Labour is failing to represent a new generation of ethnic minorities

12th February, 2014 8:48 am

Not long after he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown faced a key test of his leadership in 2007: a by-election in Southall was called after the death of Piara Khabra MP. What happened next was nothing short of localised pandemonium. As a war-of-words broke out between potential candidates, Brown sent in aides to ensure there wouldn’t be any trouble.

It only antagonised people more. A locally supported plan for an all-women-shortlist was abruptly dropped. The leading candidate – a young Asian woman by the name of Sonika Nirwal, also leader of the Labour group in Ealing – was excluded from the shortlist. Another councillor, who wanted Southall to be represented by a turbaned Sikh, was also denied the shortlist and defected to the Tories with four others in fury. The NEC came up with a shortlist of only two candidates – one of whom was almost unknown. The candidate had already been decided; Nirwal stepped down from Ealing a year later.

Ed Miliband has the right to feel smug about gender representation within the Labour party, at least when compared to the others, but he doesn’t when it comes to race. As one senior member in the party (of Asian origin) told me recently, “there is a deafening silence within the party” on the issue.

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Southall is by no means the only example. At the Feltham and Heston by-election in 2011, the short-list included one councillor who was neither from the local constituency, nor knew much about the local party, nor very good at speaking English. Members asked at the hustings why more qualified councillors from the area were excluded. Thankfully he was laughed out and Seema Malhotra was selected (I would have been happy with Kamaljeet Jandu too).

Such is the abysmal state of politics in Asian-dominated areas that many young British Asians (including myself) would rather chew our arms off than stand for public office those areas. The ones who do face additional hurdles: both PPCs Tulip Siddiq and Uma Kumaran have faced absurd criticism relating to their countries of origin. The latter has even had to deal with a whispering campaign because she’s unmarried.

In many ways this is a generational problem. The Labour Party has been used to outsourcing ‘ethnic issues’ to non-white candidates who brought in the votes in return for complete freedom. But that generation ended up creating their own fiefdoms and the rot has become too embedded.

The party is still hanging out with the “bhangra and garland brigade,” as one Asian candidate described it, while the younger generation has moved on. More than once I’ve heard from young, successful Asians that Labour’s patronising attitude is worse than the racism they have to tolerate within the Conservative party. “At least the Tories don’t pretend you’re one of them”, said one turbaned Sikh to me years ago.

Keith Vaz MP epitomises this rot. There isn’t an Asian issue in the UK he doesn’t want to get involved in, nor an Asian celebrity he doesn’t want to be pictured with. By using BAME Labour as his vehicle, Vaz has a seat on the NEC and a hand in most selections that involve Asian candidates. He is the ultimate self-styled ‘community leader’ who wants to represent them all. He is the face of the “garland brigade” and the patronising ‘diversity dinners’. The Labour leadership know the game Vaz is playing and yet they’re either unwilling or too scared to challenge it.

This generational difference means that many young, aspiring people of ethnic minority backgrounds don’t want to get involved in politics because they see the posionous politics in their area. This leaves self-appointed community leaders to continue wielding power and running local fiefdoms.

In turn, it means ethnic minorities are grossly under-represented in Parliament as a proportion of the public.

More importantly, it leaves behind issues important to the younger generation, for example: domestic violence, forced marriages, employment difficulties (especially among young black men and Bangladeshi women) and relations with the police forces. In many areas it are these middle-aged men who are complacent about stronger action on violence against women.

One prominent Asian PPC, under the condition of anonymity, told me: “We now have an entire generation born and bred here who don’t think like their parents and grandparents, and actually want to see what the party will offer them”.

The problem is, as many will openly admit, there is just “deafening silence”. It’s time the Labour leadership took more proactive steps to stop the rot or this British-bred generation of ethnic minorities will wonder why they should support Labour like their parents did.

