The Liberal Democrats are at a turning point. The last 6 months have seen a distinct move by the Party to actively promote and collect a Fund for candidates from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, as well as for women candidates. The thinking is to back candidates from these groups who get selected in good and ‘winnable seats.’ The leading member of this ‘Diversity Fund’ is the ex-Cllr and Leader of Islington Council, Steve Hitchens. His task is to work with the Leader’s office and to set up a reference group which will make recommendations on the combination of candidates and seats to the Federal Campaigns Committee. The FCC will make a final decision on the allocation of funds.
There are many in the Party who have questioned the appointment of Steve, however, I will only make judgement on the results that he produces. He certainly has the skills and abilities, though the message is clear. Things cannot continue as they have previously been doing. The ‘laissez faire’ attitude that time will bring forward more and more candidates from these 2 groups simply does not wash anymore. It is a sad indictment of the lack of vision and squandered chances that some members in the Party felt that there was no real urgency in making Parliamentarians more reflective of the communities that they serve. However, things seem to be moving and credit has to be given to Sir Menzies Campbell and to his previous Chief of Staff (Norman Lamb), on pushing forward with schemes that (it is hoped), will help to reduce the barriers to political participation and inclusion for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) candidates. We must not be complacent though! We must not assume that if 1 or 2 BME candidates get elected, that the mission is over. To do so will be a fundamental and fatal mistake for the Party and I am afraid to say that this complacency kicked in when Parmjit Singh Gill was elected in Leicester East. We all know the result at the last General Election; he lost and in doing so there was a scrabble by the Party to put a brave face on matters, when what was needed was a co-ordinated, targeted and adaptable response to the crisis. However, this is in the past and I reserve my judgement on the Diversity Fund until the run up to the next General Election. The Party machinery has begun to kick in and the yellow bird is starting to soar high in the sky. Let’s hope the bird of freedom looks forward to the future; a future where the front benches reflect the diversity of Britain and where one day, Britain can have it’s first Black Prime Minister, whichever Party that may take shape within.