recommendations of those reports be fully implemented;”

    There is a historic problem of the LIb Dems having high profile reports that never get fully implemented. The Bones report, post 2014 election report, Morrissey, possibly the 2015 election report as well as those two makes at least 5, possibly 6.

    Maybe those on the appropriate committees could investigate why this is the case because it all points to a serious case of those committees and committee members not doing their jobs.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Feb '18 - 5:24pm

    It’s news to me that every branch has a diversity officer. Ours hasn’t. Is this a requirement and if so I shall be demanding we appoint one.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 26th Feb '18 - 5:42pm

    Thank you for your comments- Mick: I stand corrected most branches have one. It certainly is good to have one and I believe many have.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Feb '18 - 7:44pm

    Just one more thought. Ethnic minorities are not just Muslims. The UK has a wide range of minorities and we need to be working to attract new members and supporters from all of them. I’m sure we need to be more welcoming, but the problem is wider than that. We have had good policies on equality for years. Clearly many of those who we hope to attract have not been convinced and the Alderdice report shows we have not yet made equality a reality in our party.
    Only when it is wholly unacceptable for some members of our party to behave as reported by Lord Alderdice will we start to convince people that we mean what we say and act upon it.
    I have been a party member for 54 years and it’s only in the past 3 that we have made any real progress in getting a more gender balanced parliamentary party. We can’t wait another 51 years to get it right on minorities.

  • I remember when a Turkish student asked a Jewish student, “What do you think of the English? I am English the Jewish student replied.
    Not all “minority” people see themselves as outsiders.

  • @ Chris Cory

    I am the first to defend a Local Parties right to do its own thing and not to be dictated to by the Regional Party. So a better way would be for the Regional Party to offer support (and I mean people going to the local party and joining in targeted activities together). However where the Local Party Executive is being difficult then the Regional Party should organise the activity and contact all local members directly and run the targeted activities on behalf of the Local Party while encouraging the widest possible involvement of local members. I am sorry I didn’t say this in my earlier comment. I think if we are going to be serious about addressing this issue we have to take such action.

    @ OnceALibDem

    I was not impressed with the Bones Report. Maybe I only saw the removal of democratic accountability. Mark Pack was much more positive about in 20011 – https://www.libdemvoice.org/nearly-three-years-on-how-does-the-bones-report-look-24309.html

    @ Tahir Maher and Mick Taylor

    I would be really surprised if most branches had a diversity officer. I don’t think even most Local Parties have one. Perhaps Regional Parties should encourage at least Local Parties to have one if at least say 10% of local party population are from minority groups.

  • Inclusion of all minorities is, I would have thought, an important Liberal Democrat principle. Therefore, anything that tends to exclude anyone is anti-Liberal Democrat. It comes as a shock, therefore to find that when people review the party that they find areas of exclusion. Obviously, this must be corrected.
    However, I am getting increasingly worried by the current trend to fragment society. For example, my generation always get the blame for the Brexit vote, and yet amongst my friends Brexit divided us on educational lines rather than age. Those with further or higher education all voted remain, while those who left school early voted leave. (Not many of had access to post school education in the 1970s) I suspect that similar divisions occur within ethnic groups.
    Worries about ethnicity are not new. people of many different ethnicities have lived in this country for millennia. Generally, if people are nice to each other, and cooperate, they live peaceful lives. The problem comes when people concentrate on artificial differences like ethnicity. Combined with low wages for jobs that only new immigrants are desperate enough to do happens they are pushed into sink estates where they are a target for xenophobic attacks. 10 years later those people will have moved onwards and upwards and another ethnic group become targets for xenophobia – in Luton the 1970s, Irish Taxi Wars had been replaced by the Pakistani Taxi Wars in 10 years, according to the local paper. This year it might be the Polish Taxi Wars. The trouble is that few people have long enough memories to see that the cause of unrest is pay and housing, rather than ethnicity.
    Yes, we need to make sure that we are inclusive and welcome every minority, but we should not get too hung up on dividing minorities and targeting specific groups. They are all wonderful and have unique experience to bring to us. We should welcome them all, and make sure that we solve all the problems of life that we all suffer.

  • Huw
    Some “minority” people voted Brexit because they didn’t like the way immigration works. Free movement from Europe but if they wanted to bring a relative or marry someone from abroad outside the EU, they are subject to heavy restrictions.
    However the restrictions will not change that much for sure.

  • Simon Banks 11th Apr '18 - 4:10pm

    In my experience many local parties and local activists are rather scared of the racial equality issue. Regions and county or city co-ordinating bodies can have an impact in such cases as long as they offer advice and don’t pretend they know all the answers. This may be particularly so where the local party’s lead figures accept they’re struggling generally and where minority ethnic numbers are quite large.

    Michael BG’s point about the regional constitution has wider relevance. That all we can say about what our organisations exist for is that they exist to help other organisations be efficient and to win elections (what for?) points to a loss of focus on what we really exist for (a Liberal society) and a preoccupation with the trees rather than the wood.

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