The Party is coming to terms with the implications of John Alderdice’s review: “Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats.” We spent much of last Saturday’s Federal Board awayday talking about how to take it forward.
A natural default option is an argument: “wouldn’t it all bit a lot easier if we could just tell people what to do and they’ll do it”? There was a similar feeling about how to get people to go to target seats during the last two General Elections. It is, of course, an unconvincing argument in a Party full of Liberals working as volunteers.
I was reminded of a campaign we ran many years ago in the Liberal Party. It was a “Party Education Campaign” about gay rights*. In the early 1970s, there were a lot of Liberals who were very uncomfortable with the idea and also, believe it or not, some Parliamentarians whose religious views affected their position.
The key point was this: the campaign was directed at Party members, but the content was about the world outside the Party. It was about discrimination and prejudice faced by gay people, why it was wrong and what a Liberal party should do about it. Faced with evidence of discrimination and the suffering it caused, Liberals reacted according to their instincts. It really isn’t too much to suggest that our campaign led on to the Party’s support for LGBT+ rights up to and including equal marriage.
I propose that we should be campaigning about big issues, not just the technical fixes our party needs to build opportunity for people from ethnic minorities.
The first group of issues directly affects BAME people: prejudice, discrimination, inequality of opportunity and inequality before the law.
The second group affects BAME people disproportionately but also others. Many of them are about basic social justice and deprivation – the differences that arise from inequalities of wealth, income and power; and the people who are failed by our education system and held back by poverty of aspiration from achieving what they might. That also leads to the paradox that the different communities facing these problems are often the most suspicious and angry about each other.
There is also a third group of issues about challenges within minority communities: FGM, of course, but also the expectations about young Muslim women; the habits of transactional politics; the continuing power of caste in Indian communities; and support for single mothers in communities of Caribbean origin. We want campaigners who respond to deprivation, injustice, and discrimination wherever it occurs.
I propose that our Party, rather than looking inward at the details of systems, structures, sticks, and carrots, looks outward at our society, recognises and addresses the challenges faced by people in BAME communities and campaigns with them. We look already for community leaders who can go beyond those communities and be champions for Liberalism in an illiberal world.
Isn’t that a better way of taking forward the challenges to our culture than endlessly talking about rules and details?
*I shouldn’t write about this campaign without mentioning the inspirational Bernard Greaves, whose work defined and led this initiative.
* Gordon Lishman is a member of the Federal Board.