Submission from Operation Black Vote (OBV)
Q. Are problems caused by the unbalanced representation
in the House of Commons of different groups in society?
Q. If so, what are those problems?
A. The unbalanced representation of the
House of Commons creates a number of problems for the well being
of our democracy. Many BME groups talk about a lack of confidence
in our most important democratic institution. Some say: "when
do our concerns get addressed", others elude to the fact
that the majority of Black MP's don't talk about our issues for
fear of being alienated by their own party. In the extreme this
lack of voice and confidence translates to help nurture a fertile
ground in which Muslim extremists can exploit.
Q. Is there a relationship between these levels
of representation and voter attitudes to Parliament?
A. Many people talk about voter apathy in
the UK, whilst that may reflect some people's feelings many within
the Black community are consciously opting out of the democratic
process. Voting and registering to vote. Many see it a futile
exercise that only colludes with the status quo.
According to OBV polls there is a direct correlation
between non-participation and under-representation. The number
one reason given for not going out and voting by 18-25 year
olds BME's was the lack of black faces in high places.
Q. What are the reasons why more women, people
from ethnic minorities and disabled people do not become Members
A. At a very basic level we have to confront
society's resistance to change. But it's more than just that.
Those in power mainly white able bodied men at times distrust
those who doesn't look like them, worse still some often feel
a sense of superiority and therefore conscious or unconsciously
seek to replicate themselves.
Q. Why don't more from these groups consider
standing for election? Or, if they do: Why aren't more of them
A. It is a myth to suggest that BME individuals
are not coming forward for selection. The fact is despite the
many trails and tribulations that many Black would be candidates
face there is not a shortage of them coming forward. At the heart
of this contradiction lies a deep desire that many hold to serve
their community and wider society.
Q. Or, if they are why more of them aren't
A. In most areas outside of the big cities
there still is a question mark as to whether society is ready
to accept a Black candidate. Clearly, candidates have to have
a specialness to compensate any negativity. Parties must do more
to select BME candidates in winnable seats.
Q. What are the problems and practical difficulties
encounteredat any point in the process of selection and
electionby members of these underrepresented groups who
are looking to become MPs?
A. Sadly there are many problems that individuals
find during the process of selection and election. BME individuals
do not have too much of a problem of passing the entry to become
a candidate, the problem is mostly getting selected to fight a
Q. What actions could be taken by the Government
to address disparities in representation?
A. The Government must promote and champion
more vigorously race equality, diversity and why representation
is important for the well being of democracy and wider society.
It also must state that it has resisted all-BME short lists to
give all the other methods a chance of proving themselves. But
if they do not begin to make a dent in this deficit then that
discussion must be revisited.
Q. What actions have been taken elsewhere
in the UK and overseas and by whom, to address similar concerns?
A. There is no modern democracy with the
exception of the US and Finland, that hasn't used affirmative
action one way or anotherpermissive or non permissiveto
address the deficit of women. In the case of the US they have
affirmative action at the early stages of development ie education,
that raises the level of high flyers. In Finland the idea of diversity
is so well ingrained that affirmative action is not needed.
Q. What actions have been, or could be, taken
by political parties, campaigning groups and others to address
disparities in representation?
A. We have attached a document (titled OBV:
Changing the face of British political parties) which we would
hope all parties would adopt and implement.
Q. How can the success of such actions be
A. Audits followed by targets in all areas
at all levels within the political parties.
This paper sets out a frame work to implement
a comprehensive programme that will ensure mainstream political
parties become more inclusive, and more representative. Furthermore,
and equally important that their policy proposals reflect better
the multi-cultural society that is the UK. The papers focus is
towards Britain's Black and minority ethnic communities (BME),
although such a programme could easily be adapted for other marginalised
groups, such as women and people with disabilities.
Cultural identity and a sense of belonging have
become increasingly important factors for BME communities over
the last twenty years. Although the majority of BME individuals
were born in the UK and/or have lived here for many years, many
struggle to feel that society in general and in particularly the
nation's democratic institutions afford them a sense of belonging,
or an effective and equitable voice.
The facts bear out that frustration:
Of 659 MPs only 15 are from
BME communities. Only two of them are women.
