Saturday, April 24, 2010

The 'Hideously White' LibDem Candidates

Remember when Greg Dyke caused a bit of a hullabaloo when he called the BBC @hideously white'? The same thing could be said of one of our political parties.

Imagine if the Conservatives hadn't selected any Black or Ethnic Minority candidates to replace retiring MPs, or that none of their top 25 target seat candidates were BME. There would be all sorts of media stories about how the Tories were subliminally racist or behind the times, and were still the same old "nasty" Tory Party.

Of course, no one can say that about the Conservatives as they have selected at least half a dozen BME candidates in safe seats and plenty more in winnable seats. There are likely to be 15-20 BME Tory MPs on May 7th.

Sadly the same is not true of the LibDems, who are light years behind. Seven LibDem MPs are retiring, yet every one of the candidates replacing them is white. And you have to go down to seat number 29 in the LibDem target list to find an Asian candidate (former MP Parmjit Gill in Leicester South).

So the LibDems would have to have 92 MPs before they get an MP who isn't white.

I'm well aware that ten or twenty years ago that used to be the case in the Tory Party. It isn't now because over the last decade huge steps forward have been taken by successive Tory leaders and party chairmen to ensure that change happened.

For those who reckon the LibDems are more progressive than the Tories, perhaps this should give them pause for thought.

Joseph Harker
from the Guardian agrees. He fears that white LibDem candidates will push out black Labour ones. A slightly odd perspective maybe, but the rest of his article makes some valid points...

Only four minority candidates are fighting for the Lib Dems in the party's top 100 target seats.

Henry Bonsu, co-founder of Colourful Radio, said: "In terms of the selection and promotion of minority candidates, for all their niceness, the Lib Dems are nowhere near good enough."

Dean McCastree was a Lib Dem councillor in the 1990s and is now standing as an independent in the Brent Central constituency — where the combined black and Asian population is over 50%.

He said: "We have to have representatives who reflect the society we have. By effectively pushing Dawn Butler out in this constituency, they're saying to minorities: 'You don't need representation, we can do it for you.'

"When I was in the party, I tried to press them on equality but they didn't want to know. There's a lot of window dressing but most minority candidates are in unwinnable seats."

David Cameron made highly publicised gestures to show that the Conservative party had changed and, before the Lib Dems' surge, had 15 black and Asian candidates either defending majorities or, based on opinion polls, likely to gain seats.

Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, which next Wednesday hosts what is expected to be the largest ever black British political rally, said of Clegg: "He inherited a party resistant to change, and although he has made good progress, he still needs to convince a black electorate that transforming the party's racial make-up is a priority."

* LibDems get very angry with me when I write about this subject, yet if you talk to them privately they acknowledge they have had a real issue in this area. They are belatedly taking steps to address it, but it should have been done a long time ago. They would lose nothing by admitting it.


dazmando said...

OK im not going to give the lack of safeseats as a defence etc I would say that even thought we are 8,000 votes behind I believe Karen Hamilton has a very good chance of winning this year But yes we do need more non White candidates.

btw My Black Girl friend and many other people I know really hate the BME whats wrong with BB Black British

Doktorb said...

I am a LibDem, and will certainly not hide from admitting that we have a problem here!

The 2010 election has brought a lot of focus to us, for all manner of reasons - our message is finally getting the attention it deserves, we're being scrutinised far more and in far greater detail than before. Inevitably something like candidate selection will be looked at too; and Iain you are right to point to the lack of BME candidates in winnable seats.

I am going to put the blame on this at the door of one camp - some associations are so tiny (I know of memberships below 30 people) that finding any candidates who aren't too busy using their free bus pass is hard enough, never mind those of a different religion or colour (or gender, too...)

The only group I can think of to blame for associations being in such a deathly state is the Regional Parties, whose attitude towards the constituency associations is not exactly friendly. There is no attempt to be tough on those who only select the same old names and faces, or who do not seem to make an attempt to reach out to other communities.

It's a great time to be a LibDem. I am very enthusiastic about the election and our prospects.

But have we done enough to promote ourselves to BME candidates?

Not in the slightest.

Martin Veart said...

Angry? No, but it is sad. Our current support base is too narrow, not just in ethnic variety but also in social terms. Until now, a lot of popular support for the Liberal Democrats have been so far in what some call "the Celtic Fringes", areas not usually known for large ethnic diversity. But you are right: as we expand into other parts of England, we very much should be very much more representative.

If the Liberal Democrats fail to diversify as this happens, then you would have a greater point.

ChristalPalace said...

