Libdems / Labour should drop ethnic short-lists


by Sunny
28th March, 2008 at 4:33 pm    

The Labour party is considering them and Libdems have expressed their support, but I think they’re a bad idea. The idea is this. In an effort to boost the number of black or Asian MPs, in certain constituencies the parties will only put forward candidates for selection of a black/Asian background.

It sounds good on paper and Operation Black Vote, who have been pushing this, say it would only be applicable for about 20 years before being gotten rid of. Those who complain this form of positive discrimination won’t let people through on merit are either not acquianted well enough with our current crop of politicians, or understand how nepotistic and unfair the system is anyway. No, my objection is that it racialises our politics. As I said in my CIF article yesterday:

One of the many reasons to support Barack Obama is his attempts to overcome divisive race politics of the past and that of “community leaders” speaking for groups who never elected them. He ignored “black leaders” who endorsed Clinton but were later forced to accept that African Americans supported his united vision more than their communal one.

We have seen examples of that play out here, too. During the Southall by-election last year, when the Tories attracted five (factional and divisive) Labour councillors to join them, I said it was a boon for Labour, since it wouldn’t impact on voting. Blogger Iain Dale chided me for spinning it, but the Tory modernisers got sucked into the worst of communal politics by securing the block defection of five Sikh councillors but not the voters the councillors claimed to speak for.

By inevitably creating a situation where black, Asian or Muslim candidates would only speak for those of similar backgrounds, we only perpetuate this divisive communal agenda. Militant Sikh groups, for example, would start demanding that only turbaned Sikhs represent them, as they did in Southall, and so on.

Short-lists let them off the hook. There is a deeper problem with these political parties, which is why only middle-class white males mostly get selected and promoted. Why else is there so much gender and class disparity in our politics too?

Sunder Katwala of the Fabians has also written against it and there was a piece in the Indy yesterday, with some Asian MPs also against it.


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Filed in: Party politics,Race politics






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  1. SalmanRush — on 28th March, 2008 at 5:07 pm  

    I disagree with one of your assertions:

    “One of the many reasons to support Barack Obama is his attempts to overcome divisive race politics of the past and that of “community leaders” speaking for groups who never elected them. ”

    Actually, I don’t agree with that Obama is purely about “overcoming divisive race politics.”

    Case in point, a few months ago, the Obama campaign circulated a memo criticizing Indian-American businessmen and their support for outsourcing businesses and Hillary Clinton.

    Seems like that memo was trying to capitalize on xenophobic impulses against Indian-American businessmen in order to curry favor with the working class white, anti-Nafta crown and at the expense of South Asian-Americans who have made economic progress in the U.S.

  2. marvin — on 28th March, 2008 at 5:15 pm  

    Good article Sunny.

    “Those who complain this form of positive discrimination won’t let people through on merit are either not acquainted well enough with our current crop of politicians, or understand how nepotistic and unfair the system is anyway.”

    I don’t think this necessarily follows. I am against Ethnic short lists for the reasons you mention, i.e. it racialises politics, creates communalist politics. I am also against it because it can, and as meant merit sometimes is not enough, they have to be a cerain ethinc makeup. Yet I still understand that in areas there is under-representation that needs to be addressed.

    Anyway, apart from that, I agree.

  3. Sunny — on 28th March, 2008 at 5:24 pm  

    in order to curry favor with the working class white, anti-Nafta crown

    I followed that and saw that as more an anti-Nafta thing that specifically looking to target and get at Indian businesses. Someone people saw it as xenophobic, I didn’t. Either way, it doesn’t refute my point.

  4. SalmanRush — on 28th March, 2008 at 5:53 pm  

    Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t put it past any American politician of any race to deploy xenophobia at the expense of another group, so they can get ahead. Muslims being the wipping boy du jour.

  5. shariq — on 28th March, 2008 at 11:43 pm  

    Salman, if you accept the premise that unrestrained neo-liberalism is one of the main reasons for income inequality and class rigidity in the west, outsourcing has to be part of your critique.

    Sunny, I think your article is generally spot on. I guess if you have ethnic politicians, the ethnic community also feels they have a stake in that politician’s decisions which can create frustration when they follow the whip.

