Lib Dems demand ethnic diversity

A group of Liberal Democrats has launched a campaign to make the party “more representative” of the UK’s ethnic diversity.

MP Jo Swinson said the Lib Dems, whose 62 MPs are all white, “urgently” needed to draw “on a wider pool of talent”.

All the Lib Dems’ 62 MPs are white – their one Asian MP, Parmjit Gill, lost his seat at May’s general election – and they only have ten women in parliament.

At the party’s annual conference in September, delegates rejected an attempt to introduce ethnic minority quotas on candidate shortlists, but it was agreed that something had to be done to tackle this lack of representation.

Now Jo Swinson MP, Sandra Gidley MP and Candy Piercy, – the chairwoman and vice-chairwomen of the gender balance task force (GBTF) – are leading calls for the three Lib Dem leadership candidates to make a commitment to tackling this lack of representation.

In addition, campaigners are calling on them to support a target of getting at least one new black or minority ethnic MP and at least 40 per cent of new MPs and 25 per cent of the parliamentary party overall being female at the next general election.

Simon Hughes, Menzies Campbell and Chris Huhne are being asked to sign a pledge to ensure the necessary support and financial resources are available to support ethnic minorities and women in becoming parliamentary candidates.

The Reflecting Britain group is calling on the party’s next leader, who will be named in March, to tackle the issue.

The three leadership contenders are being set questions on how they propose to make the Lib Dems more diverse.

Deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell, party president Simon Hughes and Treasury spokesman Chris Huhne are running for the job.

Their answers to the questions set will be published on the Reflecting Britain group’s website.

Campaign spokeswoman Candy Piercy said: “The party and its new leader cannot afford to be complacent about this issue.”

MP Sandra Gidley MP and Fiyaz Mughal, chairman of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, are also backing the initiative.

“Drawing on a wider pool of talent will strengthen our party at all levels”, said Ms Swinson.

“The gender balance task force has made significant progress, with seven out of 21 new MPs elected in 2005 being women. With increased resources we could do so much more to achieve greater representation.

“But where we need change most urgently is in the representation of ethnic minorities. The party must mirror the success of the GBTF and give a genuine voice to ethnic minorities in parliament.

“I would urge the three leadership candidates to sign up to this campaign and address the issue of under-representation.”

Fiyaz Mughal, chairman of the ethnic minority Lib Dems, welcomed the election of the party’s first Asian MEP – Saj Karim – but expressed his disappointment that this was not reflected in the House of Commons.

“If the Liberal Democrats are to get a black or minority ethnic MP elected at the next general election, we must begin finding and supporting suitable candidates now,” he said.

“For a couple of years now the party has been committed to establishing an ethnic minority election task force on similar lines to the one for gender balance – we believe that one of the first acts of the new leader should be to ensure that it is established with the political support and resources it needs to be effective.”

The Lib Dems’ efforts reflect a similar drive to improve representation in the Conservative party – new leader David Cameron has proposed the creation of an A-list of parliamentary candidates who would be put forward in the most winnable seats.

The campaign is asking party members to sign a petition which will be presented to the new leader at the Lib Dem spring conference in Harrogate, starting on 3 March.

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