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Tory selections raise question marks over Labour’s commitment to BME communities

Tories Nadhim Zahawi, Sam Gyimah and Kwasi Kwarteng, and Labour's John Cryer and Jack Drombey

By Simon Woolley

In an election that could be decided by the narrowest of margins, the Labour Party seem hell-bent on testing Black and minority ethnic voters to the limit.

Political policies will always be paramount in the way people vote, but greater political representation is an important factor for many.

They want to see a House of Commons that begins to look like the nations it seeks to serve.

For decades the Labour Party has received the lions share of the BME vote, and as also been at the forefront of selecting a diversity of candidates in winnable seats. But not anymore.

Today the Conservative Party can rightly boast they are doing much more to ensure black and Asian candidates are selected in winnable seats.

In the last few weeks five safe parliamentary seats have undergone selections battles. They have all been won by men, a sad symptom of male dominated politics. But the Conservative Party have at least selected two Black candidates Sam Gyimah, (Surrey East), Kwasi Kwateng, (Spelthone), and an Iranian Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford upon Avon).

This is part of an overall process that has seen the Conservatives select at least nine new candidates in winnable seats, a feat that would transform their racial diversity.

In sharp contrast, in the few areas in which BME candidates feel they stand a decent chance of being selected, the Labour Party have selected white males: Jack Dromey in Birmingham Erdington, and John Cryer in Leyton and Wanstead.

I didn’t follow the Erdington race closely, but Leyton and Wansted is on my doorstep. The process for that seat causes particular concern. John Cryer may have been the best candidate on the day, but not shortlisting the excellent local candidate, Cllr Patrick Vernon, leads many to believe the contest was skewed from the beginning.

The water was further muddied by Shahzad Ahmed, head of Labour’s BAME group, whose second preference votes went not to the other BAME candidate Terry Paul, but to John Cryer.

Whatever the truth, these two results leave Labour in a very poor place.

After months that have witnessed a number of BME local Labour councilors being deselected and defecting – many to the Tory Party – these latest results leave many with the feeling that the Labour Party just don’t care about listening to the BME communities; communities that were once steadfastly loyal, but are now considering options elsewhere.

Simon Woolley is Director of OBV


9 Responses

  1. Speaking as a white bloke, I’ve been sickened by the hypocrisy of Labour’s under-the-radar local campaigns to “reconnect” with an ethnicity that seems strange and new to them, that amorphous beast they call the “white working class”. Especially as they used all of us as patsies in their experiment to, as they say, transform the racial profile of Great Britain. So I’m with the Tories in their war-cry: “one nation”!

  2. So all you’re really saying is that in the last 5 selections for safe seats of either party, the Tories have selected 3 BAME candidates and Labour none? What about the selections before that? How about doing an audit of every selection of safe seats this Parliament? This articles premise relies on a short time scale, used to fit the points you’ve made up. If you had considered the last 6 months, it may have been different. Indeed, Labour has got BAME candidates selected in white working class areas (not the easiest area for BAME candidates in this current climate) such as Wigan.

  3. I said this in a previous post – but its directly relevant so I will say it again – If you want represetation through meritiocratic means, its The Conservatives you want to be voting for. I find it hard to believe that there are many, if any, black people who would truly want or value a seat, or any position of office, or indeed a job, because we are Black / Asian. Why should we? We are equally talented and don’t need tokenistic gestures such as BAME shortlists. We need reaI change. I don’t want to bang on the drum of partyism too loudly, but in Surrey – we just elected two black candidates. If anyone thinks they were elected for any other reason other than the fact than that they smashed the competition, then they are deluded. Google these guys and see what they have done in their past. And you know what, the nearly all white audience (mainly in their 60s and 70s thought so too!). I say well done to the candidates but let’s give local Surrey people a bit of credit too. After all, it was Surrey people who selected the both of them. If evidence was needed, what stronger evidence do you need than this to know The Conservatives are the meritocratic party of choice?

    Cllr Imran Khan, (Reigate and Banstead Borough Council)

  4. Well seeing as we’re reposting I’ll bring mine over from the other post too:

    What are your views on recent news that the Tory party have being seeking to achieve representation by stealth? Link: http://tr.im/QfhN

    Doesn’t that somewhat undermine the claim that the selection outcomes are purely meritocratic?

  5. Leon,

    The Daily Mail is the perfect ‘Must have’ guide for any aspiring racist. Containing a plethora of racist spin on Black peoples’ contribution in the UK and abroad, no BNP supporter should be without a copy. A serious news organisation – it is not.

    But, for the sake of exploring the possibility of your suggestion, answer this: How do you get 250 nearly exclusively white mainly pensioners to agree to a secret edict from up top at the selection meeting? I can tell you that all the people I met at the meeting were fierecly independently minded and would have gone absolutely nuts at any suggestion of anyone telling them who to vote for. When it comes down to the reality of how candidates are selected, it can’t be done under the current system – where you have a hall full of people voting by secret ballot.

    Its a great moment for democracy that the House of Commons is no the road to becoming more like the people it aims to represent. There is more work to be done, but The Conservatives have made a brilliant start on this.


  6. Imran, why are you with the Tories? They are the party of racism. Yes, Labour have been racist too – but the Tories are worse, and will be worse once they get into government. You can still hold onto your views about capital punishment, homosexuality and the importance of the family, whilst also being Labour – there’s no need for BME people to legitimise the racist establishment toffs.