    One thing I still think applies is that the house of commons isn’t just about having the most talented 600 people in the country. You want some diversity of background to try and dampen some of the westminister bubble effect.

    Maybe a good idea would be to try and encourage ethnic minority candidates in whiter areas? It would require them to be less racial and no one could accuse them of being there because of affirmative action.

  6. shariq — on 28th March, 2008 at 11:46 pm  

    Or perhaps like some of the Israel/Palestinian peace plan proposals, you for every ‘sponsored’ ethnic minority candidate in a white area you would place a white candidate in an ethnic minority area.

    Just to be clear, this is just a thought experiment. I’m not advocating this right now.

  7. shariq — on 28th March, 2008 at 11:51 pm  

    Of course as Sunny says simply delineating seats based on race without taking class, gender or circumstance into account would be pretty pointless.

    Would a privately educated Indian boy really bring that much diversity. Also, logically we should also have working class shortlists etc.

  8. John — on 29th March, 2008 at 2:18 am  

    “One of the many reasons to support Barack Obama is his attempts to overcome divisive race politics of the past and that of “community leaders” speaking for groups who never elected them.”

    Actually Obama is a product of affirmative action and the steps taken to positively favour formerly oppressed black people after 1968.

    If it worked for him, why pull the ladder up before others climb up it.

  9. SalmanRush — on 29th March, 2008 at 2:58 am  

    “One of the many reasons to support Barack Obama [is] his attempts to overcome divisive race politics of the past…”

    Another bite at the apple here…I think Obama’s racial politics create the potential to raise to the forefront other existing racial divisions which may not be as prominent or obvious in the U.S., i.e., black v. brown.

    With his attack on Indian american businessmen supporting outsourcing and his assertion that he would essentially “invade” Pakistan to combat al-Qaeda, Obama seems to be kowtowing to the white electorate by effectively saying, “Hey I may be a black guy and product of a third world father, but I’m not above chasing down brown people who are enemies of the State.”

    So Obama is showing that he’s not “overcoming” racial politics, but iterating a more cynical and complicated racial calculus in the U.S. , vis a vis black v. brown, white/negro Americans v. South Asian Americans.
    Hardly an enlightening vision, just more of the same cynical power grab, I’m afraid.

  10. billericaydicky — on 29th March, 2008 at 7:59 am  

    I agree that this is another good article by Sunny and congratulations for tackling some very difficult subjects. My information on Obama is that he didn’t get on because of affirmative action but because he had genuine talent and drive. The fees were all paid it seems by his white mother and grandparents. I feel that America is a side issue here, we live in the UK and it is our problems that we should be concentrating on.

    What people should look at is the rationale behind the demand for all black lists. As I have said in other places the demand comes from Operation Black Vote one of the many organisations that Lee Jasper was involved in and which is funded by charities and the public purse.

    The argument seems to be this. All public institution left to themselves would naturally represent ethnically the communities “they serve”. If that is not the case then there is clearly some form of racism involved be it Institutional,Unwitting,Unconscious etc etc.

    What is interesting is that the demands are always in highly paid sectors of society and the economy. Wooley is promoting something called Equanomics which started in the States with Jesse Jackson. What happens is that a company is targetted as not having enough Black directors, a boycott is organised and eventually highly paid directors appointed by Jackson are taken on and million dollar donations are made to Rainbow/Push one of Jacsons front groups.

    There was an attempt to launch the same thing in this country with Equanomics with Jackson touring the country with the usual suspects. I think it has sunk without trace as a result of the Jasper scandals.

    With all black shortlists we are back to the problem of what and who is black. OBV says that black is a ” political contruct”, constructed by them, which includes everyone who has suffered as a result of the colour of their skin. It is interesting that no one was consulted about this, there were no discussion or elections it was decided by Simon Wooley and OBV ten years ago and anyone who disagrees is branded a racist.

    I have seen Wooley challenged on this and he really goes to pieces under questioning. When it was put to him that if white people cannot represent non white then the reverse must also be true he just woffled and had no answers.

    There is of course no reason why any organisation should reflect racially the community it serves. I don’t care what the fireman or policeman is ethnically as long as they do their job and over the years I have the greatest care in hospitals from a staff who were for the most part not white.

