Wendy Chamberlain writes: Response to BLAC Lib Dems

Dear Avril, Alexandrine, Tumi, Yukteshwar, Rabi, William, Pramod, Tamara, Yeow, Ian, Afy, Alhaji, Flossy, Jacquie, Julliet, Lisa, Marisha, Nancy, Steven and Stuart,

Thank you for your letter about the report of the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. I agree that urgent action is needed to tackle the injustices, inequalities and discrimination Black people face in the UK today.

As you may know, in recent years our party has developed a large number of wide-ranging new policies to address these issues. At our Spring Conference in March 2019, members endorsed the paper ‘Eradicating Race Inequality’, produced by the party’s working group on race equality. This set out measures to tackle inequality across six broad areas: education and learning, employment and income, health and social care, participation in public life, justice, and community and housing.

And at our Autumn Conference last September, we passed a further motion entitled ‘Racial Justice Cannot Wait’. This affirmed that Black Lives Matter and reaffirmed our commitment as Liberal Democrats to combat racism – whether conscious or unconscious, individual or institutional – wherever we find it, including within our own party. It called on the Government to enact a range of policies to address structural inequality and guarantee equal representation in society.

The need to tackle racial discrimination and inequality is also an important theme running through other key policy papers the party has recently adopted, including those on business and jobs, crime and policing, health and social care, and immigration.

As a result, the party has a very strong platform on racial justice – the strongest of any political party in the UK. That has been the basis for our ongoing campaigns to abolish the Conservatives’ discriminatory Hostile Environment and end the disproportionate use of Stop and Search, as well as our parliamentary activity on these issues and our interventions in the media – including our response to the Government’s recent commission.

Despite the progress we have made on increasing our diversity as a party, there is clearly still much more to do, and I am pleased that Ed has made this a key goal of his leadership. As he said in his first conference speech as leader, we must increase our numbers of Black members and councillors, and we must finally elect Black Liberal Democrat MPs.

We are taking action to make that happen – including providing targeted training, mentoring and funding for Black and other ethnic minority candidates and potential candidates. And the party is currently developing a practical action plan to improve diversity across the organisation.

In the meantime, Liberal Democrat MPs are using the opportunities we have to amplify Black voices and advance the cause of racial justice. Here are a few examples from the past 12 months:

  • All of us wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a Covid-19 Race Equality Strategy as part of a new Social and Race Equality Contract, backing the call from leaders from different ethnic minority communities.
  • Christine moved an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would ensure migrant survivors of domestic abuse have access to the support and services they need. Liberal Democrat peers helped pass this amendment in the House of Lords.
  • Christine also tabled amendments to the Government’s Immigration Bill to repeal the ‘Right to Rent’ law, which has been shown to cause racial discrimination in access to housing, and to force the Government to implement the recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review in full.
  • Ed challenged Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions to end the use of Section 60 ‘suspicionless’ Stop and Search powers, which are used disproportionately against Black people, and has introduced a Private Members’ Bill to repeal them.
  • Christine revealed that just 1.5% of new police recruits are Black, and called on the Government to improve this urgently.
  • Wera secured cross-party support for an Early Day Motion calling for an end to hair discrimination in schools and workplaces.
  • Wera also presented a Bill to allow political parties to use all-ethnic-minority shortlists to increase diversity in the House of Commons and local government.
  • Layla highlighted the shockingly high rates of Black Caribbean pupils excluded from schools, and called for a universal code to prevent discrimination.

All of these are issues that have been raised with us by Black people, both within the party and outside of it. Each would be a small but important step towards justice and equality.

I know that we can and must always do more to address these critical issues. But I am proud of the work Liberal Democrats are doing across our party and across the country to combat racism, discrimination and injustice, and to build a fairer, more equal society.

Yours sincerely,

Wendy Chamberlain
Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

* Wendy Chamberlain is the MP for North East Fife and the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrats in Parliament.

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11 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 8th Apr '21 - 3:30pm

    The issue of the rate of exclusion of Black Caribbean pupils in schools in England is a particularly interesting issue when we also see evidence of a higher rate of conviction and incarceration of Black Caribbean men. No one would suggest that a Black Caribbean man who commits a serious assault with a knife should receive a shorter or no jail sentence just because he is Black Caribbean, as a way of trying to address the statistics that show a higher proportion of Black Caribbean get jailed – at least I hope not. Well the same issue applies in schools – it would be wrong to not exclude a Black Caribbean pupil for serious conduct, like assaulting another pupil, if a white pupil would have been excluded for the same behaviour. Exclusion from school, like criminal convictions and being jailed, are the consequences of fundamental inequalities and disadvantage – we must not confuse addressing the consequences with addressing the underlying causes of the behaviours that lead to the requirement for those consequences.

  • Paul Barker 8th Apr '21 - 4:50pm

    The problem with School Exclusion is that it is being widely used as a way for Schools to dump pupils they dont expect to do well in Exams, thus pushing themselves up the Results ladder.
    This hits Black kids especially but also anyone with problems coming from poverty or learning difficulties, eg ADHD or Dyslexia.
    Exclusions are often for very minor issues of discipline or just for not showing enough “Respect”.

