What will you do to make sure the party is welcoming to BAME people?

Party members have been emailed by Vince Cable tonight. He asks all of us to play our part in ensuring that the Liberal Democrats are open and welcoming to BAME people.

Members are asked to read John Alderdice’s report on race, ethnic minorities and the culture of the Liberal Democrats. He was asked to identify any barriers to BAME participation in the party and if there were, what should we do about them.

He concludes that there are barriers, not stemming from malevolence but sometimes just not getting it and that the party needs to get its act together. All the processes in the world won’t help unless we are all committed to ensuring that our culture is as open and welcoming as it can be.

He recommends establishing a Campaign for BAME Representation that runs along the same lines as the successful Campaign for Gender Balance.

In a piece on the Lib Dem website, he asks us to consider what we can do to bring about that essential cultural change:

This is about who we are as Liberal Democrats, and whether we practice what we preach. We can start changing our party’s culture by taking some of these simple actions:

  • Start to read, think and talk with others about this issue and about what you can do.

  • If any BaME person comes to a local meeting, make a point to go and talk to them: make them feel welcomed and develop a relationship with them.

  • Is the range of events you hold sufficiently sensitive to the culture and beliefs of different communities – the ‘Lib Dem Pint’ isn’t very accessible for people who don’t drink, for example.

  • Ensure that your local party group makes and implements a plan for engaging with race and ethnic minority communities in your area.

  • Think about your local campaigning priorities and materials: do they address the interests and concerns of BAME communities in your area?

  • If you want to bring in young people from communities, don’t expect older community leaders to be the most suitable magnets.

  • Everyone has a contribution to make in engaging BAME communities and individuals at all levels.

  • Study the options suggested in the report as a stimulus for you developing your own ideas for changing the culture of the Party.

In Edinburgh, Elaine Ford, the Membership Secretary of Edinburgh North, East and Leith Liberal Democrats, has set up a regular Lib Dem Pastry event on a Saturday morning which has proved very popular so that’s an alternative and more inclusive way of getting people together. We need to make sure we offer a full range of activities that people can choose from.

I’m very aware that I need to be much more proactive in encouraging more BME contributors for Liberal Democrat Voice. I think it is incredibly important that the voices of people of colour are heard and their lived experience understood. And sometimes the rest of us have to listen.

In a year’s time, I want our BAME members to feel that, this time, the party is making progress. In five years’  time, I want to see BAME Lib Dems in positions of power in the internal offices of the party and in local, national and UK wide parliamentary parties.

I want to see the party properly understand intersectionality – the perspectives of BAME women will be different as will the experiences of BAME gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. There is a role for every level of the party in establishing this understanding and the SAOs really have the opportunity to lead on this.

Most importantly, though, each and every single one of us needs to make sure that we recognise and smash down any barriers we see. We need to listen to our BAME friends and colleagues if they tell us that something we are doing is, however unwittingly, thoughtless to them.

So, what will you do to welcome, encourage, support and increase  our BAME members?


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • This is so welcome. It is good the Lib Dems are reaching out to BAME communities.

  • Phil Wainewright 9th Feb '18 - 12:07am

    Good, but reaching out is just the starting point. Cultural change will only happen if BAME members are brought into decision making.

  • Jayne mansfield 9th Feb '18 - 1:01am

    Perhaps the answer is to stop seeing people as ‘ BAME’ and start seeing them as fellow human beings.

    Perhaps it is to stop seeing individuals as part of of ‘communities’, based only on a single unifying characteristic, and start seeing people within these ‘communities ‘, as individuals with different ideas, beliefs and hopes rather than as an homogeneous mass.

    I often find myself more in tune with people from so called, ‘ BAME’ communities, than I do from my own .

    It is pitiful that in the 21st century, Vince Cable felt the need to send such a message to a party that has liberal in its name.