The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh
Assembly each only have one BME representative, not from the main
Despite 1-3 of the electorate coming
from a BME community, the Greater London Assembly still only has
two BME members.
In the whole of Great Britain there is
only Two BME chief executive in a local authority, and only two
leaders of the Council.
In Europe there are 4 BME MEPs
Most senior politicians are acutely aware of
the situation and yet year after year nothing changes. As a result
many BME individuals particularly the young feel deeply alienated
and cynical that anything can ever change. Their disillusion is
often translated in a total rejection of the democratic process:
24% of BME's are not registered to vote,
this compares with 6% in the white community.
More than 53% of Africans in the UK are
not registered to vote
Those that are registered are still less
likely to vote that the white electorate
The alienation of so many BME individuals not
only undermines the democratic process, it also creates a fertile
ground for extreme religious/political groups such as the outlawed
Al-Muhajiroun and Hiz butari.
Addressing the BME deficit
It would be difficult to find a senior politician
who does not want our democratic institutions to be more representative.
But one is compelled to ask if there is such a desire why then
does little or nothing change? Some would argue that lack of real
political will is at the heart of the problem. This may partially
true but the fundamental floor lies more in the absence of a systematic
plan of action to resolve the deficit.
Operation Black Vote believes that the programme
that includes recruitment, retention and promotion of BME's within
the political party structure will in the short, medium and long
term pay dividends.
The motivation for implementing such a programme
must be driven in no small measure by party self-interest as much
as the moral obligation for representative and inclusive governance.
Furthermore, as membership of all political parties dramatically
fall the need to rejuvenate them with new members, new ideas,
and renewed energy has never been more important.
Implementing the programme
Clearly the programme has to be driven by the
Party bosses, from the Leader to the Chair to other senior members.
But equally important to its success will be the establishment
of a dedicated team to administer the programme in all areas at
all levels of the party. Although this has resource implications,
it doesn't have to be overly expensive; secondly a minimum cost
would be easily offset by an influx of membership fees. It would
also demonstrate to the potential electorate the seriousness of
Recruitment: Recruitment of BME members to the
It is a sad indictment of all the political
parties that none know how many BME individuals they have as members,
staff or elected councillors. It is unacceptable to use the "colour
blind" argument when all concerned anecdotally know that
in all the above areas the levels are depressing low. A democratic
audit of the membership, staff, and elected members would provide
a baseline that would help with increasing the figures.
Recruit activists from within the party
Recruiting activist, particularly, but not exclusively
BME party members to be at the frontline of any recruitment drive
will serve a dual purpose: with this new responsibility they themselves
become more empowered by the role they have within the party;
secondly they increase and widen the membership. It is very important
to stress that this role should not be the exclusive domain for
BME members. It is the responsibility of all members, furthermore,
some BME members may not want to, "wear their ethnicity/religion
on their sleeve". The role for white members recruiting could
be in the mode of, "I don't want to speak for you. We want
you to speak for yourselves and/or your community but under our
political umbrella. That's why we want you to join our party.
Realistic national and local targets must be made.
Draw up a local recruitment plan
Obtain a list of the BME organisations in the
constituency. Organise recruitment meetings. They might be entitled,
"Modernising the local party", or "Changing the
face of the local party". You may bring in invited guest
such as Party big hitters or outsiders that may talk-from a non-partisan
position about the need to get involved.
Producing materials specific for BME communities
Recruitment drives in the USA by both the Republicans
and the Democrats have had great success by specifically targeting
materials towards African Americans, Latin Americans and women.
The overall message should be a simple one:
"Your contribution, your dynamism will help modernise this
Prizes and other incentives should be given
to local parties that increase their memberships, stories could
be related the Party websites, local press, meetings and conferences.
A member of the month could articulate why they joined, what they
want to achieve.
Retention of BME members particularly new ones
must be thought about simultaneously as the recruitment plan is
being implemented. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant
volume of new members leave after the first year because they
find local party procedure boring and irrelevant. Often more damage
is done if large numbers join and then leave because due thought
has not gone into accommodating new members.
Think about where you have all your meetings.
Places where alcohol is served may not be conducive for some faiths.
