BAME Labour stands accused?


As a previously excluded, and now returning member of the Labour Party and a member of the independent Momentum Black Caucus (MBC) I recently attempted to join BAME Labour, in the hope that I could use my modest political and policy experience, to become involved in helping to think about and developing specific race equality and social justice policies within the Labour party.

But before I proceed further, let me give you a little by way of context and background.

On June 30th in Leeds, BAME Labour will convene to look at new constitutional arrangements for the organisation, and to address the development of race equality policy within the party.

It’s absolutely vital that black members of the Labour Party attend this event in huge numbers. If you don't know who the BAME Labour leadership is, I have added the entire executives pictures to this article.

Momentum Black Caucus is calling upon the entire black Labour movement to attend and grasp this opportunity to address fundamental failings within the Labour Party and the wider Labour and trade union movement.

I'd be more precise dear reader, but at the time of writing this article, the BAME Labour website hadn't been updated in over a year, so some of the exec as featured here may no longer be on the executive, who knows ? Not I.

We at MBC also note that conference bookings for the forthcoming Leeds event appear to be closed, however with just days to go to the event, it is vital, given the issues discussed here, that the booking deadline is extended and if necessary, a bigger venue is found to accommodate all those who wish to attend.

Back to the matter at hand. My own political assessment of Labour's current policy response to racism, is informed by 40 years of experience. In short, I have come to the conclusion, that both the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement have, by and large, fundamentally failed to fully recognise or identify policy solutions, capable of tackling the breadth, depth and extent of racism and discrimination, both within their own ranks, and wider society.

In addition there is the continued failure of black leadership from senior figures within the party. There are some notable exceptions. The work of Diane Abbott MP on black children and education has been exemplary. More latterly, the work of backbench MP David Lammy on issues of Grenfell and Windrush also comes to mind. Think about it for a hot second, can you name me any other Black MP that provides a high profile lead on an area of concern to black communities, or is a recognised advocate for some other issue of national concern? 

One would have thought that BAME Labour should have been leading internal debates seeking to ensure that the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement were both representative and politically inclusive. There is no unity amongst senior black figures in the party and no shared consensus or coherent view on tackling institutionalised racism.

As for BAME Labour, other than an occasional tweet from their moribund and desolate social media account, they’ve remained conspicuous by their absence in this most important debate.

Other than the annual Trades Union Congress Black Workers Conference, where black trade union activists repeatedly pass excellent motions, most of which are largely ignored by the TUC and individual trade unions, there is little evidence of the development of a substantive and coherent policy agenda, capable of delivering race equality in 50 life lifetimes, much a less a single parliamentary term.

A recent explosive survey conducted by Momentum of almost 1000 black and minority Labour members brutally exposes, the ineptitude, lack of leadership and political bankruptcy of the current BAME Labour leadership. The results are absolutely devastating for Labour;

• 40% of the respondents had never even heard of the BAME Labour, only 13% said they were members, and 19% said they didn’t know if they are members or not. Only 6% stated they received ballot papers in last Summer’s BAME election, demonstrating widespread confusion over and lack of clarity over people’s membership of the organisation eligibility to vote in elections.

• 55% stated they have no knowledge whatsoever of the organisation, and 33% said they had very little knowledge, suggesting BAME Labour isn’t a meaningful organisation for the BAME members.

• When asked if they have an ethnic minority forum in their CLP, 59% of respondents stated they were unaware, 34% said there isn’t one, and 6% said they have one.

• With regards to BAME members’ representation on the National Executive Committee(NEC) 78% of respondents said the positions should be elected by One Member One Vote of BAME members (in contrast to the current elections which are restricted to the tiny number of people who are BAME Labour members), and only 6% opposed this.

The report then goes on to conclude:

The survey indicates that most members believe Labour has a long way to go in terms of its treatment of BAME members and supporters. BAME Labour has been allowed to stagnate, characterised by poor administration, opaque structures and procedures, an absence of engagement, and a lack of autonomy, contributing to an atrophy of membership from the low figure of 3363 members in 2010 to just 731 in 2017."

