At the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, today, members rejected a motion to force local parties to have at least one Black and minority ethnic candidate on short-lists for elections to the House of Commons.
The core of the motion submitted by the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) put two specific measures before the party – equality of opportunity and multi-member lists for European elections.
Members debated until a much weaker motion was passed instead, agreeing to targets for BME representation in line with national and regional Office of National Statistics data and to commit to more training for potential BME candidates.
“The motion was ripped to nothing more than a review to be completed by Christmas.” Lester Holloway of the EMLD said.
“There is no problem with BME candidates putting themselves forward and this is not about targets for approved candidates – it is about results and about BME candidates being selected for winnable seats.
“We have been talking about training for 20 years; training is important for polishing and developing candidates but also implies that we are not all equal. The best black and minority ethnic candidates are as good as the best white candidates.”
If the motion had been passed, it would have meant that whenever a sitting Lib Dem MP resigned, in any by-elections, and in any constituency where the Lib Dems required a swing of 5% or less to win the seat, at least one BME candidate would be shortlisted.
Since 1892, the Liberals have returned an all white Commons team in every general election.
Lester Holloway pressed that this was not good enough. He said:
“If we do not get it right, fewer BME individuals are going to join; fewer BME individuals will get involved and fewer BME individuals will vote for the Liberal Democrats. The reason why ethnic minorities have a blinding loyalty to the Labour party at the ballot box is because they believe the party understands and reflects them.”
But deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes MP said:
“I am glad that Conference agreed today that there will be a full set of proposals for candidate diversity and that we will have the chance to take decisions to change the face and mix of the Liberal Democrats.
“I will be presenting a paper to the Party’s Federal Executive next month which will propose radical changes in the way we select our candidates. This proposal will include the aim that half our candidates will be women and that one in ten of our candidates will come from our black and minority ethnic communities. The whole party seems clear that Liberal Democrats must act urgently to increase our diversity and make sure many more women and people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are candidates in winnable seats at the next election.” added Simon Hughes.
To date, the left-leaning party and junior partner in the coalition government is unrepresentative in terms of race and gender. It has no BME MPs, MEPs, members of the Scottish parliament or Welsh assembly and only seven of the party’s 57 MPs are female.
At the conference, Lester Holloway said:
“Wishful thinking has failed to deliver on diversity…diversity is the elephant in the room.”
The EMLD also clarified that the motion was not for positive discrimination, as members had suggested and as had been reported by some media outlets, today.
“The motion was about positive action. The two are fundamentally different.” said Lester. “Positive discrimination is determining an outcome while positive action aims to create equality of opportunity.”
By Davina Kirwan