Diversity of Ideas
Most of us agree that, the political leadership and representatives should equally and proportionately portray the community they lead. Unfortunately in many areas, not least Southwark, this is not the case. In Southwark there is about a 50% minority population, and yet only 2 of the top 14 politicians (13 Labour) are from a minority background. I don’t think it has to be this way – nor that we simply have to wait for progress to happen gradually. I suggest there are three things we can do to help us better live up to our ideals.
First, let’s look to the private sector for cues on the best HR practices. Simple changes to how job adverts are worded and where they are placed can make all the difference. Likewise, having internal networks for under-represented groups is common right across the corporate world. More generally, ensuring that the political arena is a place where employment conditions are what we feel they should be across the job market is vital – we must lead by example. For instance, it has been warned that the culture that caused the Rennard scandal is prevalent across Westminster. So we must redouble our efforts to drive sexual harassment out and ensure that complaints don’t just get shelved, as has been observed by Westminster women in the past.
Second, let’s try to phase out phrases like ‘BAME’ (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) – they oversimplify the internal diversity of the groups referred to (British Indians often prefer ‘Indian’ to ‘Asian’, for example) and even ‘ethnic minority’ is beginning to become an outmoded term in an age when self-identified white Britons only make up 45% of our capital city.
We need to develop a fresh and empowering new language. My own starter for ten is ‘talented minorities’, but there will be other suggestions, the key is to make it clear we see people’s potential and not just their differences.
Third, let’s defend and extend the kind of positive action which is already making a difference. All Women Shortlists transformed the face of parliament and remain as needed as ever. So exclusive candidate shortlists are still a very necessary corrective, but we should also be looking for increased investment in the positive efforts of organisations which are working to build a talent pipeline for politics.
These are just a few ideas, but what is clear is that truly looking like modern Britain will be vital if our pleas for equality in the private sector are to be credible. It’s time for politicians to practice what we preach.