We need to end this patronising approach to ethnic minority representation

We have a real problem with ethnic minority representation.

Anwar Khan is a Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets

The debate spawned by Sunny Hundal’s article on LabourList today is long overdue. Labour’s efforts on ethnic minority representation have been well-meaning and far more successful than those of the other major parties.

But as one of the younger generation of ethnic minority politicians, I have found the party’s approach to be at best, outdated and at worst, deeply patronising.

In 2004, Mumtaz Samad told Helene Mulholland in the Guardian that she was quiting the Labour Party and stepping down as a councillor after being ‘bullied and harassed’.

Among her complaints were that Tower Hamlets council’s Labour group was segregated by skin colour and when she was first elected, she was told to sit with fellow Bengali councillors.

“I did not expect it towards someone like me – a graduate and professional, and pretty clued-up,” she said.

“They didn’t expect to encounter someone who can understand the issues and argue back…if I were a ‘yes’ person and wore a sari, it would have been different,” she added.

Ten years on, I’ve just been deselected from the same council. I’d been the Labour group’s chief whip for three years, and have campaigned almost every weekend for the party since 2002.

But the local hierarchy grew tired of me. I’m young and articulate, I work as an accountant in the city and I’m outspoken. None of this went down well – the selection panels seem to prefer Bengali candidates who are unemployed and struggle with English, because they don’t want to include us in leadership in any meaningful way.   

Lutfur Rahman, the party’s original candidate for the newly created executive mayoralty – and now the independent mayor of Tower Hamlets – suffered the same fate in 2010. Despite winning a ballot of members by a landslide, he was deselected behind closed doors after a dossier of allegations was presented to the NEC by a beaten selection rival.

He had no opportunity to dispute the allegations, which have yet to be investigated. Of the 19 Labour councillors in the borough deselected or expelled since 2010, only one has been white.

And it’s not just in Tower Hamlets. Eight black and Asian councillors quit Labour in Harrow last year alleging racial discrimination in the group. Barnet councillor Ansuya Sodha left the Labour group last week saying that ours was “no longer the party for equality and justice, especially where the Indian community are concerned”.

Lambeth Labour group suspended popular black councillor Kingsley Abrahams in 2012 after he spoke out against cuts. The party had to pay Birmingham’s Councillor Raghib Ahsan £120,000 in compensation after his deselection was found to be discriminatory by the House of Lords.

Purely tokenistic engagement with ethnic minority communities in Bradford also saw the city return the odious George Galloway, who I campaigned hard to defeat when he stood in the East End, to Parliament. Diane Abbott has recently spoken out about the paucity of black Labour MPs.

It pains me to say it, because I love the Labour Party – I’m a huge supporter of Ed Miliband and I want to see a Labour government elected in 2015. But we have a real problem with ethnic minority representation. 

Labour have more ethnic minority councillors than any other party, and we should be proud of that. But it can’t just be lip service.

We should be harnessing the talent of our ethnic minority grassroots activists and letting them share in the direction of our party – but instead the majority of the new ethnic minority candidates in my borough have come from George Galloway’s Respect, chosen not for their commitment to Labour but because party chiefs think these ‘community leaders’ can deliver the ‘block vote’.

Some have not been party members for the requisite three months, some stood against Labour at the last election and one even remains a member of Respect.

We cannot afford to ignore this any longer. It means insulted communities, alienated voters and once safe Labour seats thrown into the balance unnecessarily. Above all, it’s against everything that Labour should stand for.

Only when we come to terms with this can we build the One Nation party that Ed Miliband sees as the future for Labour representation in Britain.

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17 Responses to “We need to end this patronising approach to ethnic minority representation”

  1. robertcp

    I agree that we should move away from the community leaders approach. Left-wing white people also need to accept that they might have some racial prejudices (I am white).

  2. Cate Tuitt

    This is not a new issue , when I was elected in 1990’s i faced bullying , intimidation and hate mail as well as death threats. Having to tackle that as well as racial and sexism is difficult enough , whilst trying to represent your constituents is very challenging.
    More support will need to be provided for generations to come, including political funds to support candidates and diversity.
    Too often the party is losing talented people who will not tolerate the inadequate response to our needs for representation that reflects our country.

