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Black political candidates ‘face discrimination’

TAKING ACTION: A cross-party parliament inquiry on discrimination in electoral practices including Seema Malholtra (fourth from left) and David Lammy (second right)

A DAMNING report on electoral campaigning practices has found that discrimination or the fear of discrimination is discouraging black candidates from standing for political office.

The cross-party parliament inquiry on discrimination in electoral practices, chaired by Natascha Engel MP, examined a range of issues including the way candidates are selected and the language used in campaign leaflets.

The report noted: “Despite broad consensus that racism and discrimination have no place in election campaigns, the evidence we have received indicates that incidents continue to occur covertly and without appropriate redress.

“We were particularly concerned that the statutory body with primary responsibility for addressing discrimination, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has neglected its responsibilities and lost some of the good practices carried out under its former guise as the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE),” it noted.

Race relations activist Lee Jasper called for a Royal Commission advisory committee established by the government to investigate the matter as an issue of public concern.

He said: “Political parties have to recognise the fact that [people from] black and minority ethnic background are put off entering into politics because of the additional scrutiny and racist victimisation that too many of us [face].”

Ahead of the 2008 mayoral elections Jasper, then race advisor to Ken Livingstone, became a target of an Evening Standard campaign that falsely accused him of financial misconduct. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

The report, published on October 29, was commissioned by John Mann MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, and received evidence from a number of individuals and organisations.

It cited examples including malicious communications issued by the BNP, which focused on spreading fear and hate about specific ethnic minority communities.

Prem Goyal, leader of the newly-established All People’s Party and 2015 parliamentary candidate for Camberwell and Peckham, said he welcomed the report.

“It confronts what we all know goes on in political parties: a gulf between what parties preach and how they operate,” he said.

“It was the inequality practiced by the Southwark Labour Party that forced I and many others to leave and form a new political party, the All People’s Party, which is fighting for equality at the top of the political hierarchy."

"We hope the report helps parties face up to their shortcomings and will lead to actual change and results.”

In its key findings, the report called for a cross-party agreement on a simplified method of reporting discrimination, a code of conduct and training for candidates and support for those affected by discrimination.

It also urged the EHRC to regulate and police the conduct of political parties during electoral campaigning.

Feltham and Heston MP Seema Malhotra, a member of the panel of inquiry, said: “Discrimination or the fear of discrimination must have no place in our politics.”

Natascha Engel, chair of the inquiry added: “Our panel has conducted a thorough investigation and come up with what we think are practical and workable recommendations.”

She added: “I look forward to working with parliamentary colleagues and government to take forward the recommendations in the report.”

A spokesperson for the EHRC said it would be discussing the report and recommendations at its next board meeting in November, adding: “As the report notes, the commission’s role has changed following a government review (and from the role of the CRE played) and we have a reduced budget available to carry out a programme of strategic priorities which are decided following consultation with stakeholders.

"The report does appear to conflate offensive election materials or behaviour – which might be considered incitement to racial hatred and is a matter for the relevant authorities including the Electoral Commission and the police – with discrimination which is where the commission has a regulatory role.”

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