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9 July 2019

Labour needs to select more BAME men to fight winnable seats

Only four per cent of London Labour MPs are men from ethnic minority backgrounds. Urgent action is required to increase their representation men in parliament, the devolved assemblies and local councils.

By Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold

As a black feminist, I have for decades been at the forefront of calling for all-women shortlists as a way of overcoming the structural barriers to equality throughout the Labour Party. They have undoubtedly been a resounding force for good and, although there is much work left to be done, women now make up 59 per cent of Labour MPs in London, something that would have, until recently, been unthinkable.

There is much to celebrate in this success story. But we cannot let progress in some areas overshadow continued limitations elsewhere. In London, a city with a BAME population of more than 40 per cent, only around 25 per cent of Labour MPs come from an ethnic minority background, a figure that is simply not good enough.

More strikingly, only four per cent of London Labour MPs are BAME men. This shockingly low proportion is a sign that we have failed to make our selection processes inclusive enough for all, while allowing some priorities to come at the cost of others.

The example of all women shortlists shows that, if put in place correctly, the right measures can have a powerful impact. This leaves no excuses, urgent action is required to address the low levels of BAME men in parliament, on city and regional assemblies and local councils.

These solutions do not need to be complicated. All Labour MPs have just declared whether they plan to put themselves forward at the next election. Having selected just six BAME candidates across 99 target seats, there is a real opportunity to ensure that priority is given to those from an ethnic-minority background in constituencies where a current Labour MP is stepping down.

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As a mentor to many BAME members, I know the depth of outstanding talent we have at our disposal in the party. At the very least, they deserve the chance to be presented to the members in an inclusive selection process.

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Nowhere is this more true than places like London, where it is vital that Labour reflects the diversity of those it represents. A continued failure to do so would not only be a gift to our political opponents, it risks jeopardising our tradition as a party that represents all. The time to act is now.

Jennette Arnold is the Labour AM for North East London and chair of the London Assembly