  3. Chris

    Well I’m white too and I haven’t got any racial prejudices

  4. robertcp

    That is good!

  5. AbdulE1

    Cllr. Khan seems to have forgotten to mention this: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/parking-warden-quits-amid-machete-threat-row-with-tower-hamlets-councillor-9079730.html. Just possible that this may have been more of a consideration in his deselection (or maybe he was just being “outspoken”)

  6. JamesGGrace


  7. JamesGGrace

    Anwar was jumping for joy when Lutfur was de-selected, and now he is crying crocodile tears about it all. Pretending he really cared. Wasn’t the dossier and beaten selection rival the exact same person he supported last year to be the Labour Candidate for Mayor? He didn’t seem to care so much then. Tells you what you need to know about him. And what about his time as whip? Anwar was disgraceful to other bengalis who he looked down on (he looks down on everyone), as whip he spent his time harassing and intimidating them, taking out his personal vendetta against some of them, until some were finally kicked out. Articulate and out spoken? Rubbish. He was a poodle for that dictator Peck and never had an original thought of his own. Now he’s the victim. Don’t make me laugh. His chickens have come home to roost.

  8. Tom Miller

    Harrow ILG. A group of people who, apart from their leader, refused to do any campaigning, and left complaining of racism just after he lost the group leadership by a small amount of votes – when his vote must necessarilly have had an ethnically mixed profile in order to get that amount.

    No allegations of racism or discrimination were ever made before he lost the vote, and when challenged to make specific private allegations or publicly detail their nature afterwards, none of those who left to form an independent party would do so – despite repeatedly demanding a high-profile investigation of a party they had already left. And if the group was racist, how did he get elected in the first place?

    This is political opportunism. The refusal to make formal or specific complaints shows it up.

    Crucially, he and his followers left rather than having faced expulsion, which was not considered before they left. The people who had voted against him after his time as leader had previously felt completely comfortable voting for him.

    People should feel confortable making allegations of racism.

    But they also need to be aware that this allegation is very serious and shouldn’t be used simply for the purpose of political advantage – which in this case, it was.

    What I do know was that there was great difficulty in getting these Councillors to campaign, to respond to resident contact, or generally to fulfil their candidate contracts. I can’t speak for other boroughs, but perhaps searching so desperately to find people to represent minority communities (token representation) is part of the problem, as we simply get bad candidates.

    What seems to be needed is more genuine engagement with grassroots community groups and more political education that is accessible to people who have immigrated here and perhaps speak English as a second language.

    I hope this doesn’t come accross as patronising, but in any event I hope it’s less patronising than thinking it’s OK to get people selected simply because they come from a BAME background, and then call that a diversity strategy.

    I’m saying this from the point of view of a white bloke obviously, but in Harrow the issues were about political leadership and a refusal to accept the democratic decisions of the group by a minority of BAME Councillors. If someone refuses to level any specific allegations (as you have here), but makes generalist complaints after losing a leadership vote, their motives should be subjected to more suspicion than otherwise. When they then vote to create a large allowance for the third party leader in the face of huge cuts, even more so.

    A larger and even more diverse BAME contingent stayed in Labour even though a number of them had voted for the ex-leader who left with the rebels.

  9. Self indulgent shameful

    Racism is a problem in this country. However the fact that the Knife wielding councillor from Tower Hamlets uses his race to hide behind is appalling. Just as the loser ex Labour ex Leader of Harrow is hardly Rosa Parks. Lutfa Rahman who ran against his own party – wow you do choose your people to support.

    By shouting racism just because you have not been given preferential treatment, or when you have lost out because you are incompetent or useless at your job undermines people who really do suffer racism.

    This oozes contemptable self indulgence. Go away work hard for your community, and come back when you don’t see the colour of your skin as a free ride. That you seek to undermine the party which gave you such an opportunity, shows you need to grow up.

