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Commonwealth MPs say Britain should learn from them

Ashok Viswanathan2Over 60 MPs from across the Commonwealth got a chance to see the “mother of parliaments” in action – and they weren’t at all impressed with the under-representation of women and Black people in Britain

The overseas politicians from south Asia, Africa and the Caribbean visited Westminster and also heard from Operation Black Vote’s deputy director, Ashok Viswanathan (pictured above), who said that more action was needed to make UK politics more representative.

Some visiting MPs reported that they had already made huge strides in this area, and that British political parties can learn a lot from them.

Viswanathan, speaking at a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association seminar on diversity, said that with just 15 Black MPs out of 646, sitting back and waiting for change was not an option. “If you wait for meritocracy to do it’s work, we’ll be waiting for another hundred years.”

He added: “We have a long way to go if we are to make the democratic system in the UK as modern and vibrant as society itself.”

UgandaMP

Uganda's deputy speaker Rebecca Kadaga MP Pic: Paul Milsom

 

Lib Dem peer Baroness Kishwer Falkner said that Britain needed to create a “ladder of opportunity” for disenfranchised people, and that those who made it “must not pull the ladder up behind them.”

Crossbench peer Baroness Lola Young added: “We need to think about what we mean about representation. It is about preparing people from an early age and make women feel like they have a place in what are very male-dominated institutions.”

Some of the visiting MPs from Commonwealth states felt that they had their own success stories to share with Britain, including an MP from Bangladesh who spoke about the large proportion of women MPs in their parliament.

Rebecca Kadaga MP, deputy speaker of the Ugandan parliament, said: “In Uganda we have over 40% of women in local government, over 30% in parliament and in the cabinet.” Rwanda is even further ahead, with women making up over half of all MPs.

Referring to the whole trip, she added: “I didn’t see any indication here that they are ready to pick up what we are doing. They are trying to lecture us. But actually we’re ahead.”

ANC Eastern Cape MP Cedrick Frolick, said: “In South Africa it’s prescribed in the constitution that we are a multi-lingual, multi-racial society, and this must be reflected within the government.

“It’s the way political parties pursue that objective. It needs to be a deliberate process to ensure you reach that right mix. As Ashok [Viswanathan] said, you want a government that reflects that societal dynamics that are there.”

By Lester Holloway

Pictures by Paul Milsom of Barrett and Coe

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