Navendu Mishra: Why I’m standing to be a member of Labour’s NEC

While most eyes are set on the race to see who shall succeed Jeremy Corbyn as the next Labour leader, another equally historic and important contest is taking place. With several internal by-elections to elect candidates onto our national executive committee (NEC), we are seeing the first democratic vote for a black, asian and ethnic minority (BAME) seat.

If this strikes you as unusual, you’d be right. Despite the many years that BAME Labour has existed to serve our BAME membership, there has never been a chance to hold that collective structure to account, or for BAME members to determine who represents them on our governing body.

It’s obvious that those who have occupied this hard-won position – as well as its autonomous partner organisation, the BAME Labour socialist society – have abused its ranks. From sham internal elections two summers ago in which only 731 ballots were cast (despite there being at least 50,000 BAME Labour Party members), to the recent rogue endorsement of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership bid, BAME ‘representatives’ on the NEC and the BAME Labour committee have brazenly flouted all responsibility towards their beleaguered membership, leaving them both voiceless and directionless.

For too long, people have benefited from claiming institutional legitimacy from a party more frightened of being accused of racism than being accountable to its BAME members. That is until now. Meaningful representation cannot exist without meaningful accountability, and it is clear that these abuses of democracy have to stop. That’s why, after considerable encouragement, I am standing for the position of BAME rep on the NEC.

I am a person of Indian heritage, who got into movement politics through the shop floor and learnt my political education in the world of the trade unions. I’m politically committed to developing a new generation of BAME workplace activists, community fighters, as well as BAME politicians who can passionately articulate the anger and the hope of our communities at every level. I take my inspiration from figures such as Bernie Grant, movements like the asian youth movements, and all of those who struggled for the black sections in the eighties.

Corbyn’s leadership provided a golden opportunity for a Labour Party that welcomed BAME people into a sustained, deepened involvement with the labour movement – and the promise of a policy platform that would resonate with a desperately disillusioned public ravaged by a decade of austerity and abandoned by a political class in hoc to corporate power.

Under this leadership, and withstanding great opposition, we got the democracy review developed. Although flawed, the review provided members with the chance to hold our representatives to account in a much more meaningful manner. For the past five years, I have been a part of this fight on every level.

As a constituency Labour party (CLP) representative on the NEC, I fought for increased powers for BAME officers at a branch and CLP level. I fought for the rights of BAME officers to be able to contact members and to vote on executive committees, in line with women’s officers; for all BAME members to have free and equal votes in elections for our representatives at all levels of the party; and to combat the outsourcing of BAME power and representation to BAME Labour as an outside organisation, unaccountable to our movement.

Some say that someone like me – who was elected as an MP in December, and who has previously sat on the NEC – should not be putting themselves forward for this position. But that is precisely why I am standing. I believe the struggle for the enfranchisement of BAME members that I fought – alongside great comrades like Yasmine Dar and Huda Elmi – coupled with my relationship with trade unions, mean that I’m the best candidate to see the next crucial steps through.

I also promise to stand for one term only, on the pledge that I will fight with all my strength to deliver meaningful power and proper accountability for BAME members. I will fight to deliver a democratic and representative BAME structure, alongside building a thriving BAME presence within our party that can become a real force for BAME people in our movement.

The gains we have made in the last few years have been historic. And it’s been some battle. But these gains are only the beginning. At this crucial crossroads in Labour’s history, our party’s structures risks becoming as hollowed out and powerless as they always have been. I’m standing to finish what we started – to create a meaningful democratic structure for BAME members to collectively organise in. If you believe we should not be distracted from fighting for the urgent task of liberating and empowering our BAME members, I would be honoured to have your vote.

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