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  • Harrison77

    There is no mention of people from African or West Indian decent in this article. In the last round of selections, 18 young Asians were selected, 10 Lesbians and gay candidates, 1 black man of mixed raced parentage and 1 black woman, Dawn Butler of which several white executive members of her CLP resigned in protest to her selection. In London there is a heated discussion within the Black community about the treatment by Labour of two well known black female council candidates in Southwark and Lambeth. The abiding feeling is that Labour does not wish to selected black people in great numbers and that in order for the community to gain sizeable representation – we now have to look elsewhere. UKIP has a large number of black members; Lord Ashcroft is actively harvesting the black vote and many middle class Black people are joining the Liberal Democrats. At present in the UK black people have a very limited involvement in the representational end of British politics across UK constituencies. When we are allowed to entering into public life we have to follow a strict postscript. Speak with a public school accent and have gone to Private School. Black professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s can see that Labour has deep seated issues when it comes to selecting African or West Indian candidates. Asians have 18 new potential MPs in Parliament. We have just 1 new face to represent our involvement in British life. For any aspiring black teenager it’s depressing. The Party needs to introduce some kind of system which will increase the number of black faces inside Parliament and help the party to draw up creditable policies able to tackle racial injustice and economic exclusion and social harmony and fairness for all. Having a large number of gay MPs has help reform society’s views and ushered in forward thinking laws to promote equality. Black people of this country need the same kind of treatment to once and for all break the chains of discrimination which hold our community in the grip of poverty, social injustice and deprivation.

  • Ben Cobley

    Good article. Strong and challenging – and I’m quite surprised to see explicit criticism of Labour Party figures here, as with Keith Vaz and the leadership (also with Tristram Hunt yesterday).

    It’s a widespread problem from what I’ve seen and heard, and comes back once more to the identity politics that Labour plays so relentlessly. When you privilege external identity (like race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexuality) rather than ethics, values and behaviour, it leads into some difficult and unpleasant places – especially when combined with a political system that privileges incumbency as ours does.

    http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/

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  • Sunder Katwala

    Sunny,

    The argument that this generation of British-born minority voters will feel patronised by the type of ethnic politics by which the party engaged first generation migrants (in a political system without any non-white representation at all) is plausible, in that lots of people say so. Certainly a sense that Labour is entitled to ethnic minority votes could well be toxic (and deserves to be).

    The argument about selections is less clear, and I think the argument you pursue is flawed.

    There has been a lot of anecdotal advocacy – if a BME candidate X wins constituency Y then the Labour party is or isn’t serious about ethnic representation. But the debate can’t be seriously pursued on that basis. What is the Feltham anecdote showing? You imply there was an ineffective attempt to stitch it up for an under-qualified candidate, which members were unimpressed by, so they chose a strong candidate (who happened to be an Asian woman) in a field with a couple of strong BME candidates. So, what’s the problem?

    Ed Miliband probably agrees with you that he has a proud record on gender, and a poorer record on minorities.

    Everyone seems to think this. But the evidence is quite the opposite. I set this out in a submission to the speakers’ conference: “An important under-explored issue in academic research and public debate is why the barriers to BME candidates have been broken down more quickly than those for women”.
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/spconf/167/167we45.htm

    In fact, there has been rapid progress on the selection of non-white candidates since 1997, from 2% of the new intake, rising to 7.5% in 10.7% of the 2010 intake . (There has been rather slower progress on selecting women candidates towards 50%, where AWS has improved, but not the overall selection rate to much above 25%). If Labour doesn’t have as clear a lead, that is mainly about rapid Tory catch-up 2005-2010 on BME selections too, which is obviously good news, as you can’t make progress towards a Parliament that looks like Britain through one party.

    Ed Miliband said last week that he would keep the idea of all-minority shortlists on the agenda: it is a regressive idea, and there is a strong basis for thinking it would produce damaging outcomes for BME representation if pursued, in that it could retard the accelerated progress which has been made. Several minority MPs and candidates I spoke to feared being pigeon-holed back into an ‘ethnic faces for ethnic voters’ model, where they would be told to wait to represent one of ‘their seats’.

