Thursday, February 07, 2008

BME Shortlists - the same as Criminal Shortlists?

There are days when I think something I have heard takes the biscuit. Today was one such day. Today reminded me why, whilst I may have my own pet Tory boys, whilst I have the greatest respect for many individually decent Tories, the fact that their party not only tolerates, but nurtures, the most despicable racist, homophobic, sexist views, fills me with dread and horror.

Keith Vaz had proposed an amendment to the Race Relations Act to allow for BME shortlists. Now, there is a debate to be had about that, even in our liberal party, but the approach taken by one of the Tory opponents not only defied reason but for me reinforces what a mountain we still have to climb if we are to truly "Reflect Britain". Philip Davies MP for Shipley (I had never heard of him before either) said........yes really, I couldn't believe my ears either so I have cut and pasted from Hansard

"I believe in equality. Surely true equality should mean selecting people on merit, irrespective of their racial background. Selection meetings should be colour blind and people should not think, “Shall I pick this person simply because of their colour?” I believe in equality of opportunity, but I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s desire for equality of outcome.
The right hon. Gentleman talked of a Parliament “that mirrors the society it represents.” I hope that he understands what that means. Part of our society is made up of dangerous criminals. Is he arguing that a proportion of Members of Parliament should be dangerous criminals? The Bill constitutes a slippery slope."

Now, I take issue with people who talk about being "colour blind", apologies to those who have heard this tale before, but I always remember attending a youth work conference where the perennial debate about who was more oppressed took place. This issue came up. One of the white women said to her black friend that whenever she walked into a room she didn't notice the colour of her skin, her friend replied "No, but I do."

So, if a man who represents a predominantly white constituency close to Bradford, but still responsible for representing some ethnic minority families, doesn't get the difference between ethnicity and criminality, heaven help us all! MR DAVIES.............INCASE YOU HADN'T NOTICED..........YOU DIDN'T CHOOSE THE COLOUR OF YOUR SKIN, OR THE IMPACT IT HAD ON YOUR LIFE CHANCES...........IF YOU ARE A CRIMINAL, YOU MAY HAVE HAD A MODICUM OF CHOICE IN BECOMING ONE.......GET THE DIFFERENCE???? ANYONE CHECK WHETHER YOU WERE THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR THE JOB???!


Jo Christie-Smith said...

unfortunately I have heard of him. He was a speaker at the launch of a hansard book on what the first year of being an MP was like. I'd asked a question about the number of women MPs (strangely for me!) and his response was that he didn't think there was a problem, that he didn't see the need for anymore.

Tom Papworth said...

You are right, Linda. It is a stupid analogy. Unless, of course, there is truth in the suggestion that propensity to criminal behaviour is genetic.

However, I would agree that parliament should be made up of the people best suited to legislate, rather than simply reflecting society. After all, people do not choose their IQs either, but we would not countenance stupid-only shortlists.

The point about race and gender is not that parliament should reflect society as a whole – heaven forbid! It is that there is no link between race or gender and one’s ability as a candidate or parliamentarian. Thus any discrimination against BME or female candidates (as opposed to discrimination against stupid or antisocial candidates) is unwarranted.

Of course, it does not follow that BME-only or women-only shortlists are needed. The system will police itself because parties that fail to promote BME or female candidates because of prejudice will have a smaller pool of good candidates to choose from, which will hurt them at the polls; and will be seen as prejudiced, which will also hurt them at the polls.