RESPONSE: Florence Nosegbe
LOANNA MORRISON, writing in The Voice on January 24, is right to call for more black people to participate in public life and democracy. In a diverse city like London, it is important that all communities are involved. London has 73 members of parliament, but only seven are from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds.
But Loanna Morrison is wrong to say Labour has made BME voters “placid with benefits, handouts, soft sentencing and soft drug policies”. This is simply untrue. No other party has a better record on BME representation at all levels than the Labour Party. While over 10 per cent of Labour councillors are BME, the figure is 1.6 per cent for the Conservatives. At a recent BME Labour event, both the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and the party’s general secretary Iain McNicol confirmed their commitment to further increase BME representation.
As a black woman involved in politics, I am passionate about encouraging others from the BME community to get active in public life. As a councillor in Brixton, South London, I offer work experience and shadowing opportunities for local students and residents; as a member of the council’s cabinet, I was responsible for large budget decisions affecting hundreds of services. The promotion of hardworking politicians like Chuka Umunna MP as shadow business secretary or Diane Abbott and Rushanara Ali as shadow ministers, represents a real commitment to diversity.
But there is still a lot of work to be done from all the major political parties and it is an issue all parties should work together on. Liberal Democrat councillor Lester Holloway campaigns vocally on this. Holloway has criticised his own party, demanding that the Lib Dems must not “emerge from the next election with another all-white team” and is promoting the introduction of an all-black shortlist for Lib Dem candidates at the next general election.
Conservative councillor, Sir Merrick Cockell, the current chairman of the Local Government Association, is an unwavering supporter of the ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign which I was involved in when it was first launched in 2007 to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to stand in local elections.
As a south London resident, Morrison should have an understanding of the issues and challenges in urban areas like Camberwell or Peckham. Youth workers, young people and community groups have raised concerns with me about the stereotypes associated with some parts of inner London, north and south of the river. Be critical by all means, but let’s not ignore the positive things that have come out of communities like these, and where Labour continues to make a real difference. I’m a governor at La Retraite Secondary School in Lambeth, a majority BME school where 86 per cent of students achieve at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including maths and English. This is way above the national average. These improvements were achieved on the back of a major increase in investment in schools and teaching introduced by the last Labour Government.
Youth unemployment is a growing scar across London and young black men are disproportionately affected. Many young black people benefited from Labour programmes such as the Future Jobs Fund which helped them find work. The current Government axed those programmes and, as a result, unemployment is spiralling out of control. It was Labour governments that changed the law to ban discrimination in the workplace. We need to identify the barriers that stop BME people getting into work and then remove them, rather than just complain.
We don’t need lectures on nepotism from the Tories. The prime minister got his first job working in the Conservative research department through family connections. The Old Boys network keeps people from different backgrounds on the outside, and we need to break its grip to give everyone the chance to succeed.
* Florence Nosegbe is a Lambeth councillor for Brixton Hill ward