  • Many see themselves as BAME, and get annoyed at white people who insist that they don’t see colour. Apart from anything else, many BAME people are proud of their particular culture. This doesn’t mean that everyone from all backgrounds is also an individual, but an individual who comes from a culture that doesn’t go to pubs may feel uncomfortable about a meeting in a pub, and recognising that is common sense, not pitiful. This is particularly relevant for new members who may well see us as an homogenous group until they get to know us better as individuals.

  • As with other equality issues (sexual, disability, class etc.) I look forward to the day these discussions are not needed. In the interim this looks like good stuff from Vince.

    Off topic I know, but the real equality work has to be with our children. Once they can see people for their inherent strengths and weaknesses in spite of their colour, sex, orientation, disabilities etc we will have a truly equal future. Growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s I saw discrimination everywhere great strides have been made but we’re only half way there.

  • John Barrett 9th Feb '18 - 11:02am

    @Jayne Mansfield “Perhaps the answer is to stop seeing people as ‘ BAME’ and start seeing them as fellow human beings.” Wise words indeed.

    Part of our problem in the party is that we have now categorized many individuals into one oarticular group as a way of solving problems, such as lack of representation of that particular group and many think that using one term to define those people, such as BAME, is acceptable to everyone and that reaching out in that way is the way forward .

    The fact that individuals have a multitude of facets, such as; age, gender, race, background, sexuality, wealth, education, location, health or disability and much more makes defining them by one term more than likely to another problem. As an older, male, white, immigrant, straight, comfortably off, well educated, Scot in good health and without a disability, using one term to define me, and anyone else, is a real problem.

    If we think that there are too many male middle aged men in certain posts or as candidates, is recruiting more middle aged men, who happen to be “BAME” solving the problem? If there are too many Oxbridge educated upper class white male wealthy lawyers from very privileged backgrounds in Parliament, does electing an upper class Oxbridge educated BAME wealthy lawyer from a privileged background into parliament solve anything other than ticking boxes? I think not.

    One group under-represented in the party, as councilors, at conferences as MPs etc. is the working class. Whether young, old, black white, Christian, any or nor religion, gay straight etc.

    It is time to move forward and to see everyone as a fellow human being, giving everyone equal treatment and opportunities, but ruling nobody out of any post or opportunity because they don’t tick the right box defining one aspect of their person.

  • John Faulkner 9th Feb '18 - 12:05pm

    I felt uncomfortable reading it. It seemed very condescending. It sounded very out of date in its tone.

  • Much to think about in Lord Alderdyce’s recommendations, the day-to-day practicalities of which Caron has dealt with above. Before going on to the strategic I would invite readers to reflect on the fact that Caron’s piece, posted some 16 hours ago, has thus far attracted only six comments including this. Katharine Pindar’s piece on Labour, posted some two hours ago, has attracted nine. The strategic importance of Lord Alderdyce’s report has the endorsement of the Chair and Leader. The response on this particular platform only serves to emphasise the size of the lacuna. This and some of the references in the report may portray unconscious bias but that would take longer to unbundle than is possible here.

    Unless there is an improvement in our engagement at association level the problem will not be resolved. This will need support in terms of training and resources to address the issues raised. His proposal for a Campaign for BaME Representation will need resources to be effective. He makes the point that existing BaME members are already significant financial comntributors to the party. As well as directing some of their contributions to developing BaME candidates could some not also be used to incentivise associations? Associations could be required to examine the extent to which they are ethnically unrepresentative of their areas, develop an action plan based on already known tactics, agreed with the Campaign, and apply for the support necessary to complete same, possibly on a matched funding basis. Subsequent to a review of progress with the Campaign, funding may be further extended. Unless successful the losers will be the associations, the Party and the communities they/we are failing to represent.

  • Jayne mansfield 9th Feb '18 - 1:49pm

    @ Fiona,
    I have children who are categorised and pigeon -holed as ‘BAME’ on the basis of their colour.

    I am deeply upset that so called ‘liberals’ have chosen to follow the politics of division.

    I am deeply upset that friends from other ‘communities’ are ‘pigeon holed’ on the basis of a single unifying characteristic.

