Diversity and the Liberal Democrats
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th November, 2016
The 2015 general election devastated the ranks of Liberal Democrat MPs, reducing the House of Commons cohort to just eight, straight, white men — cruelly accentuating the lack of diversity in the parliamentary party (though the situation is a little better in the House of Lords, to which individuals are periodically appointed on the party leader’s recommendation). So if Sarah Olney is elected as the new MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston in the by-election on 1 December, the addition of a woman will be an important step in the right direction, but only a step. The issue of a lack of ethnic diversity will be acute as ever. Despite the fact that Britain’s very first BAME MP was a Liberal, the Liberal Democrats have only ever successfully elected one in modern times, in a by-election in Leicester, though he lost his seat at the following general election. Compare that record with those of both the Conservatives and Labour and one sees why the party hierarchy is so embarrassed about the situation. Even in multicultural London, the disproportionately small number of BAME faces at conferences or on local party executives is striking. The Party says it is determined to do something about this, but seems incapable of putting an effective strategy in place. That is a huge challenge for the new Federal Board that will take office in the New Year. Tim Farron did say all the right sort of things at a recent event in London highlighting the Party’s relationship with minority communities. But I totally understand the frustration of many Black and Asian LibDems at the lack of visible progress. Even when an opportunity arises, it is sometimes missed. For example, recently a Shadow Cabinet was appointed by Tim, drawing on talents from both Houses of Parliament as well as including Catherine Bearder MEP and Caroline Pidgeon, the excellent but sole LibDem member of the London Assembly. Some great people in there, but how does it look to the outside world, especially in London? Baroness Shaz Sheehan is the only non white face. Not a single Afro Caribbean in the mix, which looks crazy from a London perspective such as mine. I suppose the Party could say there is no sufficiently senior black LibDem in elected office, but even if that might be true, surely a talented non elected person could have been brought in? People such as Simon Hughes have been saying for years that the Liberal Democrats need to resemble the people they seek to represent. Well, let us start doing something concrete to fix the problem, rather than just talking about it!