All-BAME shortlists are a terrible idea

They suggest the colour of one’s skin is more important than the content of one’s politics.

Kevin Yuill

Topics Politics UK

In a speech last week, Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer promised, if elected, to reform party culture, and make it ‘open, respectful, creative and engaging’.

Such vacuous phrases understandably sent many to sleep. But those who stayed awake might have spotted a rather worrying proposal buried amid the vacuity. Starmer wants Labour to be able to select prospective MPs from shortlists made up of only ethnic-minority candidates. This, he said, would make Labour ‘truly representative’. In addition, he suggested new bursaries for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, and a new ‘Labour Party College’ to equip them with a political education and to develop their campaigning and leadership skills.

In many ways, this was all an empty gesture. Starmer knows that the Equality Act would likely have to be changed in parliament in order to permit ethnic minority-only shortlists (although some argue that there could be a provision in the existing act for ethnic minority-only shortlists). And the Conservative government has already said in response to Starmer that it has no plans to introduce such legislation during this parliament.

But while it may be an empty gesture, it is still a telling gesture. It shows how Starmer conceives of representative democracy: not as a means of representing the needs and values of sections of society, but as a way of representing ethnic diversity. It is yet another example of the eclipse of ideas-led politics by identity politics. It suggests the colour of someone’s skin is more significant than what they think and believe.

It is a remarkable move from Starmer when you think about it. Starmer’s response to Labour’s battering at the last General Election is not to wonder whether it is representing voters’ needs or desires. Rather, it is to wonder if Labour is representing voters’ ethnicities.

Underpinning Starmer’s plan is the widespread belief that the idea of diversity is some sort of moral good, rather than a fact of life in modern society. Diversity, conceived as a moral good, becomes something to be promoted and championed – in this case, through ethnic-minority shortlists.

But it is not clear that the political promotion of diversity even helps those it is meant to help. One of the earliest examples of the political promotion of diversity was President Richard Nixon’s Revised Philadelphia Plan. This was originally a 1967 affirmative-action programme, revised in 1969 under Nixon, designed to force trade unions to hire a set number of non-whites on federal construction contracts. Nixon wasn’t really interested in addressing racial inequality, however. He was trying to provoke and demonise his political opponents in the Democratic Party and trade unions who resisted the Philadelphia Plan, and who called it a quota system. Although Nixon eventually publicly distanced himself from affirmative action, his administration oversaw the extension of the affirmative-action principle to the civil service, education and all companies who do business with the federal government.

Overall, there is little evidence to suggest affirmative-action measures have improved the lot of African-Americans. Take, for example, the black-equality index for economic achievement, which is a way of measuring the income of an average black family as a proportion of that of an average white family. In 1955, an average black family’s income amounted to just 58 per cent of an average white family’s income. One would expect, after several decades of affirmative-action programmes and diversity championing, that the index for economic achievement would have narrowed. But as a National Urban League Report revealed in 2018, the figure remains the same, at 58 per cent.

In the UK context, the promotion of diversity and, in Starmer’s case, party-political affirmative action, makes even less sense. What problem does Starmer think he is addressing? As one commentator points out, 20 per cent of Labour MPs are already from ethnic-minority backgrounds, compared to 12 per cent of the UK electorate. It is hard to see how ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the Labour parliamentary party.

But then, politicians like Starmer are not cleaving to diversity initiatives because they are effective – no study has yet been able to show in empirical terms the benefits of promoting diversity in politics, education or in the workplace. Rather, promoting diversity is all about optics. It is all about looking morally good.

This should not be a surprise. Pledging one’s commitment to promoting diversity has become a badge of honour for corporate managers and technocratic politicians. It is a sign that one is on the side of the angels – an indication that one’s position, as a senior manager, or as a leading political technocrat, is justified.

And make no mistake, Starmer is a technocrat. He represents the technocratic wing of a technocratic party. This flirting with ethnic-minority shortlists is a means to dress up his visionless politics in identitarian virtue. There are no big ideas here, just PR moves. The sooner we end his sort of technocratic approach to politics and kick out politicians like Starmer, the sooner we can actually grapple with the real problems facing Britain today.

