Labour criticised for “abandoning” agreed BAME and disabled structures

Elliot Chappell

Labour has been criticised for plans to break with a previously agreed commitment to establish democratic wings for members from a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic (BAME) background and for disabled members.

Labour’s national governing body will meet for a crucial meeting on Tuesday to vote on the future of the party’s proposed BAME and disabled structures.

A briefing for the national executive committee (NEC), according to The Independent, outlines plans to revamp BAME Labour despite acknowledging that stakeholders feel that it “does not currently function effectively to support BAME members to have a voice and be well represented in the decision-making structures of the party”.

It added: “More concerning, is the fact that the BAME Labour website is still active and receiving membership applications (including membership fees) and neither BAME Labour, nor the party, are able to confirm where these funds are being held.”

Labour’s 2021 conference passed rule changes following proposals from a working group to create “national equalities structures” – including a BAME members and a disabled members organisation, which have since been included in its rulebook.

The proposals received support from across Labour’s factions. During her successful campaign to retain her seat on the NEC as the BAME representative, Labour to Win backed Carol Sewell wrote in LabourList: “I am proud that, as an NEC member, I’ve secured new structures for BAME party members.

“Getting here hasn’t been quick, it hasn’t been easy, and the process is not complete. But this is something that we have demanded, fought for and won – and I am so proud to have delivered it.”

One NEC source told LabourList today that the previous leadership of the party “created a number of bureaucratic structures that involve huge costs, which are simply not a good use of money in the run-up to a general election”.

They added: “The BAME and disability conferences that were proposed would have cost almost £500,000. The proposal is, instead, to support BAME Labour and disability Labour to grow dramatically and to support the internal democracy of both organisations.

“This gives both sets of members more influence in the party as affiliated organisations have nomination rights whereas the proposed conferences would have been talking shops focused on passing resolutions.

“The package includes other important support for BAME members such as refocusing the Bernie Grant programme specifically on Black candidates because the selection process hasn’t been generating representation in parliament for Black men.”

Maurice McLeod however, a Black man who was excluded from the process to decide the next parliamentary candidate for Camberwell and Peckham, said “the current BAME structures are simply not fit for purpose and so I’m really disappointed that the party has seen fit to go back on promises that it had made”.

Labour’s equalities briefing for the NEC reported that “BAME Labour does not hold elections and does not exercise its rights to long list in selections based on any [Constituency Labour Party] affiliations” and that its representatives have not attended NEC equalities committee meetings in 2022 despite being invited.

A Momentum spokesperson described the proposals to be considered by NEC members on Tuesday as a “deeply damaging attack on the rights of BAME members in [Keir] Starmer’s Labour at a time when the party is facing serious questions over anti-black racism and Islamophobia”.

The spokesperson warned that the party is “proposing to deny BAME members their democratic voice in the party, replacing them with a widely discredited body”, adding: “It’s not too late to stop this travesty of justice.

“Last year, all wings of the party united around proposals for democratic BAME structures, now codified in Labour’s rulebook. We strongly urge the NEC to follow through on this agreement, or risk Labour further alienating BAME voters.”

The meeting on Tuesday follows the publication of the Forde report earlier this year, which concluded that a “hierarchy of racism” of racism had been operating in the party that ignored Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.

Martin Forde KC was tasked by Keir Starmer with looking into an internal report leaked online and to journalists in April 2020. The leaked report made serious allegations of misogyny and racism exhibited by senior party staff.

Forde concluded in his 2022 report that there are “serious problems of discrimination in the operations of the party” and highlighted the “undoubted overt and underlying racism and sexism apparent in some of the content of the WhatsApp messages between the party’s most senior staff”.

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