Labour Party: Gender trumps Race again


Labour risk squeezing out Black and minority ethnic talent by imposing all-women shortlists in constituencies where there are sizable BME populations and or where BME male candidates have worked hard to bring down the electoral majority. Labour party activists will be well aware that the party has a poor record of using all- women shortlist in raising the number of BME women.

Last week the Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee imposed all-women selections in four target seats where the party had fielded BME men for the 2017 snap general election.

Sources have complained that the party has benefited from racially diverse candidates working the seat over many years to make them winnable only to dump them when Labour is on the verge of victory in those constituencies.

Grassroots activists are concerned that the Party’s desire to have a House of Commons that is 50% women could be at the expense of ethnic minority representation. Almost half of Labour’s top 76 target seats have been designated as all-women shortlists.

The new all-women selections are Putney where Neeraj Patil ran for Labour earlier this year, Harrow East (Navin Shah), Telford (Kuldip Sahota), and Chingford and Woodford Green (Bilal Mahmood).

As a matter of urgency the Labour must adopt an appeals panel when these seats are proposed so that the party can reflect upon the consequences both to the candidate ousted and the local community feeling.

There growing concern among some BME party activists that BME candidates, particularly Asian men, are being elbowed aside in favour of white women. Equally African and Caribbean men argue that for many years they have been at the bottom of the Labour pile when it comes to selection. ‘They want our vote, but don’t allow us to stand’.

Labour have run over 200 all-women shortlists from 1997 to 2015, resulting in 117 women elected to the Commons. Just seven (3%) have been BME women MPs.

In the last election the transformation of the Labour party has been put down in no small measure to the rise of the youth vote and the Black vote through efforts by Stormzy and other grime artists. The parties response seems to be, ‘get to the back of queue, it’s business as usual’.

Labour enjoyed a rise in the numbers of women MPs in this years’ election. Currently 45% of all Labour MPs are women. Operation Black Vote has long been a supporter of all-women shortlists, provided that they do not unfairly block BME talent while BME communities remain severely under-represented in parliament.

BME women MPs who were selected through all-women shortlists are Lisa Nandy, Valerie Vaz, Chi Onwurah, Tulip Siddiq, Dr Rupa Huq, Shabana Mahmood, and Thangam Debbonnaire. However they are just 3.3% of the 208 women who were selected by all-women shortlists between 1997, when it was first introduced, and 2015.

In addition to Harrow East, Chingford and Woodford Green, Telford and Putney, the NEC has designated other multicultural areas as all-women seats, including Reading West and Wimbledon. There is also speculation that Labour will impose all-women shortlists in seats in diverse Coventry and Derby in an effort to cull aging veterans.

One source who didn’t want to be named for fear of being blacklisted:

All-women shortlists are great in principle, but in every election we hardly see any women of colour come through. On top of that, it knocks out all the good ethnic minority men. It’s really unfair.

At the very moment when they’ve built up a real name for themselves locally, when they’ve really earned the right to run again, we get an all-women shortlist which in all probability will deliver a white woman. Labour need to seriously ask ourselves ‘how committed are we to ethnic diversity in parliament?’”

The four Asian male candidates all achieved significant swings towards Labour at the last election, taking seats that were previously out of reach to the verge of victory. Navin Shah in Harrow East came within 1,700 votes of winning, and Bilal Mahmood has chipped away at Conservative Iain Duncan-Smith’s previously rock-solid majority in Chingford and Woodford Green over several successive elections to take him just 2,400 votes away from the Commons.

Dr Neeraj Patil, an A&E consultant at a local NHS hospital, achieved a whopping 11% swing to Labour at the last election, putting him in touching distance of defeating senior Tory Justine Greening. Meanwhile Kuldip Sahota, in Telford, experienced a positive swing almost as large and was a whisker away from being elected, with just 722 votes in it.

These next few months will be a big test for the Labour party and particularly for the leader Jeremy Corbyn. The talk of a more equal and representative party and Government is great, but only if it’s backed up by action. Too often with the Labour party gender trumps race to the detriment of the party.

Simon Woolley