n 1892 Dadabhai Noaroji walked into the Westminster
Palace, elected by the white men of Finsbury Park, as Britain's
first ethnic minority MP. In the last 110 years British
society has changed beyond all recognition. If Dadabhai
were to take a walkabout around his old constituency, he
would be suitably appreciative at the visible signs of diverse
communities working and living alongside each other. Although
Britain may have changed since that era, it is with a heavy
heart that we must now accept that the Palace of Westminster
has not undergone a parallel transformation. In the 110
intervening years we have gained a mere 11 more Ethnic Minority
Members of Parliament. At this rate (and if this years census
figures establishes the 10% threshold for the black population
in Britain) it will be 2602 until Britain has a representative
democracy. These figures are stated not as an indicator
of the future but as a measure of how slowly our nation
is embracing political equality.
It is time for us to join together and agree some basic facts.
Namely, that without effective representation the Black population
of Britain will continue to struggle within the confines of
a preponderate 'host community'. Last summer, whilst the UK's
politicians were on the campaign trail, our northern towns
were ablaze with race hatred, fuelled by segregation and 'weak
leadership'. Adding insult to injury and then some, the Labour
member for Keighley, Ann Cryer, publicly stated that the riots
were caused by Asian youths hell bent on trouble. This egregious
over-simplification and vilification is symptomatic of a political
system unable to comprehend the needs and reactions of its
constituents. Bradford was ablaze, but the election went on.
We must also agree that the onus is upon our political parties
to encourage and increase the political participation of Britain's
The internal structures within, for example, the Labour party
do not set out to preclude Black candidates. However, Labour
MP Oona King has commented "Overwhelmingly when there are
black candidates there, they will [party members] vote for
the white candidate again and again and again. That's because
overwhelmingly, you know, on the whole, the majority of the
Labour party members in most of the seats are white and often
vote with your friends or who you are familiar with."
But even without intent, Black candidates are being excluded.
Recently one local councillor commented on my good fortune,
as an ethnic minority council candidate, for bearing an Anglicised
name despite being of Asian extraction, the implication being
that one look at me and the voters would flee. That wasn't
the case for Dadabhai Noaroji in 1892 nor indeed was it the
case for Parmjit Dhanda in 2001. The Labour party must have
more faith in the electorate and, more importantly, more faith
in its Black candidates.
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report remarked that institutionalised
racism manifests itself "in processes, attitudes
and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting
prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping
which disadvantage minority ethnic people". Sir William
Macpherson could have easily been holding a mirror up against
the Labour Party, the best of all of Britain's political parties
in attracting Black members and candidates.
We must recognise that change is needed and action needs
to be taken, within the Labour Party, not for the sake of
filling quotas and targets but to change the political agenda.
I sincerely doubt that a Black Home Secretary would have pointed
the finger of blame at the Asian Community's lack of English
language skills - immediately after civil disturbances that
we witnessed last year. While the Cantle report into the riots
had a grand total of 137 recommendations, English Language
skills was barely touched upon.
It is apparent that to increase Black participation in the
political process we must adopt positive action, at all levels
of representation. The democratic deficit is not unique to
Westminster. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are
wholly white in their make up and the Greater London Assembly
has only two Black assembly members out of twenty five. Amongst
all the UK's major political institutions, the collective
total stands at only 14 Black representatives. Meanwhile,
Labour's Black members do not have a voice through a vibrant
Black Socialist Society and are denied direct representation
on the NEC.
If the Labour Party wants to continue to attract Black members,
we may wish to consider monitoring our membership. To ensure
we are attracting party members from all of Britain's diverse
communities, we must internally monitor applicants for candidate
positions, to establish whom we are attracting and what stages
they are reaching. We have to ensure our language is tempered,
and I would say to the councillor who commented on my Anglicised
name, that we must search our souls. Do we really need the
votes of racists?
We need to be as progressive with the question of Black representation
as we have been with the issue of the representation of women
within the party. I do not want to wait until 2602 for a representative
Parliament. If we accept that All Women Shortlists will solve
the deficit of Women MP's then we must accept that All Black
Shortlists are the solution for the deficit of Black MPs.