Sunday, February 19, 2006


"We've got a black member who hasn't come today, he's blacker than you." That was a comment made to a friend of mine at a regional training event yesterday. He was the only black face amongst a bunch of activists, around 70% male 30% women and 85% over 50(fraid that included me)! Thankfully it wasn't enough to put him off (although this was the first event he had been to outside our local party) but it crystalized for me why it is so important we take the issue of diversity in our party much more seriously.

When I talk about equality in my work with young people I use an analogy - if I want to run a swimming trip its not good enough to say anyone can come if I haven't taken a number of things into account - can they swim? are they comfortable in a mixed gender swimming group? do they have a disability which means special access arrangements need to be made? etc. And it seems to me it is no good just saying anyone can join the party if we don't honestly reflect on and seek to remove the barriers, firstly to them joining and secondly participating. Its like blaming women for not getting called to speak because they don't put their hands up, it could be for a whole range of reasons, not least because when we do, we still don't get called!

The issue of fair representation is one exercising all the major parties at the moment. I remember years ago hearing a woman speaking about Labour's all women shortlists on the Today Programme. She reflected that it was all very well but it would still only work for middle class women and that the barriers for working class women that there had always been, would remain.

Reflecting Britain isn't a good idea because we're liberals, its a good idea because frankly it is the only way we are ever going to engage the electorate in politics which touches the reality of their lives.

The Reflecting Britain hustings last week threw a spotlight on the candidates credentials in this area. Only Simon came up with radical proposals that may well be painful for some but would begin the shift in perception so necessary if we are to attract and retain a diverse membership. Ming sadly didn't really seem to have fully grasped what the issue was and Chris put his foot in it a few times, betraying his poor - no sorry - non existent, track record in this area.

So congratulations to Rabi, Suzanne and everyone else responsible for starting this important initiative, whatever the outcome of the leadership election it is vital the momentum continues to build.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

Unfortunately Simon's proposals are pointless tokenism.
This two deputies thing has no purpose except pure tokenism. The position is hardly an important position, the job consists mainly in standing in for the leader at PMQs and facing the deputy leader at PMQs.

His record is also distinctly illiberal. He proposed all women shortlists and was qutie rightly defeated at conference.

We do not want tokenism, it denegrates the individuals involved. We want the best people for the job and it is our belief, as liberals, that gender and ethnicity have nothing to do with this, so we are seeking, through Reflecting Britain to help those who feel they are at a disadvantage to compete on a level playing field.

That comment you open the post with is indicative of the problem of tokenism which Simon seems to be intent upon preserving, or at least pandering to (see James of Quaequam Blog and Reflecting Britain on this here)

I do agree that Ming doesn't seem to understand though... and Chris did put his foot in it...