It was Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who said, "Determine that the thing can and shall be done and then we shall find the way."
That describes, somewhat, where the Chair of The English Party (EP), Tahir Maher, and I are at in relation to co-ordinating my efforts, as Party Vice President, with the EP in working with BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities.
I was elected as Vice President by the Federal Board in March 2019 and Tahir was one of the first people to approach me regarding working together. My role is a new one and, as such, has no ‘script’. So, I have had the pleasure – and the challenge – of determining both what needs to be done and how to achieve that.
In my election manifesto, I had three goals: Unification, Representation and Outreach, which are explained in more detail here: https://www.libdems.org.uk/vice-president
Based on our discussions over the past few months and, having taken a detailed look at the overall EP programme for 2019 and the EP Vision Statement, I have distilled Tahir’s means for promoting BAME membership, support and inclusion as follows:
- Creating smooth communications and joint working on BAME matters with the Regional Parties (RPs), Local Parties (LPs), The Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality (LDCRE), The Racial Diversity Campaign (RDC), and with me via the EP Diversity Officer;
- Facilitating and promoting the work that the LDCRE, the RDC and I are doing using the EP structures, such as the English Executive, RPs and LPs;
- Working with the membership department, LPs and other parts of the Party involved in recruitment to agree a BAME recruitment programme;
- Creating messaging geared towards different minority groups;
- Reviewing the possibility of developing an internal document on culture for members.
One of the phrases that both of us have used in our discussions is ‘creating realistic opportunities’.
This differs from being realistic about what we can achieve – if we were realistic, we might be confined by past barriers and out of date ways of doing things. What we want to provide BAME people with are opportunities with our Party that are within their grasp. And those opportunities can be created in a number of ways.
For example, when I attend high profile events, wherever possible I also invite BAME members and supporters to attend with me. One such event was the launch of the Commonwealth 8.7 Network at the Australian High Commission.
Through the Commonwealth 8.7 Network, over 60 civil society organisations will work together to push for greater action across the Commonwealth in eradicating modern slavery and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.7.
At my invitation, Michael Bukola, one of our London Assembly candidates, and Dr Victoria Shownmi, an academic specialising in race relations who has been supportive of the work that I am doing, both attended with me.
Not only did they support me that evening, but they built connections and represented the Liberal Democrat brand in a way that I could not achieve on my own.
In terms of community outreach, I met the outgoing Cypriot High Commissioner at an event hosted by the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK. Stemming from the discussions I had that evening, I will be arranging an event that will build further links between the Cypriot community and our Party. Recognising the unique needs of our fellow EU citizens and seeking to meet those needs through political policy is part of my broader goal of ensuring that our Party adequately reflects the communities we serve.
I am working with the LDCRE and the RDC to co-ordinate our efforts – with the LDCRE focussing on its role as a campaigning and championing organisation and the RDC as a training organisation. I have discussions and meetings with both Chairs on a regular basis and we have developed a great working relationship.
I also work with key figures within the Party to raise issues, seek their help in pursuing the cause of race equality and ensure that diversity remains at the top of the agenda for our Party.
Jo Swinson, Pauline Pearce and I went to Hackney following the tragic murder of 15-year-old Tashaun Aird and met with some of his schoolfriends who were on study leave preparing for their GCSEs. We also visited the local community, observing for ourselves the knife amnesty bin – inaccessible due to building work - the community buildings – either run down or closed down - and the high-rise buildings, with few open spaces or facilities for young people.
One of the most pragmatic things that I do is either campaigning for BAME candidates or campaigning alongside BAME members – I sometimes take teams campaigning with me to build their experience and confidence (and also to learn from them myself).
It was wonderful to first campaign for Helen Chuah and then to see her re-elected as a Colchester Councillor earlier this year. Helen was the first ever Mayor of Colchester to have been born outside of the UK as well as being the first Chinese Liberal Democrat Mayor in the UK.
So, having identified what needs to be done, I have gradually been finding the ways I can achieve it.
Being based in England (I first stood as a PPC in the West Midlands and then went on to be Vice Chair of the London Region), I have not conducted a ‘tour’ of England as I have done in Scotland and am due to do in Wales. However, I am keen to engage further with the Regional Parties and am looking forward to doing that in the coming months.
Thinking about Tahir’s clear vision for how the EP will work with me to engage with BAME communities, it seems that we have indeed "determined that the thing can and shall be done…’ and that we are now in the process of ‘…finding the way."
I hope that Abraham Lincoln would be proud.