This report goes on to say;

This has compounded historical trends of disempowerment of BAME Labour members and supporters, caused by the party’s tendency to engage them through tokenism and clientelism."

Whilst support for the party amongst BAME communities has recovered thanks to support for the 2017 party manifesto and leadership, serious structural changes to BAME Labour are required if the party is to empower Britain’s BAME communities. Momentum is circulating proposals to this effect for BAME members and supporters to submit into the Democracy Review. "

Such a devastating critique should lead to automatic resignations from those who presided over, what I consider the most profound failure of black political leadership I've seen in a generation.

Over the last ten years, we’ve seen the consequences of this devastating failure has led to a leadership and policy vacuum, which has been filled largely by white senior Labour and Trade Union figures, struggling and failing to construct a coherent policy agenda on race inequality. BAME Labour has become redundant and needs fresh, accountable, ethical leadership.

As a result of these failures, we have party that is ambivalent about the reality of institutional racism, a party that has played footsie with xenophobia in relation to immigration policy, and adopted ad hoc, tokenistic and weak policy agenda’s, that failed to reflect with the lived day to day, Black experience of racial discrimination and structural inequality.

During the last decade I’ve have the proud honour of being found co chair of Black Activists Rising Against The Cuts (BARAC) black community/trade union campaigning group, founded in 2010 to highlight the disastrous impact of austerity on already disadvantaged, black and ethnic minority communities.

Other than support from the progressive PCS Union, whose track record on tackling racism should be an exemplar for the entire trade union movement, we received no support from any other trade union.

The reality is, the level of racism, ignorance and misunderstanding amongst trade unionists about the realities of racism in the workplace and the complexities of the law protecting the workers from discrimination, remains both deep and profound. Contrast their failure in this area with the success of gender equality.

Over the last 30 years, and in particular the last decade, I have personally met and represented thousands of black and ethnic minority trade unionists, who when appealing for solidarity and support in challenging racism in the workplace, have found themselves abandoned by their trade union.

On far too many occasions, I've seen "white privilege" shared amongst trade union representatives, white employers and senior managers. By that I mean trade unionists who've actively colluded with management racism in targeting black workers. Many would say that's impossible, however mine and the experience of thousands of other Black trade Unionists, tells me that institutional and cultural racism remains rife within the trade union movement and the Labour Party itself.

In some instances, trade unions themselves have been guilty of racism towards their own employees. And in Labour councils I've seen austerity eagerly pursued with such viciousness, that it's implementation has resulted in disproportionate numbers of black and minority workers, facing compulsory redundancies, disproportionate grievance and disciplinary investigations and sackings, without a word from the responsible local Labour leadership.

Back then in 2010/11 we called upon Trade Unions to challenge the Tory budgets in the courts, about their obvious failure to conduct proper equality assessments, as required under the Equalities Act 2010 and launch a series of judicial reviews, challenging the government's assertion that there was no identified disproportionate impacts on black communities.

Nothing was done and as anticipated racial inequality and workplace racism has massively increased and widened as a result. Back in the real world meanwhile, racial inequality, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in their report published in 2017 is currently at it's highest level ever.

In addition, the result of the Brexit referendum has unleashed an appalling wave of racism and we've seen hate crimes rise incredibly, as a result.

The ongoing mass criminalisation of black communities, in terms of policing and criminal justice is at at its highest level since the late 70’s and early eighties.

David Lammy MP ‘s recent excellent report on racism and criminal justice, and the government's own biannual, Race and the Criminal Justice System reports, brutally highlight an apartheid like criminal justice system, that ruthlessly targets black people with a routine culture of disbelief, targeted racial profiling by the police and disproportionate criminal justice sanctions by the courts, that conspire to further oppress British black communities, with a ruthless efficiency.

The current Windrush scandal has its historic roots in the Labour Party's approach to immigration during it's 13 years in power.