  7. Hey Blanco,

    Are really sure that’s fair? The Conservatives have been really working hard to assure Black and Asian representation and have been more successful than any other party in this repect. I don’t want to higlight people like David Blunkett et al, you know about him already. As for Jack Straw, you know what all about him too, so I’m not going to get down and dirty on this.

    And, Lester, I’m really sorry to use content from another one of my posts, but I think this answers the question most effectively. So here’s what I think:

    Here are some concrete steps The Conservatives have taken to assure Black and Asian peoples’ representation:

    1. Developed new selection system that guarantees diversity, fairness and meritocracy – and put this in place.

    2. Put up BME candidates in Conservative-held seats, comprising the brightest and best candidates, with equal numbers of men and women and a significant proportion of black and ethnic minority candidates, and candidates with disabilities.

    3. Full progress check review after three months, and in the unlikely event that further action is required, it will be taken.

    4. Intensive programme of headhunting and mentoring to attract the brightest and best women and ethnic minorities to apply to become candidates.

    5. Community involvement in candidate selection, either through community panels evaluating candidates, or through primaries.

    This has resulted in:

    Sayeeda Warsi in the Shadow Cabinet
    Sajid Javid in Bromsgrove
    Zahid Iqbal in Bradford West.
    Shaun Bailey in Hammersmith
    Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones in Cheltenham
    Kwazi Kwarteng in Spelthorne
    Helen Grant in Maidstone
    Sam Gyimah in Surrey East
    Nadhim Zahawi in Stratford-on-Avon

    Actions speak louder than words. The Conservatives are winning the battle for representation. I know you’ve never voted Conservative before but …

    Cllr Imran Khan (Reigate and Banstead Borough)

  8. Imran, to be sure it is progress and though my family wouldn’t thank me for it, good on the Tories. However, just as you might perceive people who are not convinced by the meritocratic argument as deluded, it might also be delusional (but politically astute) to be so partisan in narrowing the debate to matter of candidate selection – it also has to be what those (correction, all) candidates and the party stand for. You are right to be abundantly clear about being valued for ones skills and to reject tokenism, but there are wider issues your party has to wrestle with concerning ‘BAME’ voters, and those not ‘BAME’ who are concerned with such issues.

    You mentioned strong evidence, so:

    – It is less than two years since the Tory mayoral candidate first tried to deny (and then reframe) what was clearly racially derogatory comments about African people. Whilst I wish Shaun Bailey all the best, I wonder whether his decision to mute his criticism of such language was more a career tactic than a lack of offence taken. p.s. please don’t trot out the ‘satire’ argument in Boris’s defence.
    – You also had Derek Laud who was all too pleased to share that he was an ardent Tory, oh and that his close friends call him ‘Golly’.
    – It was the previous party leader who used ‘dog-whistle’ elements of the immigration issue in the 2005 general election (communities “cannot cope” with the level of immigration / quotas for asylum seekers). Some of the language used at the time from your colleagues bordered on scare-mongering and gross exaggeration.
    – Oh, and the vehement criticisms by some prominent Tories of the Lawrence Inquiry before it had even started (so lets not pretend it was just about its conclusions)

    There are also more distant memories but still within the previous 34 years (i.e. my lifetime) such as the complicity with the apartheid regime and portrayal of the ANC including Nelson Mandela as terrorists – what was it again “Hang Nelson Mandela and all ANC terrorists, they are butchers” (Federation of Conservative Students); and the comments of Mrs Thatcher about Britons feeling “rather swamped by people with a different culture” (the ‘BAME’ percentage of the UK population stood at way below 10% then).

    You asked “what stronger evidence do you need than this to know The Conservatives are the meritocratic party of choice?”. For me and possibly many other people, there is a need to know that the inherent racism displayed by the party and its senior members up until very recently has changed – significantly. One way this has been done was Baroness Warsi’s performance against Nick Griffin but that was easy pickings.

    Just as a quick aside – your mention of the Baroness in the list below the candidate selection procedures infers that she was somehow subject to this process which isn’t the case.

    Anyway, yes, I too thought Blunkett was deplorable with his Thatcher-esque ‘swamped’ comments and other such attacks, but was that really the reason you didn’t want to get ‘down and dirty’ or is it because you would have had to defend the above?

    As far as I’m concerned the upcoming election is a bit of conundrum for ‘BAME’ voters:

    – A party with a wretched record concerning their views about ‘BAME’ people and candidate-wise, but who seem to be improving?
    – A party with a stronger historical track record candidate and policy-wise, yet far from perfect and seemingly on the wane
    – A party with comparatively abysmal representation, but comparatively more in tune with some of their national and international policies / stances

    Not that ‘BAME’ voters are consigned to only view the election with ‘race-tinted spectacles’. There are several policy issues which the parties need to step up to the plate on. To be fair, your party – and your leader in particular – are currently portrayed as ‘policy-light’, yet I feel that accusation could be levelled at Labour too.

    Either way, with potentially less than two months to the election you’d both better get your skates on, or refocus how the message gets across in both local and national contexts.

  9. Is it just me or is the inference given by many of the comments within and below these representation articles that it is impossible for people to select someone for business purposes but still hold negative views about that persons culture and heritage?

    If I am a senior manager in a law firm, I might believe stereotypes about Caribbean people but happily employ a Bajan solicitor because his/her track record is superb, or because I want to broaden my client base and my current team is not reflective of my catchment area or target market.

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