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Let’s have all-BME shortlists… even if we don’t use them immediately

One of Britain’s most strident opponents of all-Black shortlists has said that campaigners must still “hold feet to the fire” on the issue of the under-representation of BME communities in parliament.

Sunder Katwala, general secretary of left-leaning think tank the Fabian Society, said that positive action measures like all-BME shortlists should not be ruled out if political parties were to regress in the future.

Speaking to OBV Blog today, Katwala said: “I think that the idea of permissive legislation for all-Black shortlists is a sound one.”

While Labour and the Conservatives had made real progress in selecting more black and Asian candidates to fight winnable seats at the coming general election, showing that “current methods have worked quite well”, he added that there should still be the option of “making progress by other means” if parties began to backslide.

His comments come after a cross-party Speakers Conference of MPs recommended that the Government introduce “enabling legislation” to allow parties to use all-BME shortlists if they want to.

Katwala admitted that the Commons will still have a large under-representation of Black MPs despite a new intake at the election. Parties should have the option of using this measure, he said, even if there is not an immediate need for it now.

He said that while Labour’s introduction of all-women shortlists has led to more women getting into parliament, fewer women were being picked through ‘open selections’. He feared that shortlists could also typecast visible minorities as only representing urban seats.

However Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, responded: “There is no reason now why legislation should not be changed to allow all BME short lists.

“When the argument about all-women shortlists was raging detractors said these women would be marked out. Yet the same detractors struggle to name one female MP who has come through much less the 20 or so that have benefited.

“The argument is clear: whilst we are dismantling party selection processes that hold talent back, ‘all-BME’ shortlist should be used to circumvent persistent obstacles.”

By Lester Holloway

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