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Political Representation Of Ethnic Minorities In York’s Political Parties – OpEd

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The term ‘ethnicity’ carries a broad range of connotations. It is highly subjective and typically self-reported, and different organisations use different terms to describe ethnicity. I self-identify as a British Bangladeshi and a Catholic Christian.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe how ethnic minorities are represented politically inside the York Labour Party. York Labour has a considerable and growing ethnic minority membership, but when it comes to ethnic minority representation in various leadership roles to represent the local party nationally, and also as local councillor candidates, there is a substantial gap for many reasons.

Ethnic minority representation in York Labour Party

The York Labour Party leadership may argue that they have gone to great lengths to encourage ethnic minorities to participate, become active in the party, rise to leadership positions, and run for local councillor and even Member of Parliament positions. 

The leadership may therefore be wondering why, despite their passion and dedication to increasing ethnic minority political engagement and leadership, ethnic minorities are not putting themselves forward for leadership positions or being elected as local councillors or parliamentarians. Or simply, why ethnic minorities are not represented in leadership jobs inside the York Labour Party. Or indeed, why ethnic minorities join or vote for them and then wait for occasional support and the next election to come and vote and post on social media that I voted Labour.

Who is to blame if not York’s ethnic minorities? Are they slothful, or do they lack the necessary qualities and skills for political leadership? I personally know dozens of ethnic minorities in York who are politically active, intellectual, and demonstrate leadership in the domains in which they work, including academia, the charitable sector, health, and marketing, to name a few. I also want to acknowledge that York’s ethnic minority groups are not homogeneous and that the reasons they do not or cannot participate equally in political and public life and why equal representation of ethnic minorities is lacking should not be attributed solely to political parties or ethnic minority groups, but to the system that allows it.

York political parties and diversity

The York Labour Party is led by a devoted group of individuals committed to fostering equality and diversity at all levels, including ethnic minorities. Rachael Maskell, the Labour (Co-op) Member of Parliament for York Central, is an outspoken advocate for equality and diversity in the city and inside the party. In addition, Councillor Pete Kilbane, head of the York Labour group, is pioneering by assisting the city’s Black leaders in bringing a motion to declare York an anti-racist city. The Labour councillor has previously been outspoken in welcoming Syrian refugees and, more recently, Afghan refugees to the city.

So, why does the York Labour Party continue to lack ethnic minority leadership, and is the same issue reflected in other political parties in York? York Liberal Democrats, York Green Party, and York Conservatives all lack ethnic minority leadership within their parties and, as far as I am aware, they do not have ethnic minority candidates waiting to run for the role of councillor or member of parliament in the next election.

These political parties all have different political objectives and agendas. What they have in common is that they all lack ethnic minority leadership within the party and have been without a member of parliament candidate from an ethnic minority population for an extended period, which could continue if systemic and institutional failures continue in their current form.  I also encourage readers to consider whether there is a segment of the political establishment that carefully considers and supports the fact that there are voter bases in some, if not all, areas of York that will not vote for a non-white candidate, and political parties do not want to be on the losing side because winning elections is critical to their survival.

Will there be a lord mayor from the ethnic minority community in the coming years. Or was there a lord mayor of York from the ethnic minority community in the past? The answer may shed light on the failings of the current political structures, which simultaneously encourage and deny ethnic minority political participation.

Leading the way in anti-racism

York Labour Party will lead the charge to make York an anti-racist city in the coming months and years. But it should begin with its own political home and address the issue of why the political leadership is so lacking in diversity. Specifically, the party needs to establish what it intends to do to encourage diversity and ethnic minority leadership within the party and beyond. 

York Liberal Democrats, York Green Party, and York Conservatives should all analyse why their party’s system disadvantaged ethnic minority leadership in the past and how they will improve in the future. York will never become an anti-racist city if the city’s major political parties are devoid of ethnic minority political leadership and ethnic minorities lack political engagement and leadership. Citizens and political leaders in York should make space for ethnic minorities to lead, correcting years of deprivation and injustice.

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William Gomes

William Gomes is a journalist and human rights activist. He can be reached at [email protected] or at www.williamgomes.org.

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