It’s February and somehow we all survived (or should I say cried) at Trump’s inauguration. We now brace ourselves for Brexit negotiations. On the positive side there have been glimmers of hope for the Liberal Democrats, nationally and in Watford – where I am Diversity Officer. Liberal Democrats want an open, diverse and inclusive party, representative of all sections of society, with all members feeling able to participate in whatever way they wish. It’s so important to engage with voters from across our communities. As I’ll explore below, our efforts in Watford have resulted in new members, encouraged members to get involved in action days, and show that diligence and hard work can make a difference. If we want to build a message for every voter, then that means reaching out to our communities and facilitating involvement.
Diversity can focus on women, young people, ethnic minorities, LGBT and many more. Throughout 2016 we have won countless by-elections and finally have a female MP (Sarah Olney) again. We are up in the polls, and some seats even have Diversity Officers (a first for local parties, and a step in the right direction). There is no common remit for what a Diversity Officer should do, but I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase Liberal Democrat values and improve diversity within local parties. If we can work break out of the mentality of ‘no go areas’ and engage with people, we can increase the Liberal Democrat vote and live up to our values. Diversity is vital to what we want to achieve as a party. The LibDem Diversity and Inclusion page makes explicit our aim to build ‘a society that is fairer for everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other part of an individual’s identity’.
Last year, I became the Diversity Officer for Watford Liberal Democrats and although I had a vague idea of what I thought the role would entail it was only after Liberal Democrat Conference that it became clear. At Conference, I spoke at a fringe about Feminism and about the member led diversity survey. I offered some ideas of how to improve things in terms of Diversity within the Party. This was the first time I’ve actually spoken at conference about Diversity and it was fantastic to be on a panel as opposed to listening in the audience. I must say a huge thank you to April Preston for organising this superb fringe event. After Conference, things started to kick off locally in terms of addressing diversity. I felt like I didn’t stop and things locally were actually changing in a way I’ve never seen before.
It started with me constantly urging people to invite influential Liberal Democrats to Watford. With our first guest speaker secured as Shaffaq Mohammed MBE (Leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats), I organised a Diversity Dinner. It’s fair to say everyone was excited and along with the Ian Stotesbury, our PPC, we created enough hype for Watford’s first diversity event.
The event began with Ian speaking about how we live in a diverse area and how important it is to engage and represent different communities through effective campaigning. In his speech, Shaffaq emphasised the need to support people from diverse communities by doing homework on the community we live in (i.e. diverse communities in the Watford) and supporting the candidate using a variety of different campaigning techniques. He ended with the slogan “who dares wins” and explained how politics is like the ‘Olympic Games: the Liberal Democrats don’t want silver!’. I learnt a lot from this and wrote five pages of notes full of ideas of what I needed to do in my role.
Supporting local businesses and engaging with holidays is just one of many things local parties can do. In October a small group of us attended Navarti went to celebrate Diwali at Bhaktivendanta Manor, and attended an urban food festival run by local SMEs. We reached out to new people and new voters, and established our party’s engagement with Watford’s communities.
Simple communication, including through social media is important too. Dorothy Thornhill (Mayor of Watford) wished communities in Watford Shanah Tovah (Jewish), Muharram Mubarak (Muslim), and Happy Navaratri (Hindu). These may be relatively small gestures, but it’s evidence of having a message for every voter. I will always remember taking our local Parliamentary candidate and two councillors to Diwali at the Hindu Temple. Joe Fahmy (Cllr for Tudor Ward, Watford) memorised the story of Diwali that I sent to those attending prior to Diwali and it really made me smile, so thank you Joe. Ian later commented that his favourite diversity event of the year was this Diwali visit!
These efforts have resulted in new members since September 2016, encouraged more diverse members to get involved in action days and showing that diligence and hard work can slowly make a difference in an area that needed to do more on diversity and now is.
This year I have diversity team meetings scheduled for events and I am really excited to see what this year holds for the Liberal Democrats. In a follow up blog to this one, I will explore further what our local party has been doing on diversity, and where the party as a whole has areas of improvement.
I would like to thank members of Watford Liberal Democrats for being so open minded and letting me do this role. Also thank you to Kamran Hussain and my diversity team without you this would not have been possible.
Dipa Vaya is Diversity Officer for the Watford Liberal Democrats and an ambassador for 50:50 Parliament. She is a politics graduate and passionate about improving diversity within the party. Find her on Twitter @DipaJVaya