Iain, I agree that something must be done on this to increase the number of BME candidates within my party, but the article you quote does suggest that a black person needs a black MP to represent them, and therefore a white person needs a white MP, and a gay person needs a gay MP. Under the FPTP system, MPs are elected to represented ALL of their constituents, regardless of ethnicity or even who they voted for. For that reason alone, I've never been totally convinced that measures to increase the numbers of women and BME MPs are entirely necessary, though I would LIKE to see more.

James Chard said...

As a Lib Dem, I'd acknowledge it as a real issue.

The problem is that our seats historically have tended to be in areas with very small ethnic minority populations and the MPs have often been drawn from the councillor or activist base in those areas.

In the 1990s, we grew a substantial base of ethnic minority councillors and activists outside these areas but did not really pick up seats until 2005 - and then frankly not that many.

Lib Dem conferences have taken a very hard line against positive discrimination and against the imposition of candidates by central office, which are two of the tools Labour and the Tories have used to increase diversity on their benches.

In one sense, this is admirable. But it does create an issue and Lib Dem members have to take some responsibility themselves, when faced with a choice between two or more capable candidates, to consider diversity in the Parliamentary party very carefully.

Unknown said...

Lib Dem candidates are chosen on merit.

Candidates should not be chosen on race or gender.

Full stop.

Ray said...

The trouble is we are wandering into the politically correct area that will bring accusations of token BME's and all BME lists like the all female lists which are equally wrong. Better you find out how many BME's and women are being refused selection. Because I believe that real problem is that not enough BME's or women are putting themselves forward. Positive discrimination is going to give us situations where unsuitable BME's and Women are found to be in parliament, and their poor performance is going to further fuel discrimination. If we want more representation from the nonwhite and female population they must be encouraged to go for the jobs, and keep trying.

Gareth said...

I do wish politicians would stop playing the race card and having minority candidate pissing contests.

It is yet another weapon in the Westminster bubble's armoury to retain control over who people vote for. Here we have an admission that if your face fits for PR purposes, you're in and that the Lib Dems should do the same. Constituencies should be picking candidates not parties.

If Lib Dems in private are so stupid to fall for these silly and divisive games then they are idiots.

The public wants good MPs first and foremost, behaving with decency, doing their job of representing the British people and protecting us from the Government. Or have you no faith in British voters to pick good black and asian candidates over bad white ones?

Simon Gardner said...

This precise attitude by the Lib Dems is why they did bugger-all of an effect for years and years about having almost no women MPs though that’s no longer as bad as it was.

Anyway, I have now voted and for me ze war is over. Third leader’s debate? Who cares?

Paddy Briggs said...

So the love-in with good old Nick is over is it Iain? What a lot of posts you've made about the Libdems in the last few days! Not awfully flattering posts either. Still Gordon's out of the spotlight a bit as the Dale big bertha is aimed at the new enemy (nice guy though he is). Central Office will be proud of you!

Unknown said...

"Sadly the same is not true of the LibDems, who are light years behind"

Iain, this blogpost is offensive. What you're saying is that black people and other minorities are "different" to white people, and that they should be specifically targeted and thrown onto the front line to show everyone how "inclusive" and "not racist" everyone is. It's the same crap we've heard from Labour for years.

Well there's only one race Iain, it's called "the human race" - and I for one am proud to be a member of a party that doesn't discriminate and who selects entirelly on merit.

Would you really say "all black" shortlists like those that selected Dawn Butler are the way to go?

The Lib Dems have always, and should continue to refuse to bow to pressure from Tories and Labour to treat people differently based on such irrelevant characteristics as the colour of their skin.

We are all equal, and we need to reach out to society as a whole.

Formally recognising that blacks and other ethnic minorities are "different" and deserve any extra consideration is what fuels parties like the BNP.

Equality in religion, race, gender are what we as a society should be striving for - not expanding "positive discrimination" programs so that we all feel better about ourselves.

Unknown said...

As a Lib Dem, I acknowledge that there is a real problem in all sorts of diversity, but it's not confined to our party by any manner of means.

In terms of women candidates, the Tories are worst, but we are all pretty rubbish and the sooner we do something about it the better. I think that one way of doing it is a fairer voting system like STV which gives maximum voter choice and makes it more likely that we'll see more of under-represented groups.

Shinsei said...

It is true that Lib Dem heartlands (Scottish Islands and SW England) have extremely few ethnic minorities living there. However we are always being told by Lib Dems how they control almost every major City in the UK at a local government level. So what's the excuse for not finding BME Lib Dem candidates in these areas ?

