Why is Labour changing course on BAME and disabled members’ structures?

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Labour’s governing body will meet today. The party was criticised as plans – to abandon previously agreed commitments to form wings of the party for BAME and for disabled members – emerged last night. According to The Independent, the national executive committee (NEC) members will consider a proposal to instead revamp BAME Labour and Disability Labour and scrap plans for conferences for both groups of members.

The plan has provoked concerns – especially as the proposal itself acknowledges that stakeholders feel BAME Labour “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”. Worryingly, Labour’s report also points out that the group is still receiving applications for new members and taking fees but “neither BAME Labour, nor the party, are able to confirm where these funds are being held”.

Labour’s 2021 conference passed rule changes to create “national equalities structures”, including a BAME members and a disabled members organisation, which have since been included in its rulebook. So why is the party considering this move now? Money, it would seem. One NEC source told LabourList that the last leadership “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 argued that the BAME and disability conferences proposed would cost the party almost £500,000. They also said the proposal would see more support for BAME members, including “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”. A Momentum spokesperson described the plan as a “deeply damaging attack on the rights of BAME members”. And Kim Johnson MP has written for LabourList this morning, branding the proposals “wrong” and calling on the party to “trust its BAME members enough to let us have a democratic voice”.

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