Right now the Liberal Democrats have a lot on their plate. Their leader Nick Clegg as the Deputy Prime Minister is jointly charged with implementing a level of spending cuts that would ordinarily have their supporters manning the barricades in opposition.
As a political party they seem damned if they support the Coalition deficit measures and damned if they don’t. You could therefore, forgive them if they pay scant regard to the Diversity motion that will be discussed on Wednesday at 10am. But we shouldn’t. On the contrary the motion put forward by Cllr Lester Holloway implores the party to implement some basic positive action measures that should begin to ensure its elected members on a, regional, national and European level are no longer all-white.
Clegg stated before the election that if they remained an all-white party after the election he would see it as a personal failure. But as a way of almost excusing himself he added at the time that, ‘…the reality is that I inherited this position,-safer seats had already selected white candidates- but after the election you’ll see fundamental change’.
Holloway’s proposals are an attempt to kick start that change. As a result of the changes the party would ensure;
One Black and minority ethnic candidate on a shortlist whenever a sitting Liberal Democrat MP retires or resigns, and in any Parliamentary by-elections’;
And, ‘At least one BAME member should be on the shortlists for Westminster constituencies where the Liberal Democrats require a swing of five percent, or less, to win the seat’.
I think however the biggest breakthrough will come if they implement the idea that: the Federal Executive should strengthen the Party’s policies and process to positive action around recruitment, retention and promotion of BAME talent; set targets for BAME representation in line with national and regional Office of National Statistics data; and decide on outcomes within agreed timescales;
By any standards Holloways suggestions are hardly radical. Those elements such as all –BME short lists were quickly dropped from the initial proposals for fear that they would over shadow the debate and everything would be lost.
You’d think having dropped the contentious stuff the rest of the proposals would be plain sailing for this motion to be passed. Not so.
There is real worry amongst BME Lib-Dem activists that an over cautious rank and file will not take the issue serious enough. Worse still, although they have leadership support , other than Simon Hughes few senior figures seem to publicaly want to participate in the debate. Activists have been told they’re too busy. To many BME Lib Dems there’s always an excuse for in action: ‘we’d love to have a more representative party, but… ‘we’re running the country’, there are no safe seats’, ‘ all the safe seats are taken but I’m sure it’ll be better next time round’.
As a result of this political inertia, and recognizing that many BME individuals felt the Labour party had taken the ‘black vote’ for granted the Conservative party seized the opportunity to appeal to a wider electoral audience by selecting BME candidates for winnable seats. David Cameron’s project acutely understood that the rank and file Tories were perhaps not quite ready to embrace the full meaning of a diverse party, so wherever he could he either circumvented part of the machinery and simultaneously persuaded Tory grandees to promote and support this new generation of BME Tories. The outcome was historic. The largest number BME elected politicians from any one party at any one time. They went from a miserable two to a respectable 12.
The Conservatives achievement in this area makes their Coalition partners look even more out of touch.
The motion, therefore, that Cllr Holloway puts forward will according to him ‘decide whether or not the party stays in the ‘all white’ wilderness for perhaps a decade, or whether it begins the process of becoming a 21st century inclusive and representative party’.
Tomorrows debate will demonstrate on this issue of representation Nick Clegg’s talk might fine, even moving, but ultimately without action to back it up, meaningless. Lets wait and see.