I had lunch yesterday with two floating voters who have jumped solidly onto the Clegg bandwagon. They were shocked when I pointed out not a single one of the LD's MPs was black or Asian. Genuinely shocked.

AxeTheTax./ WatchKeeper said...

I have now spent an hour or two, reading these comments and trying to make out what a BME(?) is??? I thought this was England. Not some bloody foreign, other part of the Planet.
Yesterday and, as from 01:50am. today, my opinion of the progress of this Election points to a total disaster for the Voters and especially the poor bloody Taxpayers.
Now, I don't care who, but one or other of the Political Pretenders, must step forward and declare, that Direct Taxation, will in future be a function of the County Council. And as such, County by County, all Public and Community Services included Welfare, will be provided and payed for, by Direct Taxation as imposed by the Local Authority. Only then, will the Taxpayer be able to divest himself of the obligation of some Seven or Eight Million Civil Servants at a cost of more than Eighty Billion £££each year.
In addition to this, let me point out, AGAIN, here in England, there is absolutely NO reason for any employer or employee, to pay Direct Taxation, to Westminster. You can arrange to pay that money, direct to your Local Authority. Kindest Regards, ATFlynn,
"Norfolk's Mutineer"

Silent Hunter said...

What is wrong with you at the moment Iain?

You used to be a rational and balanced voice - this type of negative campaigning stuff just doesn't sit well with your normally thoughtful pieces.

Are the Lib Dems really getting to you to that extent?

Antisthenes said...

Promote equality by all means but not at the expense of merit.

If BME's have not got what it takes then it is incumbent upon us to help them reach the necessary standard but not to give them unfair advantages that deprives others of their basis rights. That is not equality.

Ben said...

It's fair enough to draw attention to the hypocrisy of the Lib Dems, but I have to say that I find this BME stuff very tedious.

Candidates should be selected on merit. MPs should represent the whole of the constituency returning them to Westminster. What has the colour of a person's skin to do with that?

Victor, NW Kent said...

I did point out here, long before the Clegg effect, that the LibDems were easily the most white, middle-class male party in Westminster. That is perhaps because it is a party of the chatterati more than of the populace in general. Hence no working class MPs, no blacks or Asians.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of significant ethnic minorities, such as Cornish, Irish, Roma, Jewish, Welsh (except in Wales where they are a majority), Scots (except in Scotland, excluding Orkney and Zetland), Norse (except in Orkney and Zetland), Huguenot, French, German, Dutch, Cypriot, Estonian ...
The only majority is mongrel (aka English), to which you and I belong, so why all the fuss about this minority of the group of minorities?
If a candidate from Aberdeen is so lost in the Western Isles, what use would an "ethnic minority" MP from an inner city be to a rural constituency in the Celtic fringe?
If you want to point out the hypocrisy of Clegg, that is fair enough, but until we go over to the disastrous Israeli electoral system, it should be for local people to pick a local MP to represent them, not a party list with carefully balanced over-representation from the vocal minorities supported by the media establishment.

The Grim Reaper said...

Silent Hunter said "What is wrong with you at the moment Iain?"

I'm asking much the same question myself. Your blogging at the moment seems somewhat off-centre. I can only conclude it's because this campaign is so mind-numbingly boring.

I'm sure you'll be back on form soon enough. :)

Furor Teutonicus said...

Sadly the same is not true of the LibDems, who are light years behind. Seven LibDem MPs are retiring, yet every one of the candidates replacing them is white. And you have to go down to seat number 29 in the LibDem target list to find an Asian candidate (former MP Parmjit Gill in Leicester South).

So what?

Since when was it any ones right to demand who a political party chooses to be it's candidates?

Where is this leading Dale?

You going to try and start telling the public that they are only allowed to vote for the party YOU choose? Just like in,oh, take a random country...lets say...Cuba, or the old Soviet Union.

Rebel Saint said...

How many ginger candidates fo they have? How many evangelical Christians? How many Muslims? How many left handers? How many Capricorns? How many blue eyes, how many brown?

Who gives a damn as long as they are the best Liberal candidates? If this is really an issue then you've given me a good reason not to vote for any of the 3 parties. STOP PATRONISING ME

Incidentally, i hear that the British Athletics Association has chosen all black candidates to represent us in the 100m!!

Michael Heaver said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this subject. On one hand, it is wrong to want more black and asian candidates in safe seats just because they are black and asian.

At the same time, the disproportionate nature of Parliament does need to change. I think encouragement needs to come from all parties to engage different types of people in politics, but not in a way that comes across as patronising positive discrimination. People are just people, after all.