Kevin Yuill teaches American studies at the University of Sunderland. His book, Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation, is published by Palgrave Macmillan. (Buy this book from Amazon (UK).)

Picture by: Getty.

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Paul Carlin

13th February 2020 at 5:15 pm

|I wish I knew what ‘technocrat’ means in this context. Is it ‘blindingly, stupidly anti-democratic’?

David Moore

13th February 2020 at 2:27 pm

Confusing what is the case with what ought to be the case is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. Someone as supposedly educated as Starmer should know this – yes?

Christopher Tyson

13th February 2020 at 1:17 pm

There is a cohort of black people (usually from North London) in the Labour Party whose true tribe is not ‘black’, but is ‘The Labour Party’, however they are not able to separate these allegiances. For them if you are black but not from North London and not a supporter of the Labour, you do not exist. BAME is a brand, BAME stands for all the non-white people in the world who have ever lived. These people claim to speak for BAME. BAME is their stage army, BAME as a material reality does not need to be addressed or consulted. When Jeremy Corbyn speaks for ‘black boys’ he does so with the confidence that he will be supported by his black coterie. Corbyn can speak out for black people who he feels are being unfairly treated by the Home Office. But why the need to escalate? Why personalise things to draw attention to the PM’s youthful indiscretions or worse his race and poshness. It is not a sin to be white and posh Corbyn is escalating the racial dimension, that may impress his black North London friends, but there are other black people who do not want to be drawn into a full blown race war or do not fantasize about the young black men of Britain taking to the streets (possibly led by Stormzy) to overthrow the posh white establishment, on the contrary, we will not fight for Corbyn and his black North London friends (Stormzy is a South Londoner, he needs to remember this). In any case Boris isn’t even that posh, the Johnson clan work for a living as far as I can see, they don’t own estates and such. I suspect that Johnson is no posher than Corbyn, but so what,
posh people are a mixed bag.

nick hunt

13th February 2020 at 12:06 pm

[BAME shortlists] “suggest the colour of one’s skin is more important than the content of one’s politics.” That’s another classic formulation from Spiked, almost up there with ‘wokeness is elitism masquerading as compassion’. Thank you

Ven Oods

13th February 2020 at 11:37 am

“Such vacuous phrases understandably sent many to sleep.”
Don’t knock it: much less addictive than prescribed sleeping pills.

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13th February 2020 at 11:34 am

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Mark Taylor

13th February 2020 at 11:19 am

He doesn’t mean any of it. A shameless vote grab from a targeted sector of society he is scared will wake up like the bricks in the red wall.

Genghis Kant

13th February 2020 at 11:04 am

So rather than getting a party full of white middle-class Oxbridge graduate careerist former party workers, there will be a party with a generous sprinkling of BAME middle-class Oxbridge graduate careerist former party workers instead.

True diversity, eh?

Jim Lawrie

13th February 2020 at 9:33 am

Shameless repost from yesterday’s “Purge of the Unwoke”;
“It would be best to scrap all special interest groups and just have one Party, where everyone is equal and no member is excluded from anything.”

Dominic Straiton

13th February 2020 at 9:01 am

Im old enough to remember “new” labours all womens short list that produced the “blair babes” . They were a joke, all hopeless and out of their depth.

Jim Lawrie

13th February 2020 at 9:28 am

All the women leadership candidates came form women only shortlists.

a watson

13th February 2020 at 9:32 am

“Hopeless and out of their depth” apt.

Ven Oods

13th February 2020 at 11:41 am

To be even-handed, most of the blokes don’t look like they could lace their own trainers.

Linda Payne

13th February 2020 at 8:24 am

Labour abandoned the white working class long ago in favour of just about anyone else, we have nobody representing our interests and if you are poor ill or disabled you are at the mercy of the system specifically designed to grind you down; just watch ITV’s programe on universal credit a woman of 62 is now doing three cleaning jobs, just imagine having a mental illness and being put through this system, it may be happening to ethnic minorites too but it is mainly white working class people who are victims of this

