Tobi Dada makes the case for reform of the Labour Party's current selection process, to allow a more diverse range of candidates.
Since the election of the first Black Members of Parliament, significant progress has been made in enhancing racial equality in British Society. The Labour Party should be proud that the first three Black MPs came from its ranks. However, Labour must also accept the election of Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Diane Abbott in 1987 did not happen coincidently. Indeed, the first Black MPs were only elected when there was an intentional attempt made by the Labour leadership to do so.
Similarly, a significant proportion of Black Conservative MPs, most notably Kemi Badenoch, were only elected as a result of David Cameron’s selection reforms in 2006. One of these reforms created an A-list of candidates. Candidates on the A-list were fast-tracked to the last stage of every constituency selection process. By ensuring that the A-list consisted of a diverse range of candidates, more Black Conservative candidates have been able to get elected as MPs.
Labour’s selection process, which requires candidates to apply to stand in each constituency, in contrast, is more difficult for Black candidates. One of the reasons for this is that the majority of Black Brits live in cities, such as London Birmingham and Manchester, which are Labour strongholds. As most people are acutely aware, standing in big cities is hyper-competitive, so the only realistic way a Black candidate can get selected is if they stand in a seat considered marginal or unwinnable. This dichotomy puts Black aspiring MPs in a difficult position, they either have to leave the city they call home or accept that the chances of them becoming an MP are very slim.
While the Labour party is still hugely popular amongst Black Brits, garnering 78% of the vote in 2017, the Conservative Party now has more Black male MPs. Simply, the Conservative Party is now more descriptively representative of Black British men. The life experiences of most Black Conservative MPs are wildly different from the average Black Brits. Many Black British conservative MPs come from wealthy backgrounds, Bim Afolami for example, studied at Eton. Consequently, Black Brits from working-class backgrounds are underrepresented in parliament. Thus, the labour party have an opportunity to improve the representation of the Black British working class, who have shown unwavering loyalty to the Labour Party for years. A failure to do this will lead to the Tory Party, increasing their share of the black vote.
Maintaining Labour’s popularity amongst Black voters should not be the only motivation to increase the number of Black MPs. Studies have shown that diverse organisations cultivate the most innovation. Similarly, the life experiences Black working-class MPs will lead to the development of better policy solutions, particularly in areas were black brits are over-represented. As stated, the selection of candidates from minority backgrounds does not happen by accident. Intentional efforts are required by the leadership to increase the pipeline of young Black activists. Implementing elements similar to Cameron’s selection reforms or other forms of positive discrimination should thus be a top priority for the leadership.
Lastly, in the light of the wrongful killing of George Floyd in America, Kier Starmer and the Labour leadership have shown their commitment to tackling issues of race and discrimination that exist in the UK. However, this wasn’t without shortcomings. While Kier Starmer’s achievements, as leader, thus far should be praised, when he described the BLM movement as a ‘moment’, he trivialised the conversation. This was a mistake he quickly corrected, however, Kier Starmer’s unintentionally offensive comments are indicative of the lack of awareness of the scale of institutional racism in society. The grievances felt by the Black community are mounting, and my worry is that just like the working-class voters were taken for granted in the north, so too are minority voters in cities. Furthermore, if the Labour Party continues to fail to descriptively represent Black working-class communities effectively, then rhetoric from the leadership about tackling racism is just lip service. My hope is that the leadership will reform the existing selection process, to allow for a more diverse range of candidates to be selected.
He tweets at @TobiTalkss.