The brutal truth is, that it was New Labour that first introduced the idea of a hostile climate for migrants. The Tories just took it to its logical conclusion, the illegal repatriation of black British citizens to former Commonwealth countries.

Any political audit of the decisions that led to Windrush generation being unable to legally challenge immigration decisions in the UK, will demonstrate the real extent to which senior Labour figures, led the Tories down the path of xenophobic racism and injustice in relation to British immigration policy.

And, as bad as that is, and let's face it, it's utterly appalling, the British Labour movement’s complicity with racism goes much deeper than that.

The esteemed Runnymede Trust regularly produces, periodic reports on racial inequality in London. They’ve identified a number of London Labour local councils as being responsible for some of the highest levels of racial inequality found anywhere in the United Kingdom. The response from the Labour Party ? Total and utter silence.

And as Co Chair of BARAC I’ve witnessed Labour and the Trade Union movement continually failing to connect with young British black communities. Their preferred preference has been to largely focus on the occasional rise of organised fascism, at the expense of industrialised nature of every day, insidious and much more common, institutionalised and systemic racism.

Labour councils have the highest rate of race employment tribunal convictions than any other party in the UK. That is a damning indictment on Labour's commitment to race equality.

So, being aware of the calamitous failure on race equality issues within Labour and wanting to ensure that Labour corrected this political failure, and developed the best possible policy articulation on race equality, I paid my £5 pounds and sat back expecting an email to acknowledge and confirm my membership of BAME Labour.

As the days, turned into weeks, I was left in a state of puzzlement as to why I've not received not any acknowledgement of my membership, information about the organisation. Too date I haven't received a damn thing and I'm not alone, apparently, lots of other potential member have suffered exactly the same experience.

I've subsequently chased up the organisation via email and DM, I had zero response. This apparent chaos of the organisation is left bare for all to see. The truth of it is BAME Labour has become a shell organization, with no real functioning leadership, operating administration or policy back-end.

And lets be clear here, had this been a white organisation we would have called them out a long time ago. My own view is having just been re-admitted to the party, and set against the context of ever worsening racism, BAME Labour leadership and some senior MPs must now be held to keen account for this disastrous and calamitous state of affairs.

The organisation is shambolic, ineffective, lacking in accountability, whilst failing in relation to ethical leadership or to address worsening racism or the critical reduction in the number of African and Caribbean members who are selected or elected as officials or representatives of the party.

If even basic administrative functions are incapable of being delivered by BAME Labour, then I think we can be clear, that the organisation as it currently stands, is not fit for purpose.

Other than the occasional tweet, here and there, I've seen nothing from the organisation that addresses the huge and growing crisis of racial inequality and injustice facing our communities.

A recent explosive survey of Black, Asian and ethnic minority Labour Party members conducted by Momentum found an appalling state of affairs.

They asked nearly 1000 members what was their personal experience of BAME Labour, The results constitute a devastating indictment of past and current leadership. Here are the results of that survey;

• 40% of the respondents had never even heard of the BAME Labour, only 13% said they were members, and 19% said they didn’t know if they are members or not.

• Only 6% stated they received ballot papers in last Summer’s BAME election, demonstrating widespread confusion over and lack of clarity over people’s membership of the organisation eligibility to vote in election.

• 55% stated they have no knowledge whatsoever of the organisation, and 33% said they had very little knowledge, suggesting BAME Labour isn’t a meaningful organisation for the BAME members.

• When asked if they have an ethnic minority forum in their CLP, 59% of respondents stated they were unaware, 34% said there isn’t one, and 6% said they have one.

• With regards to BAME members’ representation on the National Executive Committee (NEC) 78% of respondents said the positions should be elected by One Member One Vote of BAME members (in contrast to the current elections which are restricted to the tiny number of people who are BAME Labour members), and only 6% opposed this.

The survey also found that in 2010, BAME Labour had 3,363 members,at a time when the entire Labour Party membership stood at less than 200,000.

