Labour’s deputy leader has promised to make it his mission to improve black and Asian representation at the top of the party.
Tom Watson said the party could not be like the “boys’ club in the Conservatives” as he addressed delegates at the annual Labour party conference in Brighton last week.
“We need to look like the nation we seek to represent,” he said last Wednesday (7).
“It’s fundamental to who we are, and so is our identity as Britain’s party for black and minority ethnic people.
“We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with new communities and they have grown and become part of our national fabric. We must not take that for granted now. We have a far better record than the other parties.”
Labour had made strides in attracting people from ethnic minority communities, Watson said, but added there was more work to be done.
“We need to be better still, we need more BAME representatives and leaders. I was elected on a mandate to make that happen and I mean to see it through.
“We need more people. We’ve got to campaign (for Britain) to stay in (the European Union). Working people need us to stay in and we need everyone to be part of that campaign.”
Among those at the conference was Dr Amanat Gul, a doctor from Birmingham, who attended the annual meeting with his two sons. He spoke of his skepticism after Watson’s speech.
Gul has been a Labour supporter for the past 25 years and told Eastern Eye believes party politics makes it difficult for Asians to get ahead.
“Nowadays the Conservatives have a softer feel for Asians. Inside the Labour party, politics blocks ethnic minority people. There are no Asian police commissioners. Also, there is only Keith Vaz sitting on the National Executive Committee out of 40.”
He said one of the reasons he came to this year’s conference was because of new leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“He’s been a friend of mine since 1985. We have been anti-war campaigners from the beginning. That’s why it was my obligation to come to Jeremy’s first conference as leader.”
Indeed, Corbyn’s keynote speech, according to Gul, was one of the best “protest speeches” he had ever heard.
“His personality developed as a protest politician. There are difficulties, but he can overcome them. There’s no doubt there will be more difficulties in the future,” he said.
“I know Jeremy; he is a good fighter, and he will overcome this and we will support him.”
Nour Bakr, a Labour party supporter who attended the conference, became a member a year ago. He believes Corbyn’s election has attracted more British Muslims than ever before.
“I think a lot of British Muslims are enthused by Jeremy Corbyn. I think it is primarily because of his stance on a lot of Middle Eastern issues,” Bakr told Eastern Eye.
“He was fundamentally opposed to the Iraq war. He is very pro Palestinian, which is good in some sense, but I fear British Muslims will focus too much on candidate’s foreign policy and not so much on economic policy, which also affects them directly.”
Bakr said it was a “generalisation” but a matter of “concern” because politicians such as George Galloway, the former Respect MP for Bradford West, were elected by British Muslims because he focused on foreign policy.
“British Muslims should open their mind up a bit, rather than just focus on foreign policy,” he said.
“There is a lot that affects us here – austerity, privatisation. We are not vocal enough on those kinds of issues.”
The 25 year-old works for an advisory group and said it was his first time at a party conference. He said he was taken aback by the level of energy by some of the delegates attending.
“I’m surprised at the number of young people and the enthusiasm and energy there, which, to be honest, I didn’t expect,” Bakr explained.
“With Jeremy himself, I’m still skeptical as to whether he will be elected. He’s probably a bit too left wing. I thought his speech lacked substance. It lacked the real policy detail about how you would win an election.”