    @ Steve Way,
    If we don’t see discrimination everywhere, it is because we are white , able- bodied etc. We don’t see it because we don’t suffer it.

    It may be less overt, but it is still there and therefore more difficult to challenge.

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Feb '18 - 2:21pm

    Back in the 80s I was our council’s rep on our local race equality council. Members told me that the previous Labour representative hadn’t bothered to turn up to any of the meetings. Following a request from members I asked each Chief Officer for statistics of service provision to the BAME community . They were outraged to a man and I was called in to see the Chief Executive! They thought it was racist to keep that kind of statistic and used the kind of argument Jayne uses for not trying to sort out these issues. I’m extremely glad that we are facing up to the problem we have in attracting members of the BAME community.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Feb '18 - 4:31pm

    I think it is a fine piece of analysis from , one of the best people in the party by far.

    What Lord Alderdice does in this is something I have believed in for years.

    I was very critical of Bath for not selecting a terrific candidate, Chris Lucas, some years ago, the usual, the party was more impressed by the typical credentials of the selected candidate then. Subsequently in Wera Hobbhouse , proof the party could get the seat again, but how is a white middle class woman from a Liberal family , or related by marriage, better than a black man for our representing this country in it’s diversity.

    My big reason for not getting as excited about the gender issue priority is the party has had outstanding women emerge, but has not promoted or even got, many BAME. Either make all underepresentaion an issue, or stick with the no identity is relevant line of old.

    The party needs to have its meetings in meeting rooms!

    And it needs to stop the obsession with favoured sons, or daughters !

  • Jayne mansfield 9th Feb '18 - 7:23pm

    @ Sue Sutherland,
    I am not opposed to the collection and processing of data to ensure that everyone has fair access to resources and opportunities.

    What I object to, is the social pigeon holing of people in groups that may not have any wish to be pigeon -holed in such a way.

    I practice what I preach. I have no problem attracting so called ‘BAME” people to my home. That is because I welcome individuals as individuals, and don’t make assumptions and distinctions on the basis of some out-dated science. I have never had an invitation to a party refused because there will be alcohol served to those that want it, or that the food might not suit. There are plenty of options and choices.

    If one really wants to attract people from under- represented groups, one could start by analysing why, even if they have joined a party, they do not achieve positions of power within the structure. I doubt it is the offer of an inappropriate mince pie from a well -meaning individual.

    That, in the 21st Century, Vince Cable feels the need to send a message to members asking that ‘BAME’ people should be made welcome , is utterly depressing to a family such as mine, who ‘got it’ many years ago.

    The bullet points are a lesson in ‘othering’.

  • @Jayne – your point to Steve is exactly why many people who are proud to be BAME get annoyed when people say they we should not try to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    As you say, everyone is an individual, and just as white middle-class women are not just women, or middle-aged, or middle-class, or white, then it’s really not hard to grasp that a black middle-class woman isn’t just defined by being black. However, being black will be a big part of most black women’s experiences. How significant will vary from person to person. Unfortunately, in practice, there are a lot of white people who like the nice ‘safe’ black people – often middle-class and well educated women who don’t have an afro etc. The challenge for us isn’t just to embrace the BAME people who white middle-class people already have a lot in common with, but to reach out and to include the BAME people who have different interests and needs.

    As you remind Steve, when you are in the majority it is easy to miss the subtle or sub-conscious bias, which is exactly why those of us who are in the majority need to remind ourselves that it can sometimes be helpful to be aware of the different interests and needs of different groups in society. Focusing on what we have in common is lovely, but often benefits those in the majority who happily continue in ignorance of the additional challenges faced by those in minority groups.

  • Jayne mansfield 10th Feb '18 - 8:40am

    @ Fiona,
    It is always heartwarming to know that people with your views exist, even if there are some points of difference. Unfortunately Brexit has revealed that there are fewer than one would have hoped for.

