In the last few days, Andy Love has announced that after 18 years as an MP, he will not be standing again in Edmonton. It is a very diverse north London constituency with a majority of almost 10,000 or about 24%, with a wide range of ethnic minorities comprising 73% of the population. Labour has an opportunity to make sure its candidate reflects that diversity. If ever there was a time and place for an all-BAME shortlist, it is now in Edmonton.
London is the most multicultural city in Europe and on the whole, as was evident during the Olympics, it is more than comfortable with its diversity. Political parties, however, don’t see fit to respond to this comfort by ensuring that its political representatives reflect this diversity.
Take British Asians, for example — 18.4% of London’s population according to the 2011 Census (figures exclude “mixed race”) but Labour’s 38 London MPs include only four (Rushanara Ali, Sadiq Khan, Seema Malhotra and Virendra Sharma) or 10.5%. Tulip Siddiq will slightly increase that to 13.2% having been selected to replace Glenda Jackson. And even with Rupa Huq in Ealing Central & Acton and Uma Kamaran, British Asians are likely to stay under-represented, even in London.
But the representation of British Afro-Caribbeans in London is significantly worse — 13.3% of the population but Diane Abbott and David Lammy are just 5.3% of London MPs; and even with Dawn Butler in Brent, the proportion would be woefully inadequate.
It so happens that census figures show that 27% of Edmonton’s population are black, 13% of Asian backgrounds and 6% mixed race. On top of that there are large Cypriot communities. Ideally should have a black candidate, but the case for an all-BAME shortlist in this constituency is overwhelming. I’d hope that the constituency party would at least be sympathetic to the idea – not that the shortlist is in the hands of the CLP.
Coming so close to the election, the party’s national executive has given special powers over selections to a panel of its members, including the power to approve a shortlist. At a national level, Labour may be doing better than other parties but it still has only 16 MPs from a BAME background, which is 6% of the parliamentary party compared with 14% of the population. Only last month, detailed polling showed that Indian, Caribbean and African voters are abandoning Labour. Based on its desire to reflect the diversity of modern Britain and its responsibility to the people of Edmonton, the NEC’s panel should use those powers to make sure Labour fields a BAME candidate.
This is exactly what the Chair of BAME Labour, Kamaljeet Jandu, yesterday urged Edmonton constituency party and the national executive to do, in order “to address the chronic under-representation of Britain’s BAME communities in elected office.” It wouldn’t be the first time Labour’s executive had used its powers to pick an all-BAME shortlist. As BAME Labour point out, it did so for the selection of Brent South’s Parliamentary Candidate in 2005. There is also strong support for such a move from affiliated trade unions. And both Sadiq Khan and David Lammy ave recently come out in favour of all-BAME shortlists.
There are a number of well qualified BAME candidates considering putting themselves forward for the selection including longtime former councillor and Unite executive member, Kingsley Abrams, Labour party fundraiser and restaurateur of Kurdish extraction, Ibrahim Dogus who is behind the ‘British Kebab Awards’ and director of the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development, Labour national executive member, Kate Osamor, who lives in neighbouring Tottenham, Haringey councillor Joseph Ejiofor, to name but four.
Other names mentioned include London Assembly member and former Enfield councillor, Joanne McCartney, and ex-Hackney Councillor and Labour national executive member, Luke Akehurst, but now is surely a time when the importance of addressing the under-representation of Britain’s BAME communities should take priority over the carers of full-time politicians and lobbyists, however talented they may be.