Want to see what a Tory and Liberal Democrat administration looks like? Of the 22 members that make up the Cabinet, there are no ethnic minorities, and only 4 women (18%). The Tories and Liberal Democrats like to pay lip-service to diversity and gender equality. But when it comes to the exercise of real power, it’s all about jobs for the boys.
As an ordinary Labour Party member I sometimes feel frustrated and excluded by the party that I have been committed to for the last 10 years.
What I joined up to as a movement for the protection of the rights of working people, has in recent years begun to evolve into a top-down London-centric bureaucracy, with procedures and protocols so convoluted that only a complete jobsworth can properly understand them.
This of course means that any actual control or sense of belonging to the Labour cause rests paradoxically not with the many but with the few; not with ordinary Labour Party members and activists like myself, but with those who either work for the party nationally and regionally, or those who don’t work at all and can afford to get wrapped up in minutiae.
It also seems clear to me and countless others that whilst we preach equality to the outside world, we practice discrimination within our own party, particularly when it comes to selecting candidates for election, or even choosing constituency delegates to attend the party’s annual conference, to name but two examples. Positive discrimination for some means negative (or “reverse”) discrimination for others, and the reality is that whole swathes of our party membership are treated less favourably, simply because of their gender or their race.
As a lawyer, if a client said to me that they only wanted a female barrister or one who was from an Asian background, I would be obliged to either try to modify their instructions, or ultimately cease to act for them. If I did not, I would fall foul of the law myself, because it is quite rightly illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender or race. All-women shortlists in this country would also be illegal, were it not for the persistence of Harriet Harman et al, who vehemently campaigned for the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act in 2002, which made the process of selecting parliamentary candidates exempt from Sex Discrimination laws.
We need to avoid short term, undemocratic, tokenistic practices and focus instead on empowering people from underrepresented social groups. We need to create fair, balanced shortlists for candidates seeking election, and promote individuals not on the colour of their skin or the gender of their body, but because of their extraordinary talents and intellect, their life and work experience, and their ability to advance the needs and solve the problems, of their prospective constituents.