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Why electoral reform matters for Britain’s black communities

ERS - campaigning for reform

Britain styles itself as a representative democracy; yet while Black and other minority ethnic (BME) communities account for 10% of the population just 26 of the 650 MPs that make up our House of Commons are from a BME background.

All the numbers point to a Parliament that’s suffering from a serious democratic deficit.

Our Parliament visibly lacks the legitimacy it needs to govern a diverse society such as ours. Fair representation means more than just ensuring that the number of BME MPs matches the BME population; it means making sure that our communities are represented at all the stages of the decision making process. After all, it’s a matter of legitimacy and justice.

One of the barriers which our communities have to overcome is First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) electoral system which is one of the worst for ensuring fair representation. And with a referendum on voting reform on the cards we have the chance for a real national debate on how our communities are served by politics and politicians.

What’s wrong with FPTP?

FPTP favours the status quo and discourages parties from selecting anything that doesn’t fit the ‘male, pale and stale’ formula.

Elections in the UK are won on a handful of marginal seats. Our communities have every reason to ask whether their vote will actually make a difference. But with such a large number of safe seats, our system actually makes it harder for new blood to break in. At the same time, FPTP both reduces the number of potential vacancies while encouraging parties to play it safe.

The style of campaigning this system rests on encourages empty point scoring and restricts meaningful debates on the real issues that matter.

Voter engagement?

A fairer electoral system means a more consensual style of politics and that means that we have a greater chance of getting the issues that affect Britain’s black communities on the agenda. A fairer voting system fosters a more consensual approach to politics where everyone’s voices have to be listened to. Indeed fairer systems also tend to have better levels of representation.

It’s also proven that people are more likely to vote when they can see people like them representing them. So a higher level of representation will result in a higher BME turnout. At the 2010 general election for example, we saw record levels of both voter registration and BME turnout, this can be explained by the fact that there was a record number of BME candidates and a record number returned to Westminster. This level of engagement can only be a good thing for our democracy.

Dealing with extremism

The threat of the far right tends to dominate discussion around voting reform in our community. The fundamental question behind electoral reform asks ‘what do you want from your politics?’ As far as I can see this is the very reason we should be engaging in this debate.

Crude forms of Proportional Representation (PR) had resulted in BNP representation in London and Brussels. This has been used to damn any improvement on the current electoral system for both Westminster and local government.

What we tend to overlook is that FPTP has already allowed extremists into our town halls. In places like Barking and Dagenham, Burnley and Bradford the majority of the electorate didn’t vote for the extremists and would have rather been represented by any other party. This has been possible because with FPTP, you only need one more vote than your next placed opponent to win, so extremists have been able to speak for communities on the basis of a one vote advantage. FPTP therefore, is an outdated system designed for a two party system which doesn’t exist now.

What we need is a more consensual system. For example, preferential systems like Alternative Voting (AV) give voters the chance to rank candidates in order of preference, which rewards democratic parties that can reach out to mainstream voters while penalising extremists. Writing recently about AV, the pollster Peter Kellner made a ‘modest proposal’ to bring AV to local elections to eliminate the BNP at a stroke.

Electoral reform has a real impact and offers real benefits for our communities. Fair votes, real choice and representative politics are possible so it’s time to join the debate.

By Jyoti Bhojani

Electoral Reform Society

You can follow the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) on Twitter or on Facebook and you can also join the Society via their website.

11 Responses

  1. Very well expressed article. Well done Jyoti. You have great potential to be
    a politician – one day in House of Commons as an MP ! Good Luck. xx

  2. It is important to have electoral reform that is balanced and fair. AV is simply redundant. There is an alternative (which I might discuss later on).

    Let’s apply academic principles to this argument.

    Everybody wan’t equality. Everybody want’s the law to apply to them in the same way.

    Ladies and Gentlemen: I give you the the Logic of Immanuel Kant.