    Of course, the overall Parliament is under-representative, even if fair chances are achieved and sustained. It reflects the outcomes of selections across 3-6 Parliaments, so we are looking at the aggregate outcomes across that period. But sustaining broadly proportionate rates of selection is what is needed for fair chances to candidates.

    If you want to accelerate progress beyond fair chances to candidates now then, the logic points to pushing for more retirements, or time limits or something.

    There is certainly a decent case that chances aren’t evenly distributed within the non-white group, as they aren’t evenly distributed. (Non-white graduates and those with political networks are doing well, as is true for white graduates and Spads, and quite probably Asian more than black candidates). But then you need to integrate your ethnicity, gender, class and educational analysis to come up with a response to that. It isn’t well described as ethnic under-selection in the aggregate.

    • Dave Roberts

      I totally agree Sunder and once again Sunny has put is foot in it. She was deselected by a Labour group that had a large Bangladeshi majority for the reasons I have stated above. She simply saw the post as a way to igher things and wasn’t prepared to do the hard work. Tower hamlets is a very competitive place to be a councillor and you have to be on top of the game which she wasn’t.

  • Ed_Burroughs

    “More than once I’ve heard from young, successful Asians that Labour’s patronising attitude is worse than the racism they have to tolerate within the Conservative party. “At least the Tories don’t pretend you’re one of them”, said one turbaned Sikh to me years ago.” If that’s the case explain Warsi: The epitome of hollow, patronising tokenism.

  • Timely article. Having experienced personally the “mafia” style when I was a elected a councilor in Tower hamlets in the 1990’s. The bullying harrassment and intimidation, I recognise what he says about female candidates and the barriers we face and critisicms.

    If you are younger you will face bullying & /or harrassment by men, particularly if you speak out or are progressive on women issues & violence and ethnic cultural violence against women is higher, but they will bully you down.

    There needs to be more support from region and nationally and a robust clamp down by whips on these elements in the party , but noone seems to have the will to tackle them .

    I was even sent razor blades in the post !

  • sharon332

    Labour elite, a cabal of career politicians, have taken a strangle hold over the party.
    They have failed to appreciate that the younger generation don’t owe labour anything. This cabal of people are probably much worse than Cameron’s lot. At least the conservatives are open but the Labour elite pretend to be all about equality. The only equality they are currently interested in is more white middle class female mps from Oxbridge and the Islington set to become mps.

  • Dave Roberts

    Cate Tuitt was deselected by Tower Hamlets Labour Party because she didn’t turn up for council meetings, didn’t do surgeries and saw the job of councillor, two ll’s Cate, as a meal ticket, the allowance, and a stepping stone to greater things. She made no secret of the fact that being a councillor was simply a way to getting the nomination for a safe Labour seat which didn’t go down well in the local party so exit Cate.

    She of course blamed the whole thing on anti black racism by Bangladeshis, well she would wouldn’t she?

    • Harrison77

      Dave, How many White Males do what you are maliciously accusing Cate of doing and NEVER, NEVER get de-selected. Stop trying to justify institutional racism and the warp racist value system in the Labour party – which the black community are being made aware exists. The black community are wise to it and a storm is brewing across London with the treatment of Adeline Aine and Josie Channer which will punish Labour’s vote at both the local and general Elections in 2015. Labour now needs to be the egalitarian party its has pretended to be for so many years or else it will loose the ethnic vote across the country. That means no more white male Labour councillors not attending meeting or doing surgeries… soon they will be loosing their jobs too!

  • sharon332

    Very good reply. The facts speak for themselves.

    It could be argued that the BAME label is used as a cover to mask racism against Black African and Black Caribbean candidates. It helps to hide the fact that only 3 black candidates have been chosen as prospective PPC, whereas 18 Asian candidates have been chosen.

    Our Asian friends are facing injustices however the plight of black people within the labour movement is much worse. The successes of Umunna cannot mask the scandal.