Philip Humphrey

13th February 2020 at 7:51 am

This is Labour’s problem. If they think that Starmer is going steady the ship after the disaster of the Corbyn era (in the same way that Kinnock lead them back from the disaster of the Foot leadership), they’re mistaken. Starmer is an extremist in his own way, a technocrat, anti-democrat and an identity politician and no way can he attract back the red (now blue) “wall” of working class votes. His hands were all over Labour’s disastrous second referendum policy, he’s a hardened remainer and wanted to overturn the brexit vote. It should be noted that Labour did significantly better in 2017 when they promised (however unconvincingly) to carry out brexit, than they did in 2019 when they effectively promised to scupper it.

pete Corless

13th February 2020 at 7:47 am

David Lammy being a beacon of the BAME. Had a white MP been as critical of non whites as has Lammy, the calls for his resignation and certainly a media sponsored witch hunt would ensue. I dont hear Clammy campaigning or raising the profile of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock – almost decapitated by a baying mob during the Tottenham riots, but then Keith wasnt the hue to receive the notoriety and support bestowed on “others” murdered in our (not mine) Capital City.

Echo Romulus

13th February 2020 at 9:43 am

David Lammy is fundamentally a black nationalist. I don’t recall having heard him speak about anything that doesn’t revolve around African or Caribbean minorities.

Michael Lynch

13th February 2020 at 7:11 am

Labour are only interested in the middle class elite of London and ethnic minorities. This is a small slice of the electorate and will it ensure their slow political death over the coming years.

Echo Romulus

13th February 2020 at 7:31 am

Or… they are playing the long game.

Philip Humphrey

13th February 2020 at 7:55 am

There is no long game in where they’re going. They’ll never win on mainly urban middle class votes. And the hope that the young will save them is also in vain. Young people may start out more pro Labour (especially after exposure to the education system) but they get more conservative as they get older, always have.

Ven Oods

13th February 2020 at 11:39 am

Let’s hope it’s the Long-Bailéy game. I’d love to see her chewing wasps at the Despatch Box.

nick hunt

13th February 2020 at 12:10 pm

Aren’t they also interested in defending Palestinians, Islamists and grooming gangs from evil white people?

John Lewis

13th February 2020 at 7:05 am

London will in all probability never elect another non-BAME mayor. Various permanently Labour constituencies in London and other cities are moving the same way with their MPs.

I would be interested to know the stats as to whether, compared to their percentage of the population, BAME’s are already over-represented among Labour MPs..

Ian Bradbury

13th February 2020 at 8:48 am

Non-white England and Wales 14%, non-white Labour MPs 20 %. Maybe all-white shortlists?

Ian Bradbury

13th February 2020 at 8:51 am

I wonder whether the issue in Starmer’s head is that the proportion of non-whites in London is much higher, and he only really sees London?

Jim Lawrie

13th February 2020 at 9:46 am

Keir Starmer, by Labour logic, really ought to recuse himself from the leadership on account of his ethnicity versus that of his constituency. Before he is asked to.
None of the BAME Labour MP’s have a chance of winning an election because they are hopeless. Imagine Abbott or Lammy as Prime Minister having to represent Britain on the international stage. As we say in Glasgow “whit a riddy” – meaning how red faced we would all be on their behalf. Ditto the female candidates.

nick hunt

13th February 2020 at 12:11 pm

Great statistic – So a reference here would be extra welcome…

Ian Bradbury

13th February 2020 at 2:58 pm

Figure from 2011 census, so probably different after next census. Interesting regional differences

Not that any of the candidates care about Scotland, but up here is about 5% non-white

Simon Giora

13th February 2020 at 11:32 am

In Parliament around 10% (65 MPs) are BAME out of 650. In the UK around 12% to 14% are BAME, so Parliament as a whole is nearly in line with the population. As pointed out by others, BAME are over represented amongst Labour MPs.

Echo Romulus

13th February 2020 at 6:33 am

Diversity basically means no whites.

a watson

13th February 2020 at 7:32 am

Particularly no white working class males – a recipe for disaster.

eli Bastenbury

13th February 2020 at 11:20 am

Give it 10 years and it’ll be hell.

nick hunt

13th February 2020 at 12:16 pm

Like ‘no British culture’ in multiculturalism. Or maybe like no indigenous peoples’ in European nations (minus reindeer herders). Or no diversity of opinion in diversity. Or no tolerance for conservatives and patriots in tolerance…

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