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Diversity rises up Lib Dem agenda

Joseph-Lee-and-CleggLib Dem leader Nick Clegg moved to increase the chances of his party gaining ethnic minority representation at the next election by announcing a new diversity unit

By Lester Holloway in Bournemouth

Clegg told reception for ethnic minority members at the annual conference in Bournemouth that there was still more work to do, but assured activists that it was one of his top priorities and “would not rest” until his party reflected the society it seeks to serve.

Speaking at the same event Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, said that having Black political representation was not just right, but it was essential for a properly-functioning democracy.

Clegg has handed the party’s national diversity advisor Issan Ghazni a more strategic role, and appointed Vicky Booth to lead a diversity unit in the Cowley Street headquarters to deliver practical initiatives to boost under representation of women and ethnic minorities.

The party has also recently appointed a BME press officer, Diana Yeboah, and is working with the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) on an initiative called Next Generation, to train and support ambitious activists.

Activist Joseph Lee (pictured above with Clegg), said he was hopeful that these changes would bear fruit.

Simon Woolley

OBV's Simon Woolley in Bournemouth

But the urgency of the task was underscored by an EMLD fringe meeting earlier in the day, when several members voiced frustration at the absence of any black or Asian representatives in the Commons or in regional government assemblies.

Shas Sheehan, a Lib Dem general election candidate for Wimbledon, said: ‘We just don’t look like a party that cares about race.’

Nader Fekri, a councillor from Calderdale, said that the party needed to consider “more radical” structural measures in addition to the backroom changes in the Cowley Street headquarters.

But Meral Ece, an Islington councillor and EMLD chair, said that Clegg was showing greater commitment to improving ethnic minority representation and that the issue has “risen up the agenda.”

Woolley, a keynote speaker at the EMLD fringe entitled Reflecting Britain, said: ‘Don’t ask for justice, demand it. There’s no such thing as a safe seat when 50 percent not voting. Where are those constituencies? It’s not in the countryside. It’s more likely to be in urban areas.’

He added: ‘After Obama’s victory anything is possible, but only if you drive the agenda. Only if you feel impassioned about a programme that will bring Britain’s disillusioned communities to the polling booth.’

But he said that the Lib Dems may have to “bite the bullet” of all-Black shortlists in order to make quicker progress.

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9 Responses

  1. But honestly, it’s pathetic-a diversity unit? More like a life support machine. If this is progress, it’s not worth promotion on the Blog!

  2. While I agree with the sentiments here, I think Nick Clegg and senior Lib Dems realise they have to deliver BME representation at the next election. Of course results are the most important thing.

    Where initiatives like the diversity unit come in, is that they are aimed at changing the party from within. It’s part of a process of joint working between the leadership and BME members.

    Campaigners have rightly pointed to the Conservatives as doing the most to get Black politicians into parliament, and from a results point of view that’s absolutely true.

    But the Tories have done this in a top-down manner. Without this hidden positive action from Cameron, I doubt Tory activists would have chosen the talented Black candidates they did. What’s not in doubt is that the Tories have delivered results.

    I remain sceptical that the rank and file Tories have brought into this – maybe they will in time, I’m hopeful.

    The Lib Dems are trying to do things more organically, not least because they are a more federal party where the leadership has less control over local associations.

    But I and others have argued that these behind-the-scenes changes (like the diversity unit) need to be supplemented by actual measures, like all-Black shortlists, to speed up progress. That argument is yet to be won.

    If the Lib Dems were to move to a situation where they have measures to break the logjam in selecting Black candidates in winnable seats, as well as the structural diversity initiatives, I think Clegg will be in a better position than any other.

  3. If the Lib Dems are truly committed to having a more inclusive party, they need to have top –down as well as a bottom – up approach. A diversity unit does sound very much as a tick-box exercise-for it to have any teeth it needs to be transparent and clear what it is going to achieve and when by. They’ve had many years to get their act together and have been in the perfect position to target BME voters yet failed miserably.

    BTW- how come Simon’s video been taken off??

  4. As i mentioned at the event, i do believe the leadership are taking the Lib dem diversity issue serious, I believe that Nick will drag the party kicking and screaming into the 21st century and get better representation for BME people throughout the party at within this leadership.

    I would briefly like to stat that if we dont get good representation in the commons election after this, then i firmly believe that we will seriously have to consider an Tory style ‘A -list’. I would rather see BME candidates get into parliament off their own merit. However, i would be very concerned that if election after next we still have little or no BME MP’s, this would detach us from the electorate and give reasonable cause for people to give their vote to another party as they may feel this party doesnt have the look of modern Britain along their green benches.

  5. I think its shocking that we are still having this same argument in the 21st Century. Why has it taken the Lib Dem’s so long to realise that their MPs should be more representative of British society today?!

    This is why the general public doesn’t take this party seriously.

  6. @James:

    To be fair, it’s taken the Tories the same amount of time. Lest we forget that it was the 20th century that saw them have a campaign slogan that went: “If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Liberal or Labour”.

    This is the same party who put Enoch Powell upon a pededstal, even now (see Daniel Hannan’s recent comments),

  7. Pedestal, not pededstal.

  8. Be that as it may, at least the Conservatives have a few BME MPs (even if it is just for show) in their Party. Even though I will never vote for them … the Tories addressed their negative racial image fairly quickly.

    But my point is that we shouldn’t be having this same old tired discussion in 2009/10.

    I agree with Ashok, the idea of a diversity unit is pathetic!

  9. Has any party raised the possibility of having US style primaries to select their candidates? I’m not saying that this would be perfect but there seems to be so many potential advantages:

    – much more likely to get who the local residents would warm to rather than someone ‘parachuted in’

    – the candidates would be called upon to be much more visible, accessible, accountable for their views, and in touch (again as opposed to someone who is parachuted in without the need to even speak to a local resident)

    – instead of having to make the case for shortlists (which I am in favour of, but don’t seem to be popular with the parties), the contest would be open to anyone who joined the party

    and in terms of wider benefits

    – the local residents would perhaps want to participate more as they are being given ‘more of a say’

    – given that certain parties have capitalised on a lack visibility and accessibility by mainstream candidates. this would force mainstream candidates to engage, counter any myths being propagated, and severely dent the “they were the only party who were interested in me” argument

    I concede there are potential obstacles:

    – how it would be paid for

    – voter turn-outs are pretty low so there are risks, but it could be presented as a break from the old routine and a commitment to move away from the old way of doing things

    – party members who feel they have worked hard to position themselves for a candidacy would be very peeved if they lost out to a relative newcomer or someone they feel didn’t cut the mustard

    However, it might be that they would benefit from endorsing such an open contest, and by standing in such a primary instead of having to wait to be appointed or anointed.

    It might also ensure that the parties end up having candidates who aren’t chosen for reasons of nepotism or political point-scoring which contributes in part to the current cynicism and apathy

    I’d be interested to know if this has been thought of before and why the parties were reluctant to try it, and whether that was before the trust in politicians was dented even further by the expenses scandal?

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