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Race extremism recruitment inspiration the EML Presidential Hustings

November 22, 2014 1:04 PM
By Jonathan Brown in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

EMLD Presidential Hustings

EMLD Presidential Hustings

This week the Ethnic Minority Lib Dems became the first and only party AO/SAO to host a presidential hustings, with Issan Ghazni very ably chairing what for me was the most interesting of the handful of debates I've seen so far. He introduced the evening by noting that the UK is becoming ever more diverse and that our party's lack of ethnic minority representation is an existential issue.

The candidates then faced a range of excellent questions covering not just diversity in the party and the failures of the government to advance race equality but other issues such as countering radicalisation, social cohesion and the rise of the far right.

There was not much overt disagreement between the candidates, leaving it up to the audience to identify the difference in emphasis between their responses. There was plenty of opportunity for us to do so however. These were for me the highlights:

On institutional racism

All seemed reluctant to use this term to describe our party, but none really challenged it. Liz Lynne noted that we have not condoned, but nor have we rallied against it and argued that we need mechanisms to monitor it; Sal Brinton spoke of her experience with diversity training with the police and of the need for us to actively 'challenge racism, report it, support those affected and educate' on unconscious bias; Daisy Cooper also spoke of the need to challenge unconscious bias, to introduce for members a 'responsibility to report' abuse and bullying (of all kinds) and for the party to actively celebrate diversity.

On recruiting and supporting members

Sal and Liz both warned of repeating mistakes of using ethnic minority members in a tokenistic way, abandoning them once they've appeared in photos. Sal called for training for BAME members to enable them to overcome barriers and unconscious bias within the party. Daisy would like a national recruitment scheme, explicitly setting out to ensure that each year's membership intake was representative of the country. She also spoke in favour of targeting resources at specific seats and candidates, much as 'Team Science' (www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dem-scientists-announce-their-team-science-candidates-43217.html) are doing. Liz talked of her intention to establish a 'network of experienced activists', to spread skills, inspiration and advice around the party. She also said the president should be actively involved in Britain's diverse communities.

So what for me were the two game-changing ideas to come out of the evening?

  1. The first was the growing traction in favour of a 'Morrissey 2' investigation into the party's issues with race and diversity. I think all of them had been considering the proposal. Sal raised the subject, and while I don't believe there was a firm commitment from any of them to back it, both Daisy and Liz indicated that they too looked favourably on the idea.
  2. The second idea was to enable party organisations such as EMLD, LGBT+, Lib Dem Women, etc. to recruit party members directly (perhaps retaining a portion of the membership fee in the way that local parties do currently). There are some practical issues to resolve, but all seemed in favour of this change in principle.

Which just leaves me to thank Marisha Ray, Graham Neale and Merlene Toh Emerson for organising such a successful event at short notice and to www.liberaldemocratradio.com for sponsoring it.

* Jonathan Brown is an activist from Chichester, an executive committee member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and a Syrian rights campaigner.