Not exactly bursting at the seams with BAME-friendly policies. Photo:Getty
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How do the manifestos rate for ethnic minorities?

Labour do best, the Greens scrape a pass, the Liberals make the right noises and Ukip have nothing to say.

The age of the ethnic minority manifesto is upon us. Remarkable when you consider how far race equality has been marginalised as a subject over the past decade.

Last Tuesday saw Labour launch mini-manifesto for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities for the first time. A day later the Liberal Democrats launched another one, their first since 2005. The Greens are still cobbling theirs together.

Three BAME manifestos, what’s going on? Partly it’s a reaction to an Operation Black Vote study showing how powerful the ‘Black vote’ really is. It found that 168 marginal seats have majorities smaller than the local BAME population.

The Black vote isn’t a bloc vote but nevertheless ignoring issues more pertinently felt by communities of colour no longer makes electoral sense.

Another factor could be that ‘race equality politics’ may be about to make a comeback.

Not a return to the Black Sections of the 1980s but a recognition that a decade of lumping all equalities strands together – gender, age, sexuality, disabilities etc. – has singularly failed to make a dent on unequal racial outcomes for Britain’s black and Asian communities.

By some measurements, such as disproportionate African and Caribbean unemployment, the figures have gone backwards.

Labour made significant progress on tackling race inequality from 1997 to around 2005 before unpicking it claiming multiple identities – for example being Asian, disabled and a woman – rendered a ‘silo’ approach obsolete.

We now know that despite undeniable overlap in discrimination against different sections of society, a one-size-fits-all approach did not, and cannot, make headway in rolling back institutional racism.

Why? Because the dynamics of discrimination, the various layers of subtlety, and the frequent belief of individual victims with ‘multiple identities’ that they are suffering from one specific form of prejudice, demand flexibility between the silo and a more colour-blind ‘diversity’ approach.

Historically Labour’s greatest successes in tackling racial unfairness have come with specific strategies for tackling it. If you can’t see the target you can’t hit it.

Labour appear to have now accepted this. As shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan wrote in the New Statesman a year ago: “It will be impossible to make Britain a more equal country and close the gap between those at the top and the bottom of our society, without also tackling racial inequality.”

Labour’s race equality consultation last year, which shaped the newly-launched BAME manifesto, achieved considerable buy-in from a range of BAME organisations and experts, creating a sense of ownership of Labour’s race equality policies not seen for maybe 30 years.

So what’s in the manifesto then? Quite a lot, actually.

It starts with a recognition that race inequality extends over virtually every area of life, and must therefore involve a cross departmental strategy "to drive progress across government."

However this is subtly different from Khan’s original pledge to “put race equality at the heart of decision-making” and observers will be looking for a Labour government to produce real action not just civil service audits that sit on the shelf.

The BAME manifesto promises "more inclusive public services, with our Parliament, police and judiciary representative of the communities they serve” involving an inquiry to make the Bar and Bench more racially diverse, and a greater emphasis on police recruitment to reflect the community it serves.

Last month the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that BAME communities had suffered disproportionately under austerity cuts and that the Coalition had no plan to address this, a point Labour acknowledge needs to change.

Labour talks about tackling unequal health outcomes, the lack of BAME headteachers, a review into City boardroom diversity, strengthening the Equality and Human Rights Commission watchdog, and more.

Labour’s BAME manifesto is undeniably the most progressive document on race ever produced by a British political party.

Yet there is a disconnect between Labour’s main and BAME manifestos which may lead some to worry whether pledges absent from Labour’s main manifesto will be taken seriously in power. Time will tell.

The Conservative manifesto only covers diversity in police recruitment and a pledge to legislate to reform stop and search “if ratios do not improve.” The fact that David Cameron’s party see this as the only issue affecting Britain’s BAME communities is risible.

Despite Tory progress in selecting more BAME candidates for held and winnable seats, fast catching up with Labour, it appears that election strategists like Lynton Crosby have largely written off the BAME vote, a decision that could cost them dearly for many elections to come.

UKIP, unsurprisingly, have nothing in their manifesto that specifically speaks to unequal racial disadvantage, preferring instead to argue for French-style assimilation "into our majority culture."

The Scottish National Party manifesto is almost entirely absent of any reference to race equality, with just a short sentence about a race committee in parliament to advise the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The SNP talk about pay inequality, but only in relation to gender, and tackling inequality, but only for class.  The BAME population of Scotland may only be four percent but it is increasing rapidly. Nevertheless the whiteness of the SNP document shows they don’t understand the multicultural nature of many parts of England, or indeed Glasgow with its 12 per cent BAME population.

The Green Party manifesto takes a less panoramic view on race inequality than Labour. There are a series of vague statements about paying “special attention” to BAME mental health issues, setting targets for the participation of BAMEs, women and the disabled in sport, restricting the use of stop and search, and making all public bodies “reflective of society”.

All useful suggestions but there is little to suggest either a coherent Green vision or much in the way of mechanisms to achieve ideas that resemble notes from a brainstorming session rather than a serious programme. As a first attempt it gets a pass rather than a merit. We will have to see if their forthcoming BAME manifesto fills in these gaps.

The Lib Dems probably have the next best race equality programme behind Labour. Yet their pitch is tainted by five years in coalition during which Lib Dem ministers have fronted a string of negative policies from biting chunks out of the Equality Act and decimating the Equality and Human Rights watchdog to backing a vicious austerity squeeze which has disproportionately thrown BAME public sector workers on the scrapheap. Decisions hardly mitigated by policies to help the poorest, namely raising the income tax threshold and introducing the (non-ring fenced) pupil premium.

Nevertheless the Lib Dem BAME manifesto has some attractive and thought-out offers such as boosting the proportion of BAME apprentices, a pledge to “monitor and tackle the BAME pay gap”, a review of the causes of the overrepresentation of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system, and ‘name blank’ CVs in public sector job recruitment, a policy that was in their 2010 manifesto but not even rolled out properly in Whitehall never mind the outside world.

There were many other good race equality policies piloted through Lib Dem conference since 2010 but they were rejected for both the main and BAME manifestos. I know because I contributed to writing many of them in a special taskforce and an equalities working group.

Policies to tackle disproportionate school exclusions, Russell Group university intake, and a procurement policy for companies delivering services to the public sector, all hit the cutting room floor, and with it the Lib Dems’ chance to at least match Labour.

Exclusion of these policies and lack of consultation with their own BAME members meant the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat group has refused to endorse it, and some members are privately scathing of their party’s efforts. Yet more proof that Lib Dems just can’t get it right on race.

In addition to the offers from other parties, anti-racist groups are also making their demands. Operation Black Vote have produced a good set of proposals looking specifically at making democracy more representative, and this Thursday the Coalition of Race Equality Organisations launch their 28-page manifesto covering the NHS, tackling housing discrimination and more.

This detailed document, plus good ideas from other progressive parties, shows that there is no monopoly on race equality policies just as there is no monopoly on the ‘Black vote’.

While Labour are to be commended on their excellent effort, in government they will need a collaborative approach, utilising all talent and expertise from the grassroots and across the progressive spectrum, if the vision of a racially-equal society is to be realised.

Lester Holloway is a communications executive and former Editor of the New Nation newspaper and New Media Manager at Operation Black Vote. He presents a show on BEN Television (Sky 182) and is a former Labour and Liberal Democrat councillor. He tweets at @brolezholloway.

Lester Holloway is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Sutton and an executive member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats. He tweets @brolezholloway

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.