Think about party procedure. Sometimes
it is long and laborious. For the first few occasions you may
want invite members to social gatherings or interesting debates
Allow new members to have their say.
Seek their opinion. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when BME
individuals initially join they are warmly welcomed, however,
when they raise difficult issues particularly if it's around race
they are quickly seen as troublesome and marginalised. Thereafter,
many either leave or remain silent.
Organising debates and talks with outsider
people coming in should stimulate and maintain interest.
Getting members involved in organising
activities will also help maintain interest.
Most importantly offer them specific
roles. New members may not want a specific role but to genuinely
offer them a role serves a double purpose: first that the party
genuinely cares and is supportive about their new member. Secondly,
by given them a role within the local party you add value to you
team. Roles may include: setting up youth wing, or recruitment
advocates for women, BME's, youths and others. Others may want
to be part of active campaigning such as leafleting, manning a
stall. Some may want to set up a news letter, blog or website
It should be said from the outset, nobody is
asking for the promotion of BME members solely because they are
BME; that neither serves them nor the party. Neither is this about
positive discrimination; although OBV believes that in the short
term it has its place-it is more about positive action.
Fact is that whether by design or fault BME
talent has not been adequately recognised or promoted within the
political party structure. Recognising the deficit the Party,
both at a local and national level must seek out BME talent that
could serve in many areas: organisers, policy officers, public
speakers, fund raisers, advisors, party agents, potential councillors,
MPs and other elected roles.
To effectively address this problem we would
suggest that the Party have a team of head-hunters locally, regionally
Head-hunters would be able to spot both enthusiasm
and talent and then help ensure that talent reaches its full potential
sooner rather than later.
Training, and support must also be part of the
development process, it must not however, be another obstacle
for promotion. BME individuals have complained that they are told
they will not be considered for a winnable seat unless they undertake
numerous training programmes.
Those that have been earmarked as potential
candidates need both mentors and infrastructure support. A mentor
will impart wise words about the labyrinth of party structure
and how ones gets through it.
Party support will ensure potential candidates
have access to financial funds and are adequately trained to deal
in areas such as the media and public speaking. When the Conservative
Patti Boulaye became a potential GLA candidate the lack of party
support and media training meant that she quickly became a liability
to her party.
Once the party has greater awareness of the
BME membership and the talent within it, it is much easier to
encourage applications for staffing posts and other areas within
the party. Other methods should also be used, such as using the
BME press and radio stations when positions become available.
Whether it's staffing positions, panels or list
for potential candidates' ambitious but reachable targets must
play a key role. We at OBV recognise that some local parties have
a resistance to modernise themselves and their make up. Here the
party must show leadership and if necessary force die-hards to
change. The leadership can also use other methods to ensure candidates
come through by placing them high on top up list. Experience has
shown that elected politicians in Scotland, Wales and London will
not vote themselves out of a post, therefore it is only by political
leadership can we expect positive change.
As and when the local party mentality begins
to adequately change less influence from the central is required.
Sadly that is some time off yet.
The role of OBV
The vision of Britain's BME communities playing
a full and positive role in all areas at all levels within the
UK's main stream political parties is one which is central to
OBV's work. Therefore, we have pledged to assist, where we can,
any main stream political party that seeks work towards that vision.
Give an honest appraisal of proposals
that seek to engage with BME communities.
Promotesubject to resourcespositive
initiatives that form part of the party's recruitment, retention
and promotion programmes.
Host a number of "get to know you"
meetings/receptions-subject to resources.
Write articles for party magazines or
websites about why representation and diversity within parties
No one pretends that the task to ensure Britain's
political parties are more inclusive and more representative is
a simple one. And yet with the political will, leadership and
a comprehensive programme that can be effectively implemented
the task isn't insurmountable. The three key areas are Recruitment,
Retention and Promotion of BME's within the party.
Having a clear programme with short, medium
and long-term targets will without doubt pay dividends. The motivation
should be both moral: it is good for democracy, and self-interest:
an inclusive Party will have a wider public appeal.
As a non-partisan organisation we at OBV will
play our role inspiring and encouraging our communities to play
a full and positive role within the democratic process.