    Kant said by proxy:

    “Since everyone is equal, you have to think of it like this: if it’s okay for you to steal something, it must be okay for everyone to steal anything at anytime.”

    Applied to Ethnic Minority short-lists: They are being contemplated. We cannot apply contextual circumstance as this is “fuzzy logic”. If everybody is equal, it is ok for everybody to have an Ethnic Minority Short-list. However, we cannot all be a part of that Minority because we are not all considered a Minority (this is a contextual circumstance). “Minority”, being contextual, is taken out of the equation. We are left with Ethnic short-lists.

    Therefore, it is either alright to have a “gay short-list”, “muslim shortlist” or even a “white short-list” etc. Any short-list would be simultaneouslty (not possible in electoral systems) allowed or we cannot have any short-lists at all. The idea of “some” is not compatible with universal equality.

    By this logic, if Ethnic short-lists are acceptable then so is any form of racially motivated thought. If racially motivated thought is not acceptable then neither are Ethnic short-lists. If anybody condones ethnic short-lists then they condone (or perpetuate) racism. If anybody condones women short-lists then they condone (or perpetuate) sexism. This applies to any argument.

    This is what I have been attempting to argue all along. Hovever, until now, I did not find this form of clarity.

  3. Hi Joshua

    Do you agree with all white short lists? We seem to have lot’s of those.

    The premise you come from is a utopia we have not reached. Most people who agree with introducing alternative measures whatever they may be, acknowledge the deficit regarding ethnic minority representation.

    You don’t seem to scoff at all-white shortlists even if they are in areas where there is a large BME community.

    Can you clarify what you mean by “if Ethnic short-lists are acceptable then so is any form of racially motivated thought”

    This initiative is a proposal to deal with under-representation not exacerbate racism is that what you meant? I would not say that BME shortlist are racist.

    I would say a healthier democracy benefits all people regardless of colour.

    While were on the subject I’m interested to know what your plan was regarding bettering representation?

  4. “Hovever, until now, I did not find this form of clarity”. Glad you’ve actually cleared that up in your own mind. It doesn’t matter if it makes no sense to others. That’s your right.

    “There is an alternative (which I might discuss later on)”. Pleeeeeease. Enough of this flirtation. Either you share your supposed plans (remember the last one you said you had put in to action, but still are coy about sharing). I’ve said before you are the food critic who slags off chefs and claims he can cook better than them, but in a McDonalds / Coca Cola esque way, you never reveal your secret ingredients.

    You’ve defined your own premise on short-lists, and therefore, if that’s what you think, so be it.

    You know full well the argument is about addressing lack of representation. You know full well the ideal isn’t based on a level playing field but you pretend it is to play food critic.

    There are all-white shortlists “by proxy” – they’re called school-tie / old boys networks. They’ve existed for years and are not based on skill or qualification for the role. The odd woman or BME person benefits, and white-working classes seldom do, and thus the pretence that this isn’t white privilege at work is maintained.

    “Kant said by proxy: “Since everyone is equal…”.
    Interesting guy that Kant. It is debateable whether he, J S Mill, Voltaire, Hume, or many other ‘moral philosophers’ considered everyone equal – although their work infers they did. If they did not consider people intellectually or morally equal, did they really think “everyone is equal”, or just that those who they deemed worthy of equality were equal.

    I’ll leave you with two quotes.

    Mill (On Liberty) – “It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties…we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage”. So, everyone is equal, except those I don’t think make the cut. Interesting concept of equality.

    Kant (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime) – “The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises about the trifling. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to cite a single example in which a Negro has shown talents…in short, this fellow was quite black from head to foot, a clear proof that what he said was stupid”.

    So it is difficult – and believe me my philosophy classes at Cardiff University in ’95 tried – to ascertain whether Kant or the moral philosophers did see “everyone as equal” or that some were more equal than others.

    Technically Kant could have seen people as inferior but equal, but the ambiguity of his work has produced a plethora of books that debate this very point.

