Still waiting for true diversity

Conference must be congratulated on passing the Diversity motion on Sunday. But contentious issues and some mysteries remain. One is why have we taken 14 years to get round to all-women short-lists for constituency selections, when they became the law of the land in the 2002 Sex Discrimination Act?

In theory, any local party could have operated all-female short-lists at any of the three general elections since then, safe in the knowledge they were legal, passed by Parliament. Had that happened,  the battle for all-BME (now BaME) lists could have begun at least a decade ago.

Perhaps before Parmjit Singth Gill, only our second ethnic minority MP in 120 years, could have been given proper support in the general election of 2005. The party gave the impression of not giving a tuppeny bowel movement about full diversity or wanting BAME MPs. They hung him out to dry, with the self-fulfilling prophesy that he would lose.

Now that women have won a much-deserved victory, the battle for ethnic minority representation must get serious. Based on current growth rates, British non-white citizens will form about one-in-six of the population by 2020. White women will fall to about 44 per cent.

Sadly, another impression the party demonstrates is that Lib Dem Diversity is only about women; just three Black members were called in the conference debate.

Ethnic Minority Lib Dems had prepared a short amendment calling for parliamentary action, or secondary or other legal processes. So we felt extremely grateful to Tim Farron and Sal Brinton for a statement pledging to seek those solutions in Parliament.

So thankful, indeed, that we dropped the amendment, and wished them luck.

It would have been exceedingly churlish to oppose the all-women clause, merely because BAME members don’t yet enjoy this advantage. If we don’t win it soon, probably through changes to the Equality Act 20120, expect one hell of a battle.

As to compelling local parties in held seats to choose a female successor should the MP stand down, it is unlikely to be an issue in 2020. By 2025, will black members also be seeking something similar?

If you would like an all-black short-list, I know how, having run one.

* Jonathan Hunt is President of Camberwell & Peckham local party and chair of the Southwark Co-ordinating Committee. He is an elected Life Member of the NUJ, and a former parliamentary candidate.

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13 Comments

  • Lester Holloway 16th Mar '16 - 8:45pm

    The passed motion, as amended, includes the line: “Campaign to amend the Equality Act 2010 to remove the restrictions on shortlists for candidate selections for people from under-represented groups.” This means the party endorse the call for secondary legislation to enable all-BAME shortlists, or for any other protected characteristics not currently allowed for in law. The question is whether we are going to act on it, for example our MPs getting lucky in the private members ballot. While we are waiting, I expect and hope the party will use reserved places – another aspect of the successful amendment – in winnable seat selections. The exact workings will I imagine be sorted out through the new taskforce created in the motion. Given that selections are about to take place, this needs to be given priority in order not to miss the boat.

  • In theory, any local party could have operated all-female short-lists at any of the three general elections since then, safe in the knowledge they were legal, passed by Parliament.

    No they couldn’t, because the rule in the Federal Party Constitution in force during each of those elections required at least one man on every shortlist (and at least one woman). That rule was removed during the last parliament.

  • Mike MacSween 17th Mar '16 - 12:15am

    One of the issues that stopped me voting Labour was AWS. Identity politics is a dead end.

    I was at conference. One platform speaker talked about being ‘behind’ Labour and the Conservatives on AWS. So now we’ve ‘caught up’. Great, we’re a British political party with AWS headed by a middle aged ‘white’ man. Just like the others.

    I want the Lib Dems to be different. How much braver it would have been to refuse to institute discrimination thorough the mechanism of NMS.

  • Simon McGrath 17th Mar '16 - 6:18am

    “If you would like an all-black short-list, I know how, having run one.”
    what does this mean?

  • Tony Dawson 17th Mar '16 - 7:19am

    “They hung him (Parmjit Singh Gill) out to dry, with the self-fulfilling prophesy that he would lose.”

    This is a very serious allegation which needs to be addressed.

    It is very true that forces in the centre of our Party have had the power over the years to both not support and to brief against certain parliamentary candidates. Did this happen here and, if so, why? It is a very long time ago now so I do not recall the precise reasons but I, as someone hovering around the ewdges of the central Party, was told that Parmjit wasn’t being a very good MP.

