Farron and Lamb: ‘I’ll be Race equality champion’


On a hot sticky evening at Draper House, South London the two men fighting it out for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party - Tim Farron and Norman Lamb - had their most difficult, yet most inspiring hustings event to date in front of a largely BME audience.

As the contenders slugged it out, their biggest challenge was not necessarily from each other, but rather from the audience and the issues that were raised around race inequality.

At the end of the two hour session a weary Norman Lamb told the audience that: ‘Without doubt this event, which has been one of many, has been the most challenging", but adding, "it also has been the most rewarding’.  Both men promised the packed room that they would be race equality champions, transforming their Party and spearheading greater race equality.

This was the first and probably the last meeting they faced that would address race inequality both internally and externally.  At times the questions where deeply uncomfortable, it was almost painful to watch the two men forced to confront what they hadn't done.  Questions such as : Why no BME senior staff?; Why is the party membership so white?; Why was controversial, Maajid Nawaz, and his organisation, Qulliam, given centre stage by the party?; How did they let Lib Dem Minister Lynn Featherstone, virtually dismantle the Equality and Human Rights commission?; Why has the party consistently ignored its BME members?

Through the prism of confronting race inequality the two men may have squirmed, but as the evening went on the questioning forced them to both to dig deep and perhaps find their soul and their fundamental beliefs about what they and their party stood for.

At one point Tim Farron gave an impassioned answer to a question about immigration, paraphrasing, he said: "It is deplorable how we demonise those seeking refuge from both political and or economic extremities.  They deserve better treatment, and we ought not to be hateful, but rather more compassionate about those fleeing desperate situations."

When Norman Lamb was quizzed about how he and the party would confront the unprogressive attitudes within some BME communities, he replied, “the same way we confront, ‘Stop and search’ aimed at Black youths, or the lack of BME staff within our own party: with core liberal values”.

Outlining what he meant, he explained: “For a party to bang on about equality and then to be the least diverse mainstream political party in the UK , is frankly illiberal.  It is also illiberal to discriminate against same sex couples who want to marry.”  Furthermore, he added, : And it is wrong and illiberal not to stand up to those issues of inequality towards women.”

On other areas the audience raised, both men agreed that in the short term, positive discrimination ought to be used to tackle the lack of BME Lib Dem councillors and MP’.

For both Tim Farron and Norman Lamb this was perhaps a watershed moment for them and their party.  They both conceded that if the party is to rise from the ashes from their 2015 dramatic General election defeat, then the principles of tackling race inequality would give them the framework to be truly inclusive, representative, and be a relevant political party to multicultural Britain.

Simon Woolley