Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Are Labour's grassroots just a little bit racist?


It seems an age ago when I shared a session on Keighley's Ramadan radio with the then leader of Bradford's Labour group, Ian Greenwood. These occasions are pleasant and conversational rather than the confrontation we usually get on mainstream radio and one topic that came up was the number of candidates selected by the parties from ethnic minorities. After a little bit of to and fro Ian and I agreed that the real measure of success wasn't us selecting candidates from the Pakistani community to contest wards with a majority Pakistani population but would be us selecting non-white candidates in overwhelmingly white wards such as Tong or Ilkley.

Understand, dear reader, that this is not about positive discrimination - adopting an 'all-ethnic' shortlist in the manner of Labour's 'all-women' shortlists. Not only is this approach inequitable but it promotes division and discord. Instead I wanted decisions to be made on merit - because the person, regardless or gender, ethnicity, religion or age is the best person to be the candidate.

So I was struck by the observations from David Lammy MP on an analysis showing how few people from ethnic minorities Labour has selected for winnable seats:

Just one non-white candidate has been selected so far in the 34 seats where a sitting Labour MP is stepping down in the general election in May – the constituencies which should provide the best opportunities for the party to get new prospects elected.

By contrast, five Conservative associations among the 32 in constituencies where a sitting MP is retiring have chosen minority candidates.

And that pattern in Conservative 'safe' seats isn't new - the last election saw Nadhim Zahari, Priti Patel, Sajid Javed, Adam Afriye, Sam Gymiah, Kwasi Kwarteng, Helen Grant and Shailesh Vara elected in such seats. In contrast, Labour's non-white MPs (like David Lammy) are overwhelmingly elected to represent inner-city areas with large, even majority, non-white populations. The comparison with those Tory MPs would be Labour selected black or Asian candidates in places like Barnsley Central, Neath or Leeds East.

The Conservatives, during a period when we have be routinely accused of racism by Labour, have quietly changed our attitude to non-white candidates. This perhaps reflects that the core middle-class support within the party is no longer exclusive and sees no issue with a person's race, gender (the shortlist for the safe seat of Banbury is all female without the need for imposition) or sexuality. Don't get me wrong, we've still a fair smattering of folk who aren't so keen but they are a smaller and smaller minority of the Conservative membership.

Meanwhile Labour (or at least David Lammy) agonises about the problem and inevitably discrimination is suggested:

He warned: “The party is in danger of looking incredibly complacent. Britain’s ethnic minorities have traditionally voted Labour but Parliament is a long, long way from reflecting the nation as a whole.

“If we are failing to select enough on a regional basis over a period of time, we ought to think about black and minority shortlists, with at least one on the list.”

Mr Lammy urged party leaders to push ethnic-minority candidates if any Labour MPs stood down before May.

If the only way to get ethnic-minority candidates is to rig the game in their favour, then Labour really does have a problem. Either those bright and brainy non-white candidates are all in the Conservative Party or else Labour's grassroots are - I hesitate to say this - just a little racist.


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