  10. Dave Roberts

    Cate can you give us details of your case because, as far as am concerned, it doesn’t ring true? It seems that you were selected for a political party as their candidate, were elected and then suffered a campaign of bullying and intimidation.

  11. Dave Roberts

    Mumtaz Samad left Labour because she knew she was going to lose to the Tories on the Isle of Dogs. Helene Mulholland’s article in the Guardian is widely regarded as a joke as is she. The idea that ten years ago Tower Hamlets Labour group had segregation is beyond satire.

    This article is complete and utter rubbish and leftfootforward gains no credibility whatsoever from publishing drivel like it. The racist blame game is over as is the influence, such as it was, of has beens before they were anything in the first place like Sunny Hundal. He has been promising for six months to pack up his pathetic Liberal Conspiracy but it still staggers on.

  12. Lamipie

    This is all very depressing and disheartening and we in the shires have no idea who is right and who is wrong – talk to the hand. In a Tory shire with just just over 200 members (all sorts) in the CLP and a modest number of “activists, we are trying and trying with doorstepping, telephoning, branch meetings, executive meetings, market stalls, leafleting, petitioning, writing to local media, facebooking, tweeting, beefing up our website etc. etc. We will probably still be trying to send a Labour Party PC to Westminster when Man lands on Mars. And all you lot can do is squabble and air your dirty linen in public – just great!

  13. Cate Tuitt

    When typing fast on social media , many people make spelling errors, some of us are dyslexic, so it demonstrates the “gutter” level Dave is prepared to lower himself to refer to a error in spelling to denegrate and dehumanise. (cate ll)

  14. Cate Tuitt

    Sharon332 & Harrison77, you are right upon the statistical data.
    Evidence of this is further demonstrated by the treatment of josie Channer , when she was selected as a PPC for Labour and then resigned following a campaign of disclosures and smears against her to the press.

    Further as you can see from Dave Roberts comments on Labour list, I have been attacked , with unsubstantiated allegations and it is also stated by implication that black people should not apply to these roles , as we are just “stepping” up, to places which are above our place in society.

    So i can appreciate why Harrison77 is stating perhaps we should be looking to other political parties, as the membership may value our contribution to UK life .

  15. Cate Tuitt

    Dave Roberts, you are making libel and defamatory misleading statements.
    The National executive committee ruled in my favour that i was bullied and harrassed whilst in office, and reinstated my selection at a hearing. Which was at Millbank in them days. (They wrote to me also apologizing for the conduct i recieved from certain individuals)

    Your comments on labour list that I was deselected for non attendance, expenses fraud and never having a surgery is quite denegrating and wholly false. I was not deselected. I served my full term of office, no deslection took place.

    To give the NEC panel thier dues, they were able to see through, people similar to you, making it up as you go along. You are speculating and may end up with a injunction issued if you keep crossing the boundary, and libelling my character and name reputation.

    Maybe you have told so many tales, that you believe your own propaganda.

    My parents, Bill Morris generation , joined the labour party in solidarity with working class, and to mobilise against inequality and injustices. Not to slander and like you say we only joined for money and to use it as a stepping stone. They were strong trade unionists and were part of International solidarity with workers in south america and the Caribbean.

    My family have been involved in the labour movement, perhaps before your birth. Its quite possible. We never joined as you stated i joined Labour party for the allowance as a councillor!

    I had a fulltime paid job. Not a career politican. You also infer that i was involved in fraud. I have never had any implication in election fraud or expense fraud.

    Your assertions that blacks should not apply for seats , as we should know our place, as you strongly implied on labour list. Are a insult of our values.

    Tower Hamlets labour party is still in special measures, imposed by the Regional party.

  16. WHS

    Oh dear, someone snivelling and petulant just because they’ve been deselected. Anwar, it’s because you’re a childish prat, not because you’re Bengali. Your puerile behaviour at last night’s budget meeting proves that. (As for calling Josh Peck “a violent man” – he’s the least violent man I’ve ever met)

  17. Dave Roberts

    Only just seen the allegation about death threats, sorry for the delay. Did you go to the police because if you didn’t you won’t be believed.

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