How to get more women and ethnic minorities into politics: the sober way

22nd June, 2011 4:52 pm

ParliamentBy Ian Silvera / @ianjsilvera

Positive discrimination is oxymoronic. If you give special privileges to one group in society, then you discriminate against another.

There are other, democratic, policies that can curb the disproportionate amount of white, male, middle-class, middle aged, Labour Party Members of Parliament. The new Future Candidates’ Programme, launched this month, can be adapted to meet our desires of fair representation of ethnic minorities and women in parliament.

The programme will provide training and advice to Labour members aspiring to become an MP. The concept is simple: those selected will attend a weekend long summer school. At the summer school, members will learn about being a prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC), community engagement, and organising a selection campaign. What is more, members will also receive a mentor-a senior member of the party-who will provide advice and guidance. In short, the Future Candidates’ Programme sounds fantastic.

Future Candidates’ Programme aside, let’s discuss one of the phrases Coleridge didn’t coin-the elephant in the room.

In 2010, only twenty seven ethnic minority MPs were elected. Although this is a record number of ethnic minority Members of Parliament, they only make up a measly 4.15% of parliament. This is a scandal-ethnic minorities make up 14.47% of our population.

Equally, female Members of Parliament, of which there are currently one hundred and forty four, only make up 22.15% of parliament. In contrast, women make up 51.36% of the population. Clearly something needs to be done. This is an issue we, as a political party, should be embarrassed about.

However, positive discrimination, our current remedy, or its equally ridiculous name – affirmative action – is a sign of laziness. Of course, positive discrimination ‘works’, it works in that it forces constituency Labour parties to select a female candidate because of a shortlist. Here’s a sober thought: to achieve equality, you don’t undermine it and to promote democracy, you don’t ignore it for your own connivance.

But there is a solution. The Future Candidates’ Programme can be adapted into two separate programmes: one that concentrates on ethnic minority members and another that concentrates on female members. Providing these members with essential information to help them become a Member of Parliament will be a step forward in addressing our unrepresentative parliament. Moreover, we needn’t seem hypocritical when it comes to matters of fairness and equality as we have been guilty of before.

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