    I suspect that the reason why black people and black women especially are excluded on mass is because we can be much more difficult to control. In order to succeed within the labour movement you must be EU compliant, Feminist, very liberal etc. I have often argued that the Feminist movement was not meant for black women and we have followed it at our peril. 50% of black men are unemployed and across western countries the black community is in decline and our black men are languishing in jail. We should not have let middle class white feminists define us. Black women were working before Feminism and we should have created our own movements relevant to our own communities.

    The Asian community is strong whereas the black community in Britain is in decline. Its the same story in America and Obama’s success should not blind you.

    Free movement of people is having a devastating impact on the employment chances of black British men. Black people should not be EU compliant. Shame our friends at operation black vote are the biggest cheerleaders of the EU Project. A black Brit out of work will find it much harder to find work in Europe compared to a white Brit. Europe has high and very disgusting levels of racism and it is likely that unemployed black brits would most likely have to return to Africa, go on benefits or become self employed. UKIP offers the best and most common sense policies on Immigration. The best policies for the BAME community in Britian.

    Why black women are tolerating being pushed about and bullied by uber liberal elites parachuted into black constituencies I’ll never understand.

    Labour thinks that they can appease us by giving announcements every so often about stop and search. The black community is in bad shape, the black family is collapsing, and unemployment rates for black males is contributing to the decline of the black community in Britain. Our lack of proper representation is inhibiting our ability to make real change.

    I would suggest that 20 -35 year old BAME voters should ditch Labour and vote for other parties. Such a move would force labour to return to its proper roots. Labour would have to once again become a party which serves the interests of the working class. Labour in its present form is for the metropolitan elite and the Islington set.

    Labour is heavily reliant on the black vote but it offers us very little.

    • Cate Tuitt

      Sharon332 & Harrison77, you are right upon the statistical data.
      Evidence of this is further demonstrated by the treatment of josie Channer , when she was selected as a PPC for Labour and then resigned following a campaign of disclosures and smears against her to the press.

      Further as you can see from this debate, I have been attacked , with unsubstantiated allegations and it is also stated by implication that black people should not apply to these roles , as we are just “stepping” up, to places which are above our place in society.

      So i can appreciate why Harrison77 is stating perhaps we should be looking to other political parties, as the membership may value our contribution to UK life .

  • sharon332

    Black people joined together in a rainbow coalition of the oppressed.

    Every minority injustice became our injustice to fight. We formed a coalition with the white Feminists, Gays, the Asians and every other disadvantaged group you can think of.

    We understand how devastating injustice is and we wanted to help all affected by injustice. What reward have we received from Labour for our efforts? We are squeezed out of the political arena , middle class white feminists are parachuted into our constituencies and black female candidates forced out unless they go along with idealistic feminist mantra, we watch as 18 Asian PPC are chosen, 10 gay PPC but still only 3 black labour MPs. Black people have been exploited by the labour party.

    As always we have got the worst deal. In 20- 30 years time there will not be much of an Afro Caribbean Community left in Britain. Yes that’s the bitter truth. Fortunately the British African Community is still intact.

    I am not racist, homophobic and I am all for female equality. I am also not against mixed race people, mixed race couples and integration is good. I am just angry that black people have been used and exploited by the labour party.

    In America a black lash is taking place with more black people leaving the Democrats to join the Republicans. Even in America, where black male unemployment is rife, the black community are questioning the validity of policies undertaken by left wing governments.

  • Cate Tuitt

    The NEC, National executive committee, re – instated Ms . Tuitt. ((myself) So any attempts to bully me , were not upheld by Millbank NEC at the time.

    Whips report does not show non-attendance. thats defamatory. The records are public and can be checked.

    i also chaired committee. So had to be in attendance. (ckeck the records).

    As I worked full-time, during my term, I held surgeries(evenings) and undertook my casework. There was no misues of allowances, all claims were below, the average member. Lower than many councillors claims.

