One of the most inspiring drivers of momentum behind the Labour Party has been the support of grassroots organisation and empowering of the party membership. In particular, changes to the candidate reselection process passed at Conference last September represent a significant rebalancing of power toward to the branches. That only a third of branches are now required to trigger reselection is an important step forward toward democratising the party.
But these strides have not gone far enough, and do not address a key issue of under-representation within our party. Labour is the unequivocal champion of equality and diversity. We owe some key 2017 victories to BAME votes: London seats such Croydon Central, Kensington and Battersea in London, as well as Peterborough, Reading East and Bedford. But positive action toward ensuring the selection of minority ethnic candidates is still lacking, especially in those constituencies with substantial BAME communities.
Our community in Vauxhall, which is over 50 per cent BAME, has for too long had an MP who is not representative of her constituency. Kate Hoey was installed by the NEC in 1989 above Martha Osamor – now a peer – who had the backing of her local party. Over the past 30 years we have seen Hoey consistently take lines that not only disregard party policy, but also the wishes of her constituency: most notably, of course, on Brexit. This selection cycle presents an unmissable opportunity to right this historic wrong, by allowing the Labour party and its members to select a candidate who can channel the values of the local community.
As our movement grows, it is vital we do all we can to support activists from our diverse base and propel them to the forefront of our movement. The introduction of BAME shortlists in constituencies such as Vauxhall would mark a substantial step toward achieving this. An MP which not only has the backing of the members but truly represents them is vital both to buttressing the democratic functioning of the party and to galvanising and uniting the base in these discordant times.
Back in 1994 I was proud to be part of the milestone election campaign in Central Lancashire where Mark Hendrick became the first British BAME MEP, taking the seat from the Tories, and was honoured to continue as his agent for a couple of years afterwards. Mark went on to be elected MP for Preston in 1999, and has served with distinction since. He was knighted lasted year for his parliamentary service.
Labour had an increase in BAME MP representation at the last the general election, but it’s still not high enough. We can’t stop now. When the time comes to dislodge what looks almost certain to be a Boris Johnson premiership, at a time when the electorate is growing weary of politics and elections, we will need to advance our most positive, persuasive and progressive vision. By supporting and selecting BAME candidates, we can demonstrate our party’s true strength and values, which lie in antithesis to all that Johnson stands for.
David Oxley is chair of the Larkhall branch of Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party