How long before a representative democracy?


Britain parliamentary democracy is nothing if it fails to represents the very peoples its serves. The question relates to the very nature of our society where any citizen has the potential to join a political party, stand for selection as a candidate, win election and enter public service.

That’s the accepted established theory, but as with as so much in British public life, the gap between the aspiration of a meritocratic society and the reality of equality of opportunity on the ground is a wide as the Grand Canyon. My personal asipration is to see close that gap within my lifetime . As a British citizen I expect full equality in my lifetime and its the responsibility of political parties and Government to adopt the policies or introduce legislation that are capable of delivering that outcome.

Some may consider it radical but a 5th generation Africanus Brittanicus I genuinely believe that its is vital for the good governance of the nation, the promotion of social cohesion and delivernce of full political and citizenship ships rights to Britains diverse communities.

The problem with race equality is that people tend to be impressed with effort over outcome. That is why when challenged those that have been toiling away with great commitment and long hours become angry and upset when questioned about their actual effectiveness.

I am reminded of the 1971 sitcom " Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width " about a couple of Jewish and Irish taylors. When it comes to the selection of black MP's political parties are no different and they are more impressed with their elaborate policies, equality rhetoric and incremental progress as opposed to the quality of the outcomes.

I have a simple test to help that I apply that strips away the emotion often attached to political discussions on race equality and party policy rhetoric. That test is simple can what is proposed deliver equality in our lifetime ? If the answer is no then the policy is not worth the paper its written on.

To get a grip on the size of the challenge that confronts British democracy we need to objectively assess just how far we have come and how far we have to go on this important issue.

There are 650 MP’s in Parliament and currently we have 27 black and ethnic minority MP’s. (BEM MP’s) Estimates for mid-2009 put the non-white population of England and Wales at 12%, up from 9% in the 2001 census.

Ensuring the House of Commons is representative in 2015 we would require a total of 78 BEM MP’s.

Historically the rate of progress in selecting and electing a diverse group MP’s has been painfully slow. This happens to be Black History Month so lets examine that progress 160 years.

The first British black MP was David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre who was of mixed Indian and European descent. David was a Radical Liberal elected to represent Sudbury in Suffolk in 1841.

Not surprisingly for a black MP however in1842 Parliament overturned the result citing to ‘electoral fraud and bribery’.

It would take another 50 years until the Liberal Party MP Dadabhai Naoroji was elected to the London seat of Finsbury Central in 1892.

Next was Mancherjee Bhownaggree (later Sir Mancherjee). He represented Bethnal Green North-East from 1895 the first minority ethnic Conservative to sit in Parliament.

Another 27 years passed before Shapurji Saklatvalay a Communist elected in Battersea North for Labour in 1922.

A hiatus followed and it took 65 years until the now famous group of black Labour MP’s were elected. What then followed, up until the last election was very slow progression. Here are the figures for the election Black and Asian MP's for each of the parties from 1987 onwards;

1987 Labour 4

1992 Labour 5 Con 1

1997 Labour 9

2001 Labour 12

2005 Labour 13 Con 2

2010 Labour 16 Con 11

Disgracefully, the Liberal Democrats have only managed to get elected 2 BEM MP’S in the last 121 years.

Black and Asian Women MP’s have been particularly under-represented at Westminster. Prior to 2010, there were only two black women Members, and no Asian woman had ever been elected.

The 2010 General Election saw the first Asian women MPs. The total number of minority ethnic women MPs increased by 7 in 2010 and, a subsequent by-election in Feltham and Heston, puts the current total of minority ethnic women MPs to 10.

The rate of progress over the last 7 elections has been around 4 Black MP’s per general election.

To become a truly diverse Parliament we would need to elect 51 black MP's in the forthcoming 2015 election.

By 2050 we will be 20% of the population by which time there would need to be a total of 130 Black MP’s. To achieve that would require a gargantuan effort by all politcal parties to prioritise a policies that are capable of delivering the numbers required.

To give Cameron credit that is exactly what he did during the election the 2010 where he forced the Conservative party to select black candidates. Of course with rising unemployment the race for parliamentary seats will become increasingly competitive.

If we adopt a target of 50 black MP's per election, starting now and Britain could get to the promised land by 2020. That would be a massive achievement and cross party consensus on a plan with a clear target date could drive progress. This would represent a modest figure of 8 % our of the total number of MP'sat each election.

The big problem for political parties is that they are not selecting enough BEM candidates in winnable seats in sufficient enough numbers to match the estimated growth of UK BEM populations. The reality is as we appear to be taking small steps forward the demographic growth of black communities means that although the numbers are growing the goal of a inclusive representative parliament is fast in fact in danger of disappearing over the event horizon.

So whatever your view its clear that if we are to achieve the goal of a representative parlimentary democracy radical action will need to be taken unless we wish to bequeath to our children a society where the colour of their skin will continue to act as a barrier to their political ambitions.

Lee Jasper