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BAME representation: “community leaders” or genuine advocates?

Linda_Bellos_Marc_Narendra_and_Munira_3Back in the 1980s, a new generation of radical black leaders like Bernie Grant and Sharon Atkin emerged in the Labour Party, determined not only to increase minority representation, but also to commit the Party to socialist policies. The struggle for Black Sections took place against the backdrop of uprisings within the inner cities in 1981 and 1985.

Thirty years on, although the representation of BAME communities has improved in parliament and on local councils, it continues to lag behind the proportions in the general population and among the Party’s membership, and the evidence of racial disadvantage is all around us, in employment, education and housing.

The mission statement of the national affiliate BAME Labour states that it “seeks to empower ethnic minority members within the Labour Party and campaigns for greater representation of ethnic minority communities in public life”. The reality is that BAME Labour represents only a small minority of BAME Party members and is a pale reflection of the struggles that distantly gave rise to it.

In the 2010 leadership election, BAME issued only 3,363 ballot papers. Only 392 were returned – a turnout of 11.7%. Of these 137 were spoilt, leaving 255 valid votes. Of these, 78% voted for David Miliband. BAME, in the words of one commentator, resembles “a federation of minor community bosses [rather] than a true membership organisation” and “a trade body for these local power brokers”.

Recent polling has shown that Labour is more than ever dependant on black, Asian and other minority voters, particularly in London and other large urban areas. Yet the Party, while cultivating conservative “community leaders” (for which read business people), has shown by its repeated interventions in selections that it distrusts local parties with high BAME memberships.

If progress is to be made in the representation of all significant minority groups (and not just the larger ones) and advocacy for their concerns, then it is not going to come primarily from BAME Labour. The last AGM of the BAME Labour branch in my constituency took place at 5pm at a business address, disenfranchising anyone with a job or with childcare responsibilities. We need a new generation much closer to the Party’s grassroots.

There is an avenue organising BAME members contained within Refounding Labour in the creation of the post of CLP BAME officer. The discussion document also claimed:

The Party will establish a working group to work with BAME Labour to develop a transition to a single level of local organisation rather than two (with regard to BAME Local Branches and Ethnic Minority Forums).”

Little has been heard of this, but the opportunity exists to breathe new life into a crucial section of the Party’s membership. We need to seize it.

Lizzy Ali is BAME officer of Leyton & Wanstead CLP

This article also appears in the latest issue of Campaign Briefing (No 78) published by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy


  1. John Reid says:

    The riots of Brixton Tottenham in 81 and 85 weren’t uprisings they were race riots , photographers, firemen ,innocent members of the public 4′ and a PC were killed,

    Also Bernie a grant had a 10% swing against him! when he first stood! Paul Boateng didn’t have a swing against him, when he first stood, the likes of Grant, and Sharon Atkins then saying labour lost in 87 as it wasn’t left wing enough, drove votes from labour by the million.

  2. Robert says:

    Lizzy spot on we do need more black especially women on the front benches of labour, we also need more Asian people actually showi8ng the way forward, looking at the men and women now on our front benches they are made up of middle class, upper middle class, most have no interest in what labour stood for in the past.

    One Nation white and Progress.

  3. John Reid says:

    Robert ,we need more working class mps like Tony Benn and ,micheal foot

    1. swatantra says:

      John if Benn and Foot were working class MPs then I’m a Dutchman. Both came from families steeped in elitism and the aristocracy; both had family history in politcs and the diplomatic service and some MPs aand HoL members. The 3 Foot brothers typical of the intelectual Tendancy of the Left that think its their right to assume the leadership of the Left because the plebs haven’t the skills to.
      Lets name all those MPs who have a history in Family Politics and nepotism.

  4. John Reid says:

    Agree witht you about nepotism,I was joking about class,

    I kept kidding Wil Straw and Kinnock junior, about Keir hardies great grandson is looking for a safe seat, and suggesting young labours Simon Darvill stand where his Dad was an MP 14 years ago, despite the Tories having a 15,000 majority! Lol.

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