Today I spoke on and voted for the motion on “Racial Justice Can’t Wait” at the Liberal Democrats digital conference.
On moving the motion, Christine Jardine, the party spokesperson for women and equalities cited the death of George Floyd, the inequalities seen during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Windrush generation. It is clear that the numerous reports into race and racism have been about words and not action.
More than 50 years ago Britain’s first-ever race relations law, the Race Relations Act came into force in 1965.
Although it made it a civil offence it was not a criminal offence to refuse to serve a person or to intentionally delay serving or overcharging someone on the grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins in public places
I know because my dad as a young man working in the East End often waited for hours for a cup of tea or at the shop for groceries. And though the Act broke boundaries it did not tackle discrimination in housing and employment until 1968.
I know because when my dad tried to buy his first house in this country he was refused and had to take his white foreman to verify he really did have a job.
Decades later, it is true that the conversation on race is still nowhere near finished.
This year has shown that across the world people are taking a stand against racism, oppression, bias and white privilege in solidarity for truth and social justice.
Liberal Democrat Lord Alerdice’s 2018 report on Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats said that the party's membership and representation of the Liberal Democrats did not properly reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the UK.
He noted that this was a “substantial problem for a party which has committed itself to equality and diversity and the under-representation is so stark that it does not require a statistical study to demonstrate it.”
The 2019 Election Review Report showed that the Lib Dems only achieved 12 per cent of the national BAME vote.
The changing law to bring in all-BAME shortlists idea was passed by the Lib Dems Conference last year in our “Eradicating Race Equality” policy paper 2019. All-women and all-disabled short lists are accepted in our party and have given us MPs. It's an established principle in our party.
Liberal Democrat Campaign for Racial Equality Membership Secretary Chris Annous, himself of English, Ghanain and Lebanese heritage, proposed two crucial amendments that were resoundingly supported. The first saw the Liberal Democrats take the radical position of calling for arrests to be recorded by body-worn cameras, and a national framework to regulate their use, to prevent discriminatory uses of police force against ethnic minority communities.
The second amendment saw the Liberal Democrats community to fighting racial inequalities amongst all groups by reforming how ethnicity is counted in the Census and in monitoring surveys to include more groups, particularly those which are fast-growing such as those who are Latin American and of mixed heritage, rather than denying their identity by forcing them to select other.
As a child growing up in the late 70s and eighties I often found myself waiting in queues at ice-cream vans, shops, health centres, in the school dinner line for so long overlooked because I was a little brown girl.
Just like my father was overlooked as a brown man struggling to work, live and bring up his family in a country he called home. I can’t wait any longer and neither can my children.
I’m proud to say the “Racial Justice Can’t Wait” motion passed with a huge majority at conference.
As Liberal Democrat Equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said afterwards; “One thing is abundantly clear: we must do much more to eradicate systemic racism in our society and our institutions, from our criminal justice system to our schools and universities. Radical action is needed right now to bring about change and build a more inclusive country.”
People from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities in Britain are done waiting.
Connecting to people and communities is about building trust – and then hope for a fairer future.