    Therefore, just like your rigid (yet flaky – see other post) representation of MLK and MX. Even on Kant, you take ambiguity and present it as unambiguous.

    Mind you, you’re not on here to discuss the pro’s and con’s, like I inferred and now unambiguously state. You are here to draw people away from their work to address inequality by presenting supposedly ‘polite enquiries’ and ‘philosophical dilemmas’.

    If I were OBV I’d go back to the chef and food critic analogy and pretend to be the waiter at the OBV restaurant:
    “Chef, Chef, stop trying to justify your Pasta alla Genovese. That food critic might say he has the best recipe, and that yours isn’t great, but he’s declined several offers to come in to the kitchen and show us. Anyone can say their pesto is better, even if they’ve never been to Liguria and tasted it themselves. Until he comes back with a better pesto, he’s just a time-waster, and we’ve got a lot of ‘reservations'”.


  5. “we’ve got a lot of ‘reservations’”.

    This is what I have been attempting to argue all along. However, until now, I did not find this form of wit.

    *Applauds self*

  6. “There are all-white short-lists “by proxy” – they’re called school-tie / old boys networks. They’ve existed for years and are not based on skill or qualification for the role. The odd woman or BME person benefits, and white-working classes seldom do, and thus the pretence that this isn’t white privilege at work is maintained. ”

    So you are going to try and enforce millions of people to lose their rights to (principally) fair, racist free, elections for the sake of targeting a few individuals while simultaneously blaming those millions for the problems created by a few? I don’t think that’s fair.

    None of this has anything to do with inherently being ‘white’ or ‘black’.

    It’s all about individual supremacy.

    “You are here to draw people away from their work to address inequality by presenting supposedly ‘polite enquiries’ and ‘philosophical dilemmas’.”

    I am not here to do that. You are not here to address inequality. You are here to challenge wrongs wherever you see fit and wherever it be convenient. I’d be concerned if you were a policeman or fireman. You would probably be a selective one. This is not equality. I am here to reason you away from making a bigoted mistake.

    Do you not understand how stupid it is for there to be laws in place to allow discrimination based on colour of skin for a job?

    Anybody who has those ideas is a racist. If you have those ideas then you are a racist. It is as simple as that. There is no grey issue in this concern and no moralising. This is an “inconvenient truth”.

    Your logic: if a ‘white’ person votes for a ‘white’ person in any way that can be linked to ‘whiteness’, that is bad. If a ‘black’ person acts with similar motive, you’re fine with that. How much of a hypocrite are you?

    I care about the working class. I do not try to separate them into ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’. You do consistently. It’s a policy just like ’50s America or South Africa. Can you not see the irony?

    ‘Representation’ is a nonsense concept that has held humanity back for a long time. You are perpetuating it through these forms of policies. ‘Representation’ can honestly go and fornicate with itself. It is that much of a moronic concept. It is a redundant and regressive notion. By encouraging ‘representation’, you are suggesting that it is sometimes suitable to treat people differently by skin colour. That is a double standard.

    It is of little consequence to me, for the sake of ideas, if an individual was ‘racist’ or not in their personal opinion. Scientists and philosophers have been some of the most bonkers people alive and yet the ideas were useful. It’s a convenient argument for you, everything that dead philosophers said was worthless because they once held racist viewpoints. By that logic, we should dismiss most of the world.

    You perpetuate a narrow-minded corridor viewpoint that conveniently eschews the cesspool of misery in the world. You talk about privilege and unfairness. Every time you buy a TV, computer (yes, the computer that you are reading form right now), or anything else for that matter, you are exploiting hard working people (quite a few in Asia) who are over-worked and bullied. Now you go and talk to me about being underprivileged. Those things probably don’t have your concern. You’re only worried about MPs and skin colour politics. You are funding the modern day slave trade, without knowledge or concern, while only worrying about the relatively petty things. Sounds like a repeat of the past to me. So, if you want to truly strive for equality and fairness, be careful about the products you buy, otherwise, you would be a complete hypocrite.