    There are a number of connected frauds here. One is that all white people are racist even if they don’t realise it. The second is that there is a unity of identity and purpose amongst all people who are not white, I think the Birmingham riots put paid to that one and I have posted elswhere that there is a great deal of racial prejudice between all non white ethnic groups. The last fraud is that unelected self appointed leaders like Wooley are taken seriously and that government ministers take seriously the racism they spout.

    Most white people in this country are not racist, a survey by the Rowntree Charitable Foundation claims that seventy five per cent of white people in the country would never vote BNP under any circumstances and the vast majority of the people that I am working with in the anti BNP campaign in London are all white.

    What white people are sick of is being told they are racists by the Jaspers and Wooleys who if they looked in a mirror would see that they have a great deal of white in them. All that the OBV/shortlist thing is is a massive financial swindle which will not give us capable politicians and will fuel support for the far right.

    What we need are capable and honest politicians. Where my family live in Hackney in East London there are two fine examples of useless ethnic minority politicians. GLA member Jennette Arnold has demanded and got an expensive Transport for London enquiry going into why so many black shool children are knocked down in the borough. She alleged that car drivers in Hackney were racist. There are of course a very high propertion of black children in Hackney schools but she doesn’t seem to have noticed this.

    The fragrant Dianne Abbot MP is also only concerned with black issues. I spite of the fact that we know that the lowest achievers in schools are white boys from poor backgrounds she convenes conferences solely about black education and alleges that white teachers are racist. She was also outraged when,because there was a shortage nurses in Hackney hospitals white blondes were brought in from Scandinavia, they didn’t represent they community they were serving you see!

    Interesting bit of Lee Jasper gossip going the rounds in anti fash circles at the moment. It seems one of Lee Jaspers sons is a fireman in a central London station. He was caught smoking dope on the roof by a senior officer and instaed of being sacked was moved from frontline duties. FBU sources also claim that he has failed two subsequent drink/drug tests but still has his job. Could this be anything to do with the fact that Livingstone was trying to pack the London Fire and Civil Defence committee last year to make it more racially acceptable?

    Sorry for these long posts and I hope people find them interesting.

  11. sonia — on 29th March, 2008 at 5:45 pm  

    i’m afraid its a self-focused demand as well – what about other people who are also in need of a leg-up but might be non-black and non-asian?

  12. Ashik — on 29th March, 2008 at 9:54 pm  

    Asian shortlists in largely Asian constituencies is a practical reality with or without shortlists. Same for Black constituencies. For example, I cannot imagine many scenarios under which Bengalis in Tower Hamlets not preferring to nominate and elect a Sylheti Bengali as MP.

    If we elect people from our own ethnic backgrounds when we can then they can serve us better. Being part of our community they will probably be better attuned to our needs and more sympathetic. eg. I can’t imaqgine a Sylheti female MP asking a burka clad lady constituent to ‘take it off’.

  13. billericaydicky — on 30th March, 2008 at 9:03 am  

    I think Ashik has summed up the another argument against all black shortlists when he writes writes ” If we can elect people from our own ethnic backgraounds when we can then they can serve us better”.

    The biggest concentration of any ethnic minority is in Tower Hamlets in East London and there Bangladeshis make up 36% of the population. That leaves 64% which a Bangladeshi MP could not, according to him, represent.

    He has, perhaps unwittingly, summed up the whole argument against the lists, they are racist, divisive and will exacerbate existing racial tensions as well, as I have pointed out above, ensuring that because of there limitation on available talent ensure that we end up with sub standard represntatives.

    One of OBVs current scams is magistrate shadowing schemes where picked members of ethnic minorities shadow real magistrates with a view to becoming ones themselves. Given the amount of anti white racial hatred coming out of OBV I wouldn’t like to be up in front of any of them!

    Interesting that there has been no input from Mr Wooley who dreamed the whole thing up. Probably keeping his head down while the money is still flowing.