Today, Party membership has exploded to well over half a million, yet active members who are eligible to participate in BAME Labour’s structures and processes has fallen to an appalling 731. Such a devastating critique from Labour members requires, no demands. radical and wholesale change.

Such political failure and acquiescence in the face of the most intense period of racism, we’ve ever see in the United Kingdom, constitutes appalling leadership, worse administration, and illustrates the huge policy vacuum, that occupies the place, where a civil rights agenda for justice and radical race equality policy should exist.

The organisation is weak, ineffective and moribund, and has no real public profile, and as demonstrated by this survey, fails to have any real connect with black communities. This is incredible at a time when the suffering, the severe excesses of austerity economics and increased racism, has massively amplified discrimination and racial inequality right across the board.

Things are about to change however, with the Labour Party announcing a Democracy Review that will allow a new constitutional arrangements and accountabilities, for liberation groups within the party.

After an indeterminate number of local consultations, which we can assume, in any event would be very unrepresentative, given the results of the Momentum survey (would be interested to know how many took place, the total number of attendance by BAME Labour members and the number of submissions made) it is vital that any new constitutional proposals are properly debated, subject two amendments and enjoy the widest possible support of BAME Labour members.

Whatever the results concluded by the existing review panel established to sift and evaluate responses to the consultation, it is abundantly clear that these proposals do not enjoy a credible mandate of labour's black membership.

What is absolutely clear however, is that such proposals have no legitimacy nor mandate. It is to be remembered, that as the Momentum survey demonstrated, the majority of Black Labour members have not even heard of BAME Labour.

Nonetheless the current leadership of BAME Labour now wishes to summarise, what I suspect to be incredibly small number of submissions made to the Labour Party’s Internal Democracy Review in an effort to retain its control over our liberation struggle.

A small BAME Labour review panel (be interesting to know who is on the panel) was established to look at the submissions and thepanel will be conducting a follow up national consultation meeting to be chaired byDiane Abbott, MP

This is an incredibly important meeting that will determine the constitutional accountability of our movement for the foreseeable future.

And there are issues, in addition to embedding constitutional accountability, that BAME Labour should be addressing, in addition to the issues raised above, for there are important discussions to be had for example in regards to;

• Declining African and Caribbean youth membership.

• Falling numbers of African and Caribbean elected local councillors right across the country.

• The failure to recognise the massive growth in recorded rates of racial inequality that have been amplified through the lens of severe austerity.

• Labour councils record on facilitating gentrification in black and ethnic minority areas.

• Labour Party's policy on immigration and its historic record in government, in ramping up rhetoric and draconian immigration policy. Windrush.

• Black and ethnic minority unemployment, and particularly black youth unemployment being the highest of any ethnic group in Europe.

• Rising poverty alongside rising rates of serious violence plaguing our communities.

• BAME Labour failure to build a mass movement, the failure to recruit and promote new leadership, the failure to have a coherent policy response capable of meeting the challenge of rising racism in 21st-century Britain.

• Addressing the on going criminalization of black youth.

These are some of the issues that spring to my mind in need urgent attention, Im sure there will be many other concerns expressed. All will need to be heard if the Labour Party is to become truly inclusive of particularly, young black Britons.

That's why this national consultation is so important. Decisions arising from the event will be presented to the July 2018 Labour Party NEC meeting, and in turn, inform rule changes in this area at the Labour Party’s Annual Conference, Liverpool, 2018.

However, we are concerned that there must be ability for the conference to express its view and make necessary amendments to suggested motions from the review panel. Given the lack of legitimacy and mandate, conference must be able to make motions and amendments from the floor of the conference.

Momentum Black Caucuswill be meeting shorty to ensure the Leeds conference offers real opportunity for real democratic debate and ensure that BAME members are allowed to make amendments to any recommendations or options the panel choose to make.

We encourage all black members to attend this important consultation and support MCB in demanding greater accountability from the national executive of BAME Labour.

Please do share this article and encourage others to come along. I will be in attendance I hope you will join us.

Lee Jasper
MBC Executive.