Darcus Howe on why blacks don't get to be Labour MPs

It is not race, but lack of party loyalty that keeps blacks and Asians off Labour shortlists

Both Shahid Malik and Ashamed Shahzad, who are in line for selection as Labour candidates in the next election, have failed to make the shortlist to fight Brent East in north London. This former Labour stronghold, once held by Ken Livingstone, went to the Lib Dems in a recent by-election. Caribbean and Asian people have a significant presence.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, has written to Labour's chairman, Ian McCartney, pointing out the contradiction between Labour's failure to select either Malik or Shahzad and its policy of "promoting a more diverse mix of candidates at the next general election".

But I do not believe Labour is reneging on its promise to boost the numbers of black and Asian MPs. The difficulty for Malik and Shahzad is not colour. It is loyalty. They will not toe the party line. Both were virulently against the Iraq war. I hazard a guess that they could not be relied upon to support tuition fees, foundation hospitals and reactionary policies on immigration and asylum. Tony Blair's dwindling majorities on these issues have prompted his supporters to try to pack the party with pliable, reliable MPs. Unfortunately, these are in short supply in black and Asian working-class communities. We minorities are not warmongers, particularly against countries in the developing world. We are instinctively egalitarian on the tuition fees issue. Having carried the NHS on our backs over the past 40 years or so, we are suspicious of attempts to change it.

What kind of MP does Blair want from the black and Asian communities? I will tell you. The government is determined to free immigration and asylum processes from the scrutiny of the courts. A clause in the bill now going through parliament states that the courts will not be able to revise decisions to deport. There will be no right to judicial review.

Who did Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, drag out to defend this constitutional outrage? Why, none other than the black junior minister David Lammy, whose entire young life has been shaped in the sorrows and abuses of the migration experience. Lammy did the job required, not out of belief but out of pure ambition. Happily, there are not many of his ilk who are prepared to offer themselves for parliamentary candidacy.

No, Trevor, the problem is not race, but vulgar and unprincipled political loyalty.

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