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10 July 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 3:00pm

Now is the time for Labour to consider all-BAME shortlists

By Sonny Leong

In the 35 years that I have been an active member, I have seen the Labour Party come a long way.  We are now the largest party of its kind in Europe, with a diverse and vibrant membership drawn from across the country. And it gives me great pride to see how we have embraced each and every community that makes up modern Britain. 

No matter your ethnic background, no matter your sexual orientation, no matter your gender identity, Labour has opened its doors and sought to make the party a place that could be considered a political home.  

It has not always been easy, and there is still a great deal to be achieved. But the significant steps forward should be recognised and celebrated, if only to give us lessons for the future. Progress was not inevitable. It took hard work, organisation and dedication to transform the party in line with modern Britain.  

When Chinese for Labour was founded in 1999, our influence was limited, but we started from the first principle that we could achieve more through common endeavour than we could alone. Today, we have a thriving membership working together to make a difference across all parts of the labour movement. 

But like all ethnic minorities, we continue to face structural challenges. The Labour Party has still yet to be represented by a member of parliament from a Chinese background. And we are not alone. The 2017 Labour intake of MPs was the most diverse ever, but many large communities with deep roots in this country are yet to break the glass ceiling into our group in the House of Commons. Among them are Kurds, Poles, and many others.

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For all the gains that have been made, measures like all-women shortlists have still proven vital in overcoming the bottlenecks to progress in gender equality. And with an election on the horizon, now is the time to consider similar initiatives in favour of ethnic minorities. 

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In the face of Brexit and a Conservative Party embracing xenophobia more closely than ever, Labour has the chance to send a strong message: we will empower all communities to shape the future of this country. But this must be backed by actions, not just words.  

Constituency Labour Parties with significant ethnic minority populations must be given the choice of a candidate that reflects their diversity. Nor is it simply enough to confine this to target seats. To see real change, measures must also be taken in any open selections in Labour’s heartlands, where ethnic minorities are most likely to play a central role in local parties and electorates.

It is this spirit of empowerment that first attracted me and others to Labour. Let’s now take the opportunity to renew it for the next generation.   

Sonny Leong is the former chair of Chinese for Labour

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