    The monitering officer for the council , never raised any concern of misuse. Often no claims were made for official travel and duties. Dont try to tarnish my name & reputation, as i am not baroness Pola Uddin, who was involved in expenses fraud. Your comments are misleading and a attempted to make me be seen in the eyes of others as a untrustworthy person. Which would have a effect on my profession.

    My “job” was a legal advisor, I worked at solicitors and law centre and was a chief executive of a womens aid charity. So I refute strongly it was a “job” taken as a councilor for a allowance. I had full-time paid jobs.

    My casework was high standard and value , considering i have a law degree, I provided good advice to residents. Evidenced by letters, cards and thankyou notes recieved.

    There are many labour MP’s who have never been councillors , or assembly members, and therefore it is not a “stepping stone”. As I am not a career politican. I was a trustee of CAPA, oxford house, many years before a councillor. Which supported residents on police accountability, harrassment and civil liberites.

    My intrest in local state government advocacy and community empowerment arose from there. It was not for reason Dave Roberts asserts in his libel.

    Furthermore, no mention of “Bangladeshi” was made. Tensions were mainly from hostile males of all races and backgrounds, religions; eg: even Jews , its not about “B” as Dave Roberts purports. you are trying to exploit my name, for your own ends , as Sharon332 states. i quote “Black people exploited by labour party” Look at the Josie Channer PPC saga!

    Sharon is right i joined from CAPA and other united minority oppressed groups in coalition against injustice. Personal is political. Solidarity

  • Cate Tuitt

    The NEC, National executive committee, re – instated Ms . Tuitt. ((myself) So any attempts to bully me , were not upheld by Millbank NEC at the time.

    Whips report does not show non-attendance. thats defamatory. The records are public and can be checked.

    i also chaired committee. So had to be in attendance. (check the records).

    As I worked full-time, during my term, I held surgeries(evenings) and undertook my casework. There was no misues of allowances, all claims were below, the average member. Lower than many councillors claims.

    The monitering officer for the council , never raised any concern of misuse. Often no claims were made for official travel and duties. Dont try to tarnish my name & reputation, as i am not baroness Pola Uddin, who was involved in expenses fraud. Your comments are misleading and a attempt to make me be seen in the eyes of others as a untrustworthy person. Which would have a effect on my profession.

    My “job” was a legal advisor, I worked at solicitors and law centre and was a chief executive of a womens aid charity. So I refute strongly it was a “job” taken as a councillor for a allowance. I had full-time paid jobs.

    My casework was high standard and value , considering i have a law degree, I provided good advice to residents. Evidenced by letters, cards and thankyou notes recieved.

    There are many labour MP’s who have never been councillors , or assembly members, and therefore it is not a “stepping stone”. As I am not a career politican. I was a trustee of CAPA, oxford house, many years before a councillor. Which supported residents on police accountability, harrassment and civil liberites.

    My interest in local state government advocacy and community empowerment arose from there. It was not for reason Dave Roberts asserts in his libel.

    Furthermore, no mention of “Bangladeshi” was made. Tensions were mainly from hostile males of all races and backgrounds, religions; eg: even Jews , its not about “B” as Dave Roberts purports. you are trying to exploit my name, for your own ends , as Sharon332 states. i quote “Black people exploited by labour party” Look at the Josie Channer PPC saga!

    Sharon is right i joined from CAPA and other united minority oppressed groups in coalition against injustice. Personal is political. Solidarity

    When typing fast on social media , many people make spelling errors, some of us are dyslexic, so it demonstrates the “gutter” level Dave is prepared to lower himself to refer to a error in spelling to denegrate and dehumanise.

  • Cate Tuitt

    When typing fast on social media , many people make spelling errors, some of us are dyslexic, so it demonstrates the “gutter” level Dave is prepared to lower himself to refer to a error in spelling to denegrate and dehumanise. reference to two II’s., shows your desperation to libel and defame at any opportunity.

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