  • David Evans 17th Mar '16 - 8:27am

    Yet another article celebrating a motion that will waste time, effort and resources on inward looking gesture politics the very time we are in a battle for our very survival. To the Conservatives we are a joke, and it is easy to see why.

    We need to be fighting for the best Liberal Democrat candidates in every constituency we can, not setting up bureaucracies to manage and monitor internal processes that will at best do nothing, but at worst mean local Lib Dems will not get the best candidate in their opinion because he will have been prevented from standing by a faceless bureaucracy.

    To every supporter of this motion, I ask the very simple question “Why do you not trust local Liberal Democrats, although imperfect, to select the Lib Dem candidate with the best chance to win in their community?

  • Liberal Neil 17th Mar '16 - 2:01pm

    @Tony – there are definitely two sides to that story. I was very proud to be part of the by-election team that elected Parmjit and enjoyed working with him, but I don’t think the description in the article is a fair way of describing why he subsequently lost.

  • Jonathan Hunt 17th Mar '16 - 2:24pm

    “If you would like an all-black short-list, I know how, having run one.”
    what does this mean? Simon McGrath

    Thanks Simon, thought you might ask that question, for which I am grateful.
    In 2010, the Camberwell & Peckham short-listing committee had picked three excellent applications from males, all of whom were black.

    Seeking to avoid legalistic complaints, I added my own application as an approved candidate. At the hustings I withdrew at the last minute before members could vote for me. Cllr Columba Blango was chosen and doubled the vote getting a good second place.

    It is a novel example of the Pope’s doctrinal pronouncement on birth control being applied in unusual circumstances.

    But still wonder what sanctions could or would have been used against us for picking the best people without including a white male.

  • Jonathan Hunt 17th Mar '16 - 3:03pm

    Thanks Tony Dawson.

    I helped in Parmjit’s by-election and went up to Leicester again at the general election, in the somewhat naïve belief that there would be a lot of outside people beavering away to ensure our only BAME MP for 120 years would be properly supported by Party HQ and the local region. I found one dedicated couple from Lambeth, and one or two others, plus a lot of local members who largely came out in the evening.

    Hung out to dry is a delightfully vague and imprecise term which has different meanings to different people. I meant it as where someone has been left without support to fight for themselves, which was my and other people’s impression at the time.

    I served with Parmjit on the Ethnic Electoral Task Force while he was an MP, and thought him a hard-working MP who made sensible contributions, and was committed to the cause of getting more ethnic MPs.

    But I have no idea of how HQ campaign bosses came to the decision not to support him. Just the feeling that with more money and people, a very good second place could have been victory — and an answer to those enemies who embarrass us by pointing to the lack of colour on our green benches for the last 11 years.

  • Simon Thorley 17th Mar '16 - 9:04pm

    @Jonathan: the ‘natural’ selection of an all-black shortlist in Peckham is presumably a much easier proposition than literally anywhere else.

  • Jonathan Hunt 18th Mar '16 - 11:37am

    Probably, Simon although there are seats that have a higher proportion of BAME voters.

    Your question has made me think: If by some chance Camberwell & Peckham (or any other seat) were to elect a black Lib Dem in 2020, who the gave up at the next election, the local party would be bound to select a woman, without specifying colour.

    It shows that we may need to revisit this rule when all-black shortlists become lawful.

  • Lester Holloway 18th Mar '16 - 6:35pm

    We need to get away from this notion that BAME candidates should stand primarily in seats with a high BAME population. This is part of the problem.

  • @lester holloway I agree, I have a view that a lib dem mp should represent all areas of community, not those he or she looks like or socialises with. I’m inspired by a person not akin colour, gender, sexuality. Bame candidates should stand in seats all over the country where they can make a impac, not just those with higher bame population. Conversely, I thi I it works both ways, a white candidate in mainly non while area. To make our party more reflective of Britain and the talent is there.

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