    People should not be compared to other people who are different in every other manner but skin colour, and those that would commit to problems and actions that another might despise, under the all-encompassing banner of ‘skin colour’ (i.e ‘black’ or ‘white’. It is completely offensive. You should not perpetuate it. It wouldn’t be nice if I compared all people of a certain ‘race’ to a dictator or nasty person who was a ‘member’ of that ‘race’, would it?

    I have seen people of all ‘races’ who are victims of exploitation. Don’t talk to me about ‘colour privilege’. It is a blanket terminology of stupidity. This encompassing idea of “white-privilage” is nonsense. King William IV, in colonial times no less, disputed this notion:

    “He had travelled widely and, in his eyes, the living standard among freemen in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was worse than that among slaves in the West Indies”.

    In Victorian times, in Britain, most ‘white’ people were completely poor and, legally, domestically ‘encouraged’ (exploited) to work (practically enslaved). I don’t think that ‘white’ people, as an encompassing group, should be remembered for the actions of a bunch of elitist, aristocratic ponces. They are a minority in power. But I suppose individualism isn’t one of your philosophies. I don’t think that all ‘white’ people should be remembered for what that fascist moron Oliver Cromwell instigated any more than we should identify all ‘black’ people to Robert Mugabe or the dark, pre-colonial history of Fiji. All Asian people should not be compared to Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin-Laden or, Orientally, Genghis Khan or that, still around, fascist, kidnapping socio-path, Kim-Jong-Il. Or do you think that we should all be lumped in and compared with the worst of each-other form the sake of advocating a form of supremacy?

    Whatever job you do, and whatever money you receive, it is most likely contributing to the monumental wage deficit, that people face, throughout the world. Now, you tell me about unfairness and inequality. Do not believe that you as an individual deserve anything that you have. None of us do. By having ethnic short-lists, all we would be doing is changing the skin colour of those that ponce off of the hard working people around the world who have been forced to provide for us a living. MPs are, by majority, high-class benefit recipients. They do not inherently provide growth I the economy or help make a better country (or world). The same goes for barristers, judges, anything like that. So, yes, ‘white’ people and ‘black’ people, all people, are just fighting over the spoils of exploitation that none of us deserve. I hope that puts a new perspective on your life and perhaps you might now concern yourself with the bigger picture rather than shallow, self-concerning, ideas and practices.

    All in all, you most likely have a privileged life. You should appreciate it for once rather than crusading for ill-advised principles and practices that would further benefit yourself, at the expense of systematic equality.

    You must have missed that idea, growing up, where upon it shall be revealed to the individual that life is hard and uncertain for everyone and ‘privilege’ doesn’t really exist. If it does then there is no use moaning about it. You have to do something productive about it. If you attempt to neglect others, others will neglect you.

    If you understand these principles I can share with you my idea. If not, I simply cannot agree with you. You must get this narrow-minded concept of ‘race generalisation’ out of your head. If not, you are a racist and there is nothing that can excuse that fact. It concerns me that the very person who has lectured on unfairness, inequality and racism is one that actually has racist views.

    You look at the colour of an individual’s skin and you encourage active, institutional, pre-judging (prejudice) of them, their situation, and their motives, often by this single notion. Is that not racism?

    I cannot stand this hypocrisy.

  7. “You look at the colour of an individual’s skin and you encourage active, institutional, pre-judging (prejudice) of them, their situation, and their motives, often by this single notion. Is that not racism?”


    It’s not racist in the same way that BHM is not racist, because it focuses only on the achievements of Black Britons.

    Do you think Black History is racist.

    Sometimes Joshua certain situations require what certain measures. If you’re adamant that the dreaded black shortlists will likely cripple humanity I wonder if now is the time for you to unveil your alternative.

    You can philosophize all you like. You agree there BME communities remain underrepresented in the democratic process.

    Any ideas of your own that are better than the alternatives?

