The Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has decided to reject a motion on racial equality for debate at the party’s spring conference.
This is not just any old motion, but a motion from the party’s Racial Equality Task Force, which was set up about a year ago by Nick Clegg in response to concerns that not enough was being done on race equality. The Task Force is chaired by Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, who was asked to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.
The Task Force took evidence from educationalists and other experts, and produced a 20,000-word report containing many recommendations. However, the report is critical of coalition government policy, pointing out in particular that the government has no coherent strategy, and that its Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will weaken existing legislation and neuter the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Clegg has signalled that he is unhappy with the report and refused to add his name to it. That’s his privilege, but what is not right is that the FCC should kowtow and block debate of the report. The government and the party are not the same thing, and the conference should be able to hold debates without fear of upsetting the Conservatives.
In the meantime, there is one place where a debate will still be held. The Social Liberal Forum and Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats will jointly host a one-day conference on race equality in London on Saturday 16 February. There are more details on the SLF website and you can register here.
POSTSCRIPT: More news of the FCC’s decision not to accept the Racial Equality Task Force’s motion for debate at party conference. It turns out that opposition to the motion was led by Baroness Sal Brinton, who convinced the FCC that the party leader disapproved of the Task Force report. The FCC meeting was poorly attended because of the bad weather, and members unable to attend included those in a position to refute Brinton’s claims.
Nick Clegg is actually generally supportive of the Task Force and its report. There will be a meeting this Wednesday evening between leading members of the Task Force and some of Clegg’s staff, at which a few amendments to the report will be agreed, but none of these changes will be significant.
An appeal against the FCC decision is likely to be lodged, but its chances of success are currently unclear. If there is no debate at spring conference, the Task Force report will be left in limbo.
Meanwhile, Brinton’s hostility to the Task Force defies logic. It seems to date back to a dispute a year ago between Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) and those involved in the ‘Leadership Programme’ (an initiative ostensibly intended to support parliamentary candidates from under-represented groups but which actually seems to benefit mainly white middle-class women). Brinton is heavily involved in both the Leadership Programme and the Diversity Engagement Group based at party HQ. Perhaps she sees the Task Force as a threat to this fiefdom?