Joseph Harker, Guardian (London), April 23, 2010
The surge in support for the Liberal Democrats could reduce representation in parliament for Britain’s ethnic minorities, with high-profile black candidates from rival parties facing defeat.
The party has no black or Asian faces among its 63 MPs. Labour and Tory minority candidates who were previously on course to be elected are in danger of losing out.
These include the Labour minister Dawn Butler, taking on Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather in the newly formed seat of Brent Central; Tory Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, aka “the Black Farmer”, who was expected to take the seat of Chippenham, but now looks likely to lose to Lib Dem Duncan Hames; and even rising star Chuka Umunna, defending a Labour majority of over 7,000 in Streatham, who could be at risk from the Lib Dem candidate, Chris Nicholson.
Only four minority candidates are fighting for the Lib Dems in the party’s top 100 target seats.
Henry Bonsu, co-founder of Colourful Radio, said: “In terms of the selection and promotion of minority candidates, for all their niceness, the Lib Dems are nowhere near good enough.”
Dean McCastree was a Lib Dem councillor in the 1990s and is now standing as an independent in the Brent Central constituency–where the combined black and Asian population is over 50%.
He said: “We have to have representatives who reflect the society we have. By effectively pushing Dawn Butler out in this constituency, they’re saying to minorities: ‘You don’t need representation, we can do it for you.’
“When I was in the party, I tried to press them on equality but they didn’t want to know. There’s a lot of window dressing but most minority candidates are in unwinnable seats.”
David Cameron made highly publicised gestures to show that the Conservative party had changed and, before the Lib Dems’ surge, had 15 black and Asian candidates either defending majorities or, based on opinion polls, likely to gain seats.
Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, which next Wednesday hosts what is expected to be the largest ever black British political rally, said of Clegg: “He inherited a party resistant to change, and although he has made good progress, he still needs to convince a black electorate that transforming the party’s racial make-up is a priority.”
A Lib Dem spokeswoman said the party had recently begun a programme of mentoring young minorities and this was already bearing fruit.