As an Asian member of the Liberal Democrat party I feel a strong need to speak up. The Diversity Agenda discourse on the question of ethnicity is heartening because it recognises that people like me ought to be represented and about time too. However, do I feel either not represented or under represented because of the lack of a non-pale face at the top? No, I don’t.
Why? Racial integration is a marvellous bridge. If representation is about sending a message of inclusion to a part of society that has been marginalised before then I don’t need a Brown face at the top to make me feel included. Those days of John Taylor not being selected as a Conservative candidate in the 1992 general election because of his colour is what made me feel deprived and hopeless and gave me sleepless nights. The gates of politics have since opened wide to people like me. We aren’t excluded. If we don’t go through the gate it is because we choose not to for reasons based on individual choices, not because we are barred.
Perhaps if I provide more anecdotes about the racism I suffered then readers will understand better what I mean by the power of integration.
In the late 1980s I applied for a job using my married surname of ‘Manning’. When the lift door opened the woman conducting the interview flinched and stepped back when she saw me. She grudgingly held her hand out to me and pulled it back quickly. There were days when ‘we’ couldn’t go out because the National Front (NF) was marching through London. I was holed up one weekend without being able to go out to get food because the NF had organised a march without prior warning. I was referred to openly as ‘one of them’ accompanied by finger pointing in public places.
Now, nobody runs away when I answer to my name. An Anglo-Saxon name can belong to a person of colour and an ethnic surname can belong to a person with pale skin too. The BNP will hate me for this!
Before I continue please don’t think that racism has been eliminated-BNP again. It hasn’t. All I am saying is that it is a lot less prevalent than it was.
Now for a twist, I do think ethnic representation is important from the point of view of demonstrating an outward face of the politics of inclusion within a party. Full political engagement with parts of the electorate who feel marginalised won’t be achieved until they see someone within the party whom they can identify with. This identification will lead to trust. But this will only work if a party, internally, has a culture of inclusion already in place otherwise ethnic representation will have no substance. It will only be a ‘mask’ then.
As an ethnic minority I must say that the fairness agenda excites me. The issues that affect White people affect me too such as education, the economy and civil liberties. My voice is being heard. My daughter won’t have to suffer the humiliations that I did.