Tuesday 22 January 2013

Racial equality too dangerous to debate?

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?


  1. Thanks Simon for your blog on the Equality taskforce report and for publicising the joint EMLD SLF Conference next month.

    I must however point out that it was inaccurate to state that "Clegg has signaled that he is unhappy with the report and refused to add his name to it."

    The Recommendations in the report and more notably the wording of Nick's Foreword are presently being finalised and some of us from the task force are in fact meeting with his aides tomorrow.

    What is patently clear is that we as a Party need to work together to address issues of inequalities including that relating to race. DPM clearly understands and endorses that, and hopefully the FCC will too.

  2. As someone who was also present in our leaders House of Commons study discussing these very matters last week, I can corroborate Merlene's stance.

    It is perhaps beneficial to remember that the Race Equality Task Force was set up to specifically look at the state of race relations in the UK today, as it is very apparent that race issues have over the past years become a 'back-burner' issue in favour of society taking what some see as a more inclusive and holistic approach to equality and diversity, but to others are seen as a watering down of the agenda.

    As professionals and advocates in the equality and diversity arena, the Task Force membership realised that the topic area is vast, and as such it needed to be broken down into manageable sections, so it sets its sights initially on education and employment.

    On the issue of the apparent lack of diversity within the report, which is the stated concern of some, it is true to say that to a person, the Task Force members are all ultimately supportive of a more overarching approach. Sadly though, society has not quite got to grips with the specifics of inequality, and its causes. Hence many people and organisations see the holistic approach as taking away the emphasis on the explicit issues of intolerance and bigotry that exists on a daily basis for countless people within society.

    I would like to add (almost in conclusion) that those of us who listened to Nick Clegg's Scarman talk, and were fortunate enough to be present in last weeks meeting with him, where we were discussing the Task Force Report, remain convinced of his personal commitment to tackling inequality throughout society, in general, as well as racism explicitly, even if others do not.

    For those interested, I would suggest that they attend the conference on the 16th February, where we will be discussing these and other issues in a terribly inclusive manner.

  3. Simon

    The motion on race equality in education and employment was not rejected because it was “too dangerous”, but because there were flaws with the motion that meant it could not be selected. These included misrepresenting current party policy, being overly complicated for a debate without a paper that people could refer to (because changes were still being negotiated), a number of education points that were either inaccurate, or not clear. In addition, there were a number of additional points on the amendments to the Equality Act 2010, which weren’t relevant to the core theme of education and employment.

    As a member of FCC, I was asked to talk to a number of people including the Education PPC, Ministers and policy advisors. This is common practice: member of FCC are asked to take a section of the motions submitted and get a range of comments back to inform FCC’s debate. It is always made clear that these views are only informing FCC: it is up to FCC to make the final decision. Thus the comments I made were principally reporting back on their concerns. In the debate that followed, other members of FCC also expressed their concerns, and believe me, FCC does not kow tow to the Leader! The only reason Nick’s views were mentioned on this motion were because he had for some work on these issues last year from which this report and then motion had stemmed. One of Nick’s Senior Advisers was present at the meeting and raised no objection at all and has since confirmed he was entirely happy with what was said about Nick’s views - so any suggestion that Nick’s opinions were misrepresented in some way by a member of the committee is both insulting and misleading.

    I am delighted that the first Leadership Programme candidate selected (in OxWAb), Layla Moran, is an ethnic minority woman. I hope EMLD are equally delighted. We have many other excellent minority ethnic candidates in the Programme, who I believe will all make excellent MPs. Selecting them for winnable seats can only happen with the support of the wider membership, and I look forward to seeing many more selected, and most importantly, elected to parliament in 2015. The work of EMLD, LDDA, LGBT+ and WLD are important in making this happen.

    Sal Brinton


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