  14. sonia — on 30th March, 2008 at 8:52 pm  

    can’t go around assuming that a constituency is always going to have the same racial make-up.

    the kind of diversity i’d prefer is actually having MPs who are not party-affiliated but stand as independent. it ‘s the fact that MP’s are stuck with this allegiance to the Party, if they want to get anywhere, which so often interferes with putting their constituents’ interests at the core of their work. its a conflict of interest pure and simple. they work for us, but really have a boss in place who doesn’t actually give a shit about us.

  15. billaricaydickey — on 31st March, 2008 at 10:08 am  

    Sunny,

    Don’t know if you a reader of the black newspaper New Nation but its front page this morning announces the end of the Asian Black alliance which it claims has existed from the seventies.

    It interestingly mentions four Asian MPs who have come out against all black shortlists. On guy, Mp for a constituency which is 98% white says that under the OBV system he would never have been elected!

    I suspect the whole thing is dead in the water and that OBV will soon wind itself up as it has no further useful function! But then again pigs might fly.

    April the 16th is the deadline to register to vote so can everybody please ask friends and relations if they are on the roll where they live. A wake up article in today’s Times on the possibility of huge BNP successes on May the first is up on the BNP website. http://www.BNP.org.uk. All the latest anti fascist info on http://www.hopenothate.org.uk.

  16. Ashik — on 31st March, 2008 at 12:09 pm  

    The real scandal Billericaydicky, is that the Labour Party has not previously nominated a credible Sylheti candidate. Onna King and the like have been parachuted in from on high. The reality is that ethnic minority candidates are not successful in most constituencies which lack a substantial ethnic vote. They must therefore fall back on their own communities.

    The alternative is that ethnic minorities will not be represented in the House.

    Of course, a Sylheti Bengali candidate will represent all their constituents. The fact that Tower Hamlets Sylhetis may exercise their block vote will simply concentrate the candidates mind in order to serve the needs of those who voted for them. The Sylheti candidate (Rushnara Ali) will hopefully be more aware of the problems in the locality, being from the East End and all.

  17. billaricaydikey — on 1st April, 2008 at 9:10 am  

    Ashik,

    To say that you have lost the plot is to ask what was the plot in the first place. You simply do not understand what is going on here. Why does a community have to be represented by a person of their own ethnic group? If you say that other MPs, councillors etc cannot represent them then it follows that a candidate selected because of their ethnic background can only represent their own group. Is there anything about that that you do not understand?

    There were other much better Sylheti candidates one in particular, Helal Abbass Uddin, would have made an excellent MP. It will turn out that Ms Ali will prove to be an embarrassment for the Labour Party as, if the rumours circulating in the East End are true, she has falsified her CV in order to be elected.

    I don’t have all the details but it seems she left Tower Hamlets College with GCSEs at D grade and got into Oxford because of the patronage of the Gavrons.

    If anyone has any info on this I would be grateful if they would send it to me essexpikey@yahoo.co.uk

  18. Ashik — on 1st April, 2008 at 4:17 pm  

    If you have no objective evidence regarding these rumours about Rushanara Ali (the first I’ve heard of them), then you have nothing.

    I can’t imagine Oxford Uni waiving their admissions policies for the Gavron’s. The accusation makes no sense. Just as your position regarding Sylheti candidates is difficult to fathom given that in the past Labour has usually opted for candidates without any connections to the area. It seems that it’s alright for parachutists to represent the locals but not one of their own. My posts above do not require further clarification.

  19. billericaydickey — on 2nd April, 2008 at 4:29 pm  

    Ashik,

    Bit busy today mate because in case you haven’t noticed we have the best chance of fascists getting elected to the government of London. It is also interesting that none of the posters here have, as far as I know and I have been working with the Hope Not Hate Campaign today, been in touch with the campign to help.

    Tommorow I will give you chapter and verse about Ms Ali but what you are not doing is coming back with solid arguments agains all black lists. I heard today that the Home Office have withheld 1.5 000000 from OBV because of the connection with the 1990 Trust and that OBV is now the subject of a police investigation.

    Simon Wooley has been seeking nominations from all of the main three parties and is regarded as a racist joke.

    Chota Bhai, soono ha? You must stick to the point with this Shada Mannus.I am sorry that this keyboard is not in Bangla or I could say a few things that you would understand

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