Why Is the LibDem Conference Still So Hideously White?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th September, 2009
Last night’s opening rally at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth was a far slicker affair than usual and was held in the main hall for once, which meant that at last there was enough room for everyone. Introduced by party president (Baroness) Ros Scott and compered by Sarah Teather MP (who made some pretty near-the-bone jokes about her outgoing colleague Mark Oaten), the event featured not only the current leader Nick Clegg but also his predecessor-but-one Charles Kennedy plus two strong black women: the TV presenter Floella Benjamin (a LibDem supporter in Streatham) and the feisty PPC for the target seat of Birmingham Perry Bar, Karen Hamilton. So big ticks for the party giving prominence not just to women but Afro-Caribbeans as well.
However, it cannot have escaped the notice of Floella and Karen that they were talking to a great sea of (albeit appreciative) white faces, with only a tiny scattering of other ethnicities represented among delegates. To borrow the famous phrase that Greg Dyke used about the BBC, the LibDem Conference is still hideously white. If the LibDems are ever to be a credible party of government, that has got to change.
The leadership is well aware of the problem and there are groups such as Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) who are tackling it head on. In London and some of the other major cities, there have been real successes in recruiting BME members and indeed getting them to stand successfully as councillors. A whole raft of parliamentary candidates in predominantly urban areas are now Asian or black. But somehow local parties don’t seem to have managed to ensure that their delegates to conference are as diverse as the communities they come from. Perhaps some ethnic minority members feel conference somehow isn’t for them. The party cannot afford to let any such impression persist.