BME Conference Diversity Member Engagement The Party

Response to The Alderdice Report

The Alderdice report is the Party’s independent inquiry into improving process and culture within the Liberal Democrats, specifically focusing on race and ethnicity. Lord Alderdice was asked to conduct this report on behalf of Federal Board and Party President Sal Brinton. Lord Alderdice was not asked to address any particular cases, nor the problems of race and equality in the UK as a whole – but “as part of the party’s commitment to build and safeguard a free, fair and open society”.

The report asked for answers on the following questions: – 

  1. Are there barriers to participation for BAME members? If so, what and where are they?
  2. Do barriers differ in different parts of the party?
  3. How effective are existing mechanisms/procedures in addressing the issue?
  4. Does the Party do enough to engage with BAME voters and ensure accessibility for potential BAME members?
  5. What further steps should, or could, be taken by the Party to address the issues identified in this review”

The report explores how the Party currently approaches diversity, at local and national level, and also touches on the party’s means of reaching out to new and current members – highlighting where the party can improve in both instances. Unfortunately, although there are some important recommendations in the report in, our opinion Lord Alderdice’s recommendations do not go far enough.

No experience of outright racism?

The Alderdice report states how “many who have achieved significant office in the party maintained that they had not experienced any negative reactions to their colour or ethnic background” [page 5]. Lord Alderdice explains that some individuals and groups within the party were unwelcoming to people of colour, but in other cases colour was not the only or even the main reason for the problems experienced. Outright racism, however, is not necessarily the crux of the problem. Unconscious bias is something that needs to be addressed in our party and across society, too. This is something local parties need to be conscious of, and should explore how they welcome and include new members, and reach out to the community more broadly

Diversity not a priority for local party officials

The Alderdice Report suggests, “there was no evidence of widespread racism, however it did seem that for some individuals and organizations in the party, addressing the low level of representation of ethnic minorities was not an agenda item, much less a significant priority.” Unfortunately, I do think there are a few signs of racism within the party especially when you hear comments such as “BAME candidates won’t win in this seat”.

When the Elect Diverse MPs motion was passed in March 2016, selected seats across the country had to choose candidates from underrepresented groups. We have sometimes heard comments from these seats, such as “a BAME MP wouldn’t be elected in this area”. Is this necessarily true – or is it an excuse? And for seats not in this scheme, how many of them have chosen white male candidate instead of a candidate from an under-represented group? Whether or not more candidates from underrepresented group have been selected in aggregate is unclear.

In a previously held Liberal Democrat seat, a candidate was told by members of their local party that “only certain type of candidate can get elected around here.” If someone said this to you what would you think? The candidate that was told this is from a BAME background.

In our opinion what the Alderdice review fails to give answer to is to how individuals in the party can change the culture of its processes including the selection process so comment such as those mentioned above are never spoken in the near future.

Need to give minorities a chance of winning

There are some positives from the report but they also raise concerns. For example the report discusses how the “party at various levels can bring people in from BAME communities, get them on to approved lists of candidates and ensure that they make it to selection meetings, but unless they are made welcome by local party members, selected as candidates in winnable seats and given the financial, moral and campaigning support they need from the party locally and centrally, nothing is likely to change for the better in terms of BAME representation.”

It is worth asking: How many local candidates from a BAME background are standing in winnable seats? How many BAME local party chairs are there? How many BAME group leaders are there? You get the idea. These are important questions local parties need to ask themselves, and the solution: find a member of your local party to be a diversity officer and initiate changes. LDE are watching to see what groups like Liberal Democrats Race Equality Group can do to help change the conversation towards a more positive and meaningful place for all members.

Complaints not handled quickly

With regards to complaints, the report concludes “in the main what was needed was not additional procedures but changes in the political culture in the party”. There have been many reports that the current complaints system “is not working in a timely fashion”, feeding “suspicion that there is a resistance to addressing” the problem of discrimination.

This may be attributed, as Alderdice claims, to “the low numbers of BAME members in some areas”, making it harder to find support from “appropriate people who are available to carry out the procedures.” As with other areas, what seems to be required is for the party at all levels to take the issue of complaints seriously and treat it as a priority, investing resources to ensure existing procedures can be implemented. This would be further supported by proper diversity and pastoral training at the local level.

The importance of having Role Models

The report continues to say “young people will respond to recognizable role models with whom they can identify and who are interested in their issues. This requires party members to engage with those communities and develop more identifiable black and ethnic minority community leaders who are Liberal Democrat in their sympathies and who can address the relevant issues, which will vary from community to community.”

Examples of diverse role models in our party could include the likes of: Amna Ahmed from Sutton, Lucy Salek in the Lewisham East by election, newbie Almona Choudhury, Shaffaq Mohammed Leader of Sheffield LDs, Kamran Hussain (Brexit spokesperson for Yorkshire and Humber region) and younger members like Amaan Hashmi in Chorlton Park Manchester.

Aside from those mentioned above, who comes to mind when you think of diverse activists in the Party? What can we do to raise their profile?

Wider response to Alderdice Report

We asked other BAME members for their opinion on the Alderdice review: one member from North of England said “Currently the leadership are only interested in boosting female representation by currently replacing white middles class males with white middle class females.  There has been no interest in dealing with social class issues. Furthermore, there is a need to acknowledge that Lib Dem members can be racist, otherwise we will never take challenging racism seriously.”

Another member from the East Midlands explained how they were “unsurprised but glad it’s being talked about and the party has a long long way to go”.

Lord Alderdice explains “that if there is to be positive change, the approach to race and ethnic minorities has to become a top priority.” We couldn’t agree more – so what can we do to make that a reality? What policies in our manifesto will really signal this? What can local parties to do to address diversity, aside from electing a diversity officer?

Conference will be discussing the findings of Lord Alderdice’s report on the Saturday afternoon of conference, where it will be interesting to hear wider response to the report’s findings. (4.15PM-5PM, Brighton Centre Auditorium, After Alderdice – Delivering Race Equality in the Liberal Democrats).

Conclusion

In conclusion this report unfortunately does not go far enough to explain solutions to diversity.

If you want to make a difference:

  • Build a supportive team that are open minded on diversity and committed to reaching out
  • Elect a diversity officer and ensure all future events bear in mind social issues in regard to the demographic you are trying to reach
  • Lean on other members and experts across the country

Finally remember that “the Liberal Democrats believe in creating a fairer society – a society that is fairer for everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other part of an individual’s identity.”

What actions do you think we can take as a party to improve diversity – both locally and federally?

You can find the full text of the Alderdice Report here.

 

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