    As someone who hasn’t simply gained an understanding of intersectionality from text books, but from listening to people, I am all too aware that as a white middle class woman, my experiences will be different and in many ways easier than those of women of colour, working class women, gay women, disabled women etc.

    I am not arguing that one should be colour blind, my argument is that one should not make assumptions about a person , their experiences , beliefs , hopes and aspirations etc., on the grounds of colour.

    One should always take the work of Professor Alderdice seriously. However, I am not sure that your party is up to the real challenge.

    I can’t imagine that with with its passive rather than muscular liberalism, it has the will or the motivation to make the more significant cultural changes that are necessary. For example, going against the grain of existing prejudices in constituencies. Even under the leadership of Vince Cable, I can foresee cries from anguished white middle class men that ‘ it’s just not ‘liberal’ to do that.

    As someone who has seen divisions between ‘communities’ widening, with growing hostility between them , both here and abroad, I believe that the only answer lies with individuals from all communities who have shared values, who are prepared to work together to heal the rift, and find compromises that forge a new way of living together. So yes, I do believe that in the current quite frightening situation, one should concentrate on the things that bind us, not those that separate.

  • jayn mansfield 10th Feb '18 - 9:45am

    @ John Barrett,
    I would imagine that if one put working class people in high Vis jackets, would one would see the need for a report on the under -representation of working class people in the Liberal Democrat party.

    If one were to substitute working class for ‘BAME’, would the need for culture change within the party be any different? Wouldn’t the recommendations also apply to that group?

    I understand intersectionality, but in each group, I would argue that social class is the over-riding factor when it comes to discrimination and barriers to life chances. That is why I see everyone as an individual. One cannot lump people together on the basis of a single distinguishing characteristic. It is an approach that has failed.

    Speaking recently with a group of young women about our mutual approach to fascist groups marching through our different areas ( we stand and peacefully show our strength in numbers), I was struck by the wisdom of one, when she said shouldn’t we be showing some consideration to their point of view and why they hold it, shouldn’t we feel sorry for them too?

    My immediate response was ‘No’, but with further thought, I came to agree with her, difficult as it was given the level of spittle fuelled hatred and abuse some of them have directed at me, I realised that my response to their de-humanising of others had been to de-humanise them.

    Bringing about changes in attitudes is difficult, but there are some needs that are shared across current boundaries, a decent education, financial security for one’s family, a home , a job etc. My own view is that by addressing these needs fairly, one is more likely to bring about attitude change.

  • @Jayne, fair enough. Your original comments appeared to me as if you were arguing the colour-blind route, and that considering differences is wrong. I accept that it was just a difference in emphasis, rather than an absolute view.

    I absolutely agree that everyone needs to be treated as individuals, and my own experience is that while many people from minority ethnic backgrounds would like nothing more than for people to forget that there are any differences, while there are others who are deeply offended by the not noticing, as this can come across as thinking that those differences are wrong, and that they are expected to conform.

    The personal invitation approach is hugely powerful, as it invariably comes after a personal connection has been made and so there will be an element of trust and a little bit of flattery. In that respect, an invitation to a party by someone you know where there may be alcohol or some non-Kosher food is more likely to be accepted than a generic advert for a meeting in an unknown pub with a bunch of strangers. I’m sure there are many potential members who would be much more comfortable attending a LibDem Pint event if they’ve first got to know people through a coffee morning environment, and that won’t just apply to non-drinkers.

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Feb '18 - 1:07pm

    Jayne, we are a party that stands up for the rights of the individual but we have problems in terms of representing the diversity and multiculturalism of our society within our membership. So how do we address that because it’s important that the views of all these individuals can be expressed in our decision making? We are starting to address the under representation of women which has certainly made me more at ease with my party. Of course as an individual I see a person who has interesting experiences and views and a sense of humour rather than the colour of their skin or their class or their gender but as a party trying to make itself more accessible I think we have to address our lack of breadth in more formal ways. I for one am hoping that we look at the shortage of working class members in a similar way because otherwise, though we want the opposite, we’ll end up as an ivory tower discussion group.

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