  8. “Colour of skin is no different from colour of hair or anything else. If one believes it to be, inherently, a more important factor in one’s identity then that individual holds racist views”

    There has is no history of people being persecuted on the basis of the colour of their hair colour. We’re on similar turf to your guinea pig analogy.

    By your own ‘logic’ it’s colour that has been a determining factor (we acknowledge other factors) in preventing peoples advancement in many spheres of life.

    – ‘logically’ the ‘principles’ you talk of cannot apply to a society that is already unequal.

    “Logically, any form of racially motivated policy is a ‘racist’ policy be it attempted ‘benevolence’ or not”

    -Logically you are not making sense. Laws that are introduced to protect minorities from persecution-because they are minorities are not racist.

    “People are under-SERVED within the country, regardless of their skin colour.”

    -Or not served because of their colour.

    “You don’t seriously believe that a ‘black’ person would inherently well-serve another ‘black’ person just because they share the same features?”

    No, but apparently you do. While we acknowledge racial equality exists because of the perceived notion of race many of us come from families with people of varying complexions. Any ‘logical’ person takes it as a given that we understand a more representative Westminster benefits people of all colours.

    “I don’t believe that ‘BME communities’ (there is only one community, it’s called the UK. talk of “different communities” divides us)”

    -Well done. In my experience we’d all like to be judged by the content of our character-said by Dr King, who would have despised the racist aims of OBV according to you..

    Talk of different communities does not divide us.To ignore inequality is to sanction it. Like there are ………wait for it…….white people who agree with the aims of OBV there are also white people who are race equality campaigners.

    They understand also that yes black history is part of human history. But the whole point is to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Britons. I don’t think ‘people’ history would sum that up although well done for pointing out it’s part of human history. There’s me thinking we all knew that-given that black people are human. If human history had been written through ‘logical’ and human eyes maybe we wouldn’t have ever needed a Black history month.

    It seems ‘my friend’ if I need lesson in human nature you need a lesson in human history.

    Save patronizing tone ‘my friend’. It makes you look even more foolish.

    You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

  9. I use to agree with electoral reform, but now I believe the whole argument for it is steeped in idealism. It will never work in practicality and will constantly result in fragile coalition governments (like what we are currently experiencing). It will also allow for extremist parties like the BNP to get into Parliament: – something that FPTP prevents – FACT!

    Furthermore, as there is such a low voter turnout in the UK one could ague what is the need for a referendum on electoral reform? Isn’t electoral reform going to cost the tax payer more money at a time of austerity measures and spending cuts? Will electoral reform increase voter participation?

    Plus, shouldn’t we first focus our energies on increasing BME participation in politics and the UK electoral system before we start to overhaul the whole thing?

    These are the questions which need to be addressed: – these are the questions that this article does not probe. This is a shame as the article then reads as a regurgitated piece of propaganda for electoral reform.

  10. “I cannot stand this hypocrisy”.

    So why spend hours on here then? Are you a masochist or do you forego the personal pain to teach these silly black people the errors of their ways?

    Don’t be coy Joshua, you love it.

    Just to reflect and recap:

    1. No one can address racism in the UK because bad things happen in the rest of the world, very bad things.

    2. White privilege does not exist because not all white people benefit from it. Yes white upper and middle classes benefit more so, but it is a comparative phenomenon not an absolute.

    3. If we want to hear you pretend plan(s) – that’s 2 you’ve avoided sharing so far – terms and conditions apply.

    I thought ‘reasoning’ meant sharing ideas so you can invite people toward you, not people have to think like you otherwise they don’t get to hear your idea.

    p.s. that King William IV reference made me spit out my cup of tea. Thanks for that joke, you’re a card.

  11. p.p.s. this message was sent to OBV via hand-written note and carrier pigeon. I do so, so that I can continue to fight racism. If I use a computer I am a hypocrite because other people in the world are less privileged than me.

    p.p.p.s I have apologised to the pigeon

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