On January 6th, Labour’s national executive committee met to discuss rules for the forthcoming leadership and deputy leadership elections. According to reports, former MP Keith Vaz attended the meeting as the NEC representative for BAME Labour – and stepped down from his position on the same day.
It is improper that Vaz was able to attend this important meeting despite his well-known disreputable conduct, which was the subject of an investigation by the House of Commons committee on standards. Of course, we should not ignore the contribution that Vaz has made to politics since his election in 1987, but it is farcical that after such a high-profile and damaging scandal he felt it was appropriate for him to continue in his position. BAME Labour should have acted much sooner in removing Vaz as the NEC representative.
This incident is emblematic of the ineffectiveness and increasing irrelevance of BAME Labour. Over the past few years, there have been a number of events, initiatives and reviews to support BAME members of the Labour Party. At times some of these have yielded success, such as the Bernie Grant leadership programme and last year’s BAME Labour conference. But these successes are sporadic and poorly communicated to members.
Emails from the executive are rare and often we only find out about events and internal democracy – where it exists – through word-of-mouth. In fact, for the past few months, the BAME Labour website has been dormant and members have been unable to join online.
It now appears that elections for a new BAME Labour NEC representative will be held at the same time as the leadership and deputy leadership elections. As a matter of urgency, BAME members require clarity on the process and who is able to vote. We should also be given the opportunity to ask the leadership, deputy leadership and NEC candidates about the measures that they will take to advance BAME issues. This should preferably be done through a BAME Labour organised hustings but, if that’s not possible, through an online Q&A or alternative forum.
Other matters that must be addressed include: the development of a fully functioning website that allows members to join online; clear and publicised rules about contesting positions to the BAME Labour executive; having a publicised constitution; regular communication with members about the work of the organisation; clarity about the function of conference and the ability to submit motions.
Fundamentally, BAME Labour must be open to radical reform or it will slide into further irrelevance and only do BAME members of the party, and society, a disservice. Without internal democracy, accountability and communication, the organisation cannot be a successful force for BAME representation and have a clear input on the range of policy issues on which we should have a voice – from whether Labour should introduce all-BAME shortlists to how we challenge the government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration system. The organisation must be at the forefront of the discussion of the future of our party at such a pivotal time for Labour and the country.