  • Alexandrine Kantor 8th Apr '21 - 5:07pm

    Hello Wendy, thank you for your reply, it is a very nice read and all of it makes me proud to be a Liberal Democrat. However I don’t see how it does reply to the BLAC LibDems open letter to Ed Davey MP tho.

    We have still no answer why our comprehensive pro-Black policy agenda had received no comments / acknowledgment or why Wera Hobhouse MP responded on behalf of the Party without consulting with Black members.

    I appreciate that you responded very quickly listing the steps the party is taking to bring issues to the forefront, but would have like an engagement on the content of our letter.

  • Brad Barrows 8th Apr '21 - 5:28pm

    @Paul
    Please don’t confuse exclusion from school with expulsion from school. An exclusion is usually a short term measure lasting 2 days to a week whereas expulsion (sometimes called exclusion sine die) is when a pupil is removed from a school roll.

  • Richard Underhill.., 8th Apr '21 - 5:39pm

    Black lives matter. As at 12 noon eastern time Biden Harris are acting on gun control. Please support and copy. They are not going to give up. As a US senator Joe Biden was an effective legislator on the Brady amendment. As Attorney General in California Kamala Harris has held the hands of the families of many victims. If there is one thing that is worth doing in a political career this is it,

  • Helen Dudden 9th Apr '21 - 9:55am

    I agree, that all lives matter.
    Being someone who practices Judaism and being disabled I was told I had two thing’s not in my favour.
    Until society respects, there is room in this world for all of us.
    Yesterday, I was at a virtual synagogue meeting, remembering the many who suffered in those terrible times and also the genocide of more recent times.

  • Julliet Makhapila 10th Apr '21 - 4:44pm

    Dear Wendy,

    Thank you very much for your swift response to our Open Letter to Ed Davey.

    We note the list of policies that the party has developed in recent years and the actions it has taken to increase diversity and providing training and mentoring for Black and other minority ethnic potential candidates.

    BLAC Lib dems would like to thank the Lib Dems MPs who have done much to help Black people. However, as you say, there is still much more to be done.

    We would like to suggest that going forward, the Party considers engaging more closely with its Black members on issues and policies that directly affect them. We have produced a comprehensive Black Policy Agenda which we sent together with a covering letter, to all Lib Dem MPs earlier this year by post as well as by email. The letter included an invitation to engage with these policies, as well as a MP challenge to select one policy each to support and translate into a conference motion. It would be great to hear from you and to have you encourage the other MPs to respond directly and take up the invitation to working with us on promoting our BLAC Lib Dem Policy Agenda.

    Having worked so hard, with long hours spent debating and refining our BLAC Lib Dems Policy Agenda, you will appreciate how our members had looked forward to hearing from our MPs and working with the Leadership and how disappointed we were when not one MP acknowledged the policy document.

    It is indeed a good thing that Ed has made it a key goal of his leadership to increase diversity in the Lib Dem party. He has agreed to attend a BLAC Lib Dem virtual meeting and we look forward to confirmation of a date for that to happen. We would also like to extend the same invitation to you.

    BLAC Lib Dems have to date worked closely with LDCRE as one of the ethnic minority groups that look up to it as a senior body in our fight to get rid of racism. Covid19 pandemic has shown the depth of the disparity in lived experiences of Black people in the UK compared to their White counterparts. We will therefore continue to focus on ensuring Black Voices are heard and fight against systemic racism and discrimination. We look forward to seeing the Party invest more in Black policies and Black representation at all levels of decision making.

    Thank you once again for your response and the good work done by MPs. We look forward to more meaningful engagement with Black members and support for our BLAC Policy Agenda.

    Regards
    Julliet Makhapila
    (On behalf of Blac Lib Dems)

  • Nigel Jones 10th Apr '21 - 9:21pm

    It is interesting and disappointing that Wendy chose to give in some detail what the party has done , yet gives no promise to meet with BLAC Lib-Dems. We know that our limited number of MPs and our very limited party resources make it difficult and priorities always have to be assessed, but on some issues like this one, there is a need for encouraging party members who put much thought into it to feel that future action will be with them and not just within the top of the party’s heirarchy.

  • Tamara Dragadze 10th Apr '21 - 10:15pm

    I see that Wendy seeks to demonstrate that the Party has institutions and policies to promote racial equality. But she and the leadership don’t question why there was felt to be a need among the BLAC communities for more to be done. One of the problems as I see it is that all the policies she cites are extremely good intentions but that as yet are not really visible on the ground. And possibly that is an area that needs exploring which is how to create policies that result in practical actions that can be seen, in their terms, to be relevant and helpful for members of black communities. It starts with careful listening. The black communities know it, LibDem politicians should know it, I as an anthropologist and an ethnic minority know it. So when the MPs and leadership don’t even acknowledge receipt of the policy document sent by BLAC, the authors are not merely peeved; they know instead that there is no hope while the first step— to listen— is discarded, ignored. I am convinced of this and it was not only important but an honour for me to add my name as a signatory.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 10th Apr '21 - 10:52pm

    Following receipt of concerns about some of the statements made regarding the relationship between LDCRE and BLAC Liberal Democrats, it has been decided to suspend comments on this article pending clarification.

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