Goodwin said...

Despite the best efforts of New Labour, Britain remains a predominantly white, male-dominated, heterosexual, Christian society - albeit only just. Why is this an issue? Get over it!

DespairingLiberal said...

This is true and a very valid criticism by Iain.

I used to be against highly pre-selected shortlists, but I think the LibDems need to try some as it will be the only way to remedy - sadly I also think there is some evidence of both racism and homophobia at work in some LibDem constituency parties.

One thing that will happen as the LibDems come into sharper focus is that all the close scrutiny on things like this that Labour and Conservatives get will now also apply to them.

DespairingLiberal said...

Victor, that's not true at the local level, where the percentage of LibDem members who are not "middle class white men" is quite high. I suspect that at least part of this problem is that up to now, people of strong ability and not white English and who had a strong chance at becoming an MP, would gravitate to either Conservative or Labour, purely because they had a stronger chance of potential election. That may start to change now.

angry and despondent said...

Iain, don't upset LibDem trolls and their floating supporters by saying anything critical about Messiah Clegg or his Holy Party.

As far as I can see there has been nothing slanderous printed about Clegg or his policies otherwise I would imagine Carter-Ruck or Schillings would have been consulted.

Why are some bloggers getting so incensed that the spotlight has been shone on Clegg? He keeps telling us he's a big Northern boy (another deceit as he is originally from Buckinghamshire) so he should be able to stand the heat.

That some bloggers (or are they really LibDem activists in disguise) are actually going to vote for him because the papers have been nasty to him - even though the articles have been truthful.

That's like a jealous husband cutting his balls off to spite his straying wife!

Anonymous said...

daz, whats wrong with simply being British. Conservative candidated broadly reflect their country. LibDems do not.
Pity is so many Muslims seem to put their religion before what they profess to be their country.

"Gordon Brown is leaving the building!" - so it would seem. Brown's campaign descends to depths no sane person could dream of.

Jimmy said...

I don't think the tories get to be quite this smug just because you suddenly saw the light a couple of years ago. And it would be a lot more impressive if they put that dog whistle away.

DespairingLiberal said...

Angry/despondent, I don't think it's true that Clegg has said "he's a big northern boy" - he says he lives in Derbyshire, true, he enjoys walking here - true, I've seen him myself out in the Peak - and he says he likes it here. What's wrong with that? Are you saying people can't adopt a particular part of Britain as their home and grow to love it?

Jake Ellett said...

Ergh I can't stand the Lib-Dems. Enough said!

The King of Wrong said...

LibDems get very angry with me when I write about this subject

Of course they do, Iain - their self-image is tied to having the moral high-ground. Without that, they wouldn't be able to cause (a little) harm to a few for the Greater Good. If it were just a choice of favouring group X over group Y, they'd be no better than the rest of us.

So when you point out inconvenient facts like this, the cognitive dissonance means that they reject the message (and shoot the messenger). The complaints can probably be effectively paraphrased as "but... we're the good guys".

That said, I found out last night that a good friend of mine is running as a Lib Dem councillor, and I sincerely wish him the best of luck and I hope he gets in. We're miles apart politically, but I've no doubt that he believes he can help make things better.

Libertarian said...

Of course no one has worked out that the BME demographic is too sensible to be LibDems. You have to be stupid, white middle class polytechnic lecturers to remotely associate with LibDems and their non policies.

Seriously, quite Frankly Iain there are 28 million voters in this country who couldn't give a flying f**** what background people are from ( unless it's Eton, which is evil obviously) what they want is anyone who will produce a policy on the EU, immigration, troops out, job creation, tax cutting and paying off the deb, and none of the parties have one of those

Unsworth said...

@ Pensfold

"Lib Dem candidates are chosen on merit."

Really? Any evidence?

Sean said...


I love reading your blog for the breadth you give. I've just re-watched the "Making your mind up" video and laughed yet again.

However, this topic is at the other end of the spectrum. It's bullocks.

The idea behind the argument is that MPs should somehow be representative of their electorate.

Yeah, right.

So Parliament as a whole (or any party) is

- 51% female?
- representative of those under 21 or over 65?
- racially proportional to the population?
- educated to the same level on average as the population? And has the same proportion of state school educated MPs, not to mention party leaders?

and so on and so on.

What matters is (a) whether the parties give equal opportunities for all to get ahead in the party and (b) whether the resulting MPs do a good job.

The answers to (a) and (b) is mixed for all main parties and saying "But they are worse!" is no reply.

Simon McGrath said...

Great, Liberals don't believe in discrimination. Good