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26 July 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 3:37pm

Parliament must better reflect the country it represents

By Seema Malhotra

The 2017 election saw more women and BAME MPs elected than ever before. 52 BAME MPs were elected – an increase of 10 from 2015 – representing eight per cent of all Parliamentarians. But that wasn’t equally spread between parties. After the 2017 election, BAME MPs made up six per cent of Conservative MPs, 12 per cent of Labour MPs and eight per cent of Lib Dem MPs. With Labour they were more likely to be in winnable seats.   

I am proud that the UK has made strides toward achieving a more representative Parliament. We know the arguments for better representation are very well known. A more diverse politics makes for more informed debate and better decision making. Yet despite the increase, his progress is insufficient and every party needs to be looking at how to increase the number of candidates from under-represented groups – and support their election.  That means seeing more BAME candidates up for election in winnable seats. 

Low representation sends a poor message from the mother of all Parliaments about a healthy and engaged democracy. Even more troubling, it can lead to policymaking that does not take on board diversity and sometimes effectiveness of reach of policy. The best policy comes from understanding culture, history, experience, and identity of all our citizens.

But it isn’t just about diversity in the Chamber. Its also how to make sure we have representation in all areas of our work as Parliamentarians too. Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP was recently elected as the first BAME UK MP to sit on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I am proud to have sat on the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Equality and Diversity to look at how we increase diversity in senior positions in the House of Commons. But I was struck recently by a picture of Trump’s recent visit to the UK. His team on one side of the table with two BAME team members sat opposite an all-white UK team. We should be leading the way in being diverse and being seen to be more diverse. Representation is not about positions, its about what can be done in those positions and how we can connect with a wider range of communities.

The onus is on all political parties. To renew training and reach of information so that new applicants can come forward on merit and not be beaten through complex process. To set internal targets for under-represented groups in winnable seats, and to measure their own performance on contributing to a diverse Parliament.

And when candidates are selected from under-represented groups or with fewer networks in politics, we need to ensure their campaigns are well supported and well funded.  And we should learn the lessons from feedback from candidates in previous elections – and more actively pair and support candidates who very quickly need to step into leadership positions leading their own campaigns.

I am proud that it has been Labour leading the way on diversity – whether through our legislative work such as the Race Relations Act or Equality Act, or our representation in Parliament – 32 of the 52 BAME MPs in the Commons are Labour. But we need to go further and in doing so, ensure our party, our parliamentary Labour party and our Parliament better represents our nation.

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