At Conference last weekend, my maiden speech as Vice President was in support of a Motion on a race equality policy paper: Eradicating Race Inequality produced by Merlene Emerson, Baroness Hussein-Ece and the Race Equality – Policy Working Group.
I talked about my experience, as a young barrister, of seeking to comfort a Caribbean grandma who couldn’t bear to watch her young, black grandson being sentenced for possession of a knife.
A knife he’d felt forced to carry to protect himself from gangs.
I assured her then that her grandson would be treated fairly, but had no idea that my words were as hollow then as they would be if I said them now, some twenty years later.
The statistics are shocking:
- BaME people are the most likely in our society to become a victim of crime or to fear becoming a victim* (leading to disproportionate numbers of BaME people feeling forced to carry a knife for protection)
- rates of prosecution and sentencing for black people are three times higher than for white people **
It is clear that our criminal justice system, like politics, is broken.
I am glad that the Motion was passed and that there was such overwhelming support for it. It provides an excellent blueprint for our policy work in this area going forward.
Registered supporters’ scheme
I later had the chance to speak in support of a registered supporters’ scheme.
I acknowledge that there were many aspects of the Motion that were controversial and I will leave it to those better qualified to address those particular points.
My viewpoint was in relation to attracting more BaME voters, members and candidates to our Party.
I spoke about a research article published in the Western European Politics Journal, which sets out factors that clearly distinguish members from supporters (expressed in my own words):
- Being male, better educated and coming from higher up the social hierarchy
- Having a sense that their voice should and will be heard
- Not being overly deterred by the time commitment of being a member.
Applied to BaME communities, these factors would go some way to explaining why there is less political engagement than we would like from BaME communities within politics as a whole and, by corollary, within our Party.
I believe that a registered supporter’s scheme, with palpable benefits to being a supporter – balanced with the checks necessary to prevent abuse of any such scheme – is a key way to grow our BaME representation across the board.
I support the broader argument that becoming a supporter can be a ‘soft way’ for someone to get involved with a political Party. Opening the doors to BaME supporters would naturally increase our vote share, membership and candidate representation from BaME communities. Hence I am pleased that we will be establishing a registered supporter’s scheme.
Diversity – the way it should be
My final speaking contribution at Conference was at the LDCRE fringe event on diversity. I was seated next to Dr Mohsin Khan, the Vice Chair of LDCRE, who happens to be a forensic psychiatrist. Whilst listening intently to what he was saying, I was also wondering whether he was simultaneously reading my body language and pondered whether I was sending good or bad signals to him by the way I was sitting, blinking or tilting my head.
Aside from those random musings, I was fascinated to hear his persuasive arguments setting out the background for a potential campaign in relation to airport security checks. He explained that statistics show that security checks are being disproportionately imposed upon members of BaME communities, thereby leading to disproportionate financial and other (unrecoverable) losses being incurred by BaME travellers. Knowing of a family that was kept in a holding pen at a UK airport on suspicion of trafficking their own children, I am grateful, on behalf of all of us, that Mohsin was able to extrapolate the figures to demonstrate why the wrong that felt wrong is actually wrong.
I’m impressed by this and other creative and unusual angles being taken by the LDCRE in relation to potential campaigns. Their approach reflects my belief that, before we can share our politics with BaME voters, we need to show that we are relevant to them. And campaigns like these are one such way we can do this.
In a forthcoming blog, I will tell you more about myself and my plans for my Vice Presidency over the next few years. In the meantime, thank you for contacting me with ideas and offers of support – please keep them coming.
* Isabelle Parasram is the Vice President BAME of the Liberal Democrats