Some Lib Dem bloggers have been very keen to crow about the reported ‘failure’ of the Tory A-list at attracting ethnic minority candidates. Personally, I’m not so sure we should be quite so triumphalist.
According to the statistics published in the Telegraph today, of the winnable Tory seats that have selected thus far, 5% of candidates have been BME and 39% have been women. This compares to an 8% UK BME population and 51% women. Clearly it isn’t parity, but it is undoubtably progress. And as these are candidates in a party that is resurgent, as opposed to Labour women and BME candidates, they have a real chance of becoming MPs. By contrast, Labour’s all women shortlist policy is liable to barely scratch the surface at the next election as they lose seats regardless of the ethnicity or gender of their candidates.
What the Tory experience has shown is something that some of us in the Lib Dems have known for a long time. For all the anecdotal horror stories about candidates being discriminated against, the real problem is a lack of candidates. Just like white men, some women and BME PPCs are excellent and some are awful. The Lib Dem experience is that, broadly speaking, they get selected in proportion to the total number of approved candidates we have at the time. The problem – which the upper echelons in the Lib Dems are completely disinterested in – is finding and getting more candidates from diverse backgrounds approved. The A-list has done a very good job at artificially narrowing the field simply by knocking 70% of while male candidates off the top list. This approach isn’t ideal as far as I’m concerned, but at least it is tackling the problem at source, unlike most other forms of positive discrimination.
So the fact that Ali Miraj feels discriminated against matters far less to me than the number of BME Tory candidates who eventually get elected. The jury is still out, but the numbers of candidates selected do suggest that progress is being made. Lib Dems should hold their tongues until we have something more tangible to shout about ourselves.