In 1984, a relatively unknown Tottenham Councillor called Bernie Grant (RIP) took to the stage of the Labour Conference and gave the famous ‘we are here to stay’ speech (full video below). For many in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community, it was game-changing. Our Labour Party conference gave a space for BAME people to be able to express their concerns and explain how political policy impacted on their lives.
It was an uncomfortable speech where Bernie highlighted the poverty in developing world countries whilst Europe was wasting high levels of food, where Labour’s previous immigration policy included virginity testing of Asian women entering this country and where the treatment of BAME people in the party was discriminatory. But we as a party needed to hear it and with current day issues impacting upon BAME communities, we need to continue to hear it.
Without this type of insight into the communities we represent, our policy making process is weaker. It makes our party in the community weaker and with a fair proportion of seats dependent on the BAME vote, it makes our chances of winning weaker.
In order for Bernie to make that speech he needed to have attended conference, I have been attending Labour party conference for a few years, and the lack of BAME members attending has always surprised me. Without them, who will be making the case for what BAME voters want and need?
When I ran for CAC, I was clear I wanted to look at the attendance of BAME members at conference. My perception is that it was low, and the feedback I got from members (both BAME and non-BAME) demonstrated this was a shared concern.
The first step to knowing if you have a problem is to look at the evidence, in this case the ethnicity data of pass-holders, however it is not collected. Without this data, we cannot evidence there is a problem with representation of BAME Communities at conference, we cannot start looking for a solution to redress the balance and we cannot start to build policy to attract and maintain the BAME vote.
This is not solely a problem for National Conference, at my Regional Conference, Delia Mattis (Enfield Southgate) took to the stage highlighting serious concerns about deaths in police custody of predominately BAME people and the rise in imprisonment of Black young people. If she did not attend, who would have raised these concerns?
Since I have been elected on to the CAC, I have pursued the need for us to start collecting ethnic monitoring of all conference pass applications so we can seriously analyse where we stand. I have had the full support of Keith Vaz (BAME Labour Rep on the NEC) and Iain McNichol who both have really understood why this is important.
I am pleased to say in the February 2018 CAC meeting, Conference Service staff (Anna) presented their plans to implement the monitoring of ethnic data on conference pass applications (not exhibitors or staff) and the CAC unanimously agreed to go ahead.
This year, this will be a supplementary form that will be sent to applicants after they apply and in 2019 it will be integrated into the main application form.
This monitoring will be optional, but I urge all applicants to complete this form so we can get a better picture of who is attending conference, in what capacity (CLP delegate, Affiliate delegate or visitor) and if we need to improve, we can start to look at ways to redress the balance.