The Liberal Democrats should not be afraid of being considered a ‘woke’ party – but the next leader has to prioritise urgent changes within the party on race equality for the Lib Dems to be a persuasive voice in the national debate on race, leadership candidates Ed Davey and Layla Moran both told a hustings event last night.
Both Layla Moran and Ed Davey supported the introduction of a ‘Rooney rule’ in parliamentary selections, to ensure ethnic diversity within shortlists when local parties came to select candidates.
The candidates were speaking at a race equality leadership hustings event, hosted by the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality and chaired by Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future. The online hustings can be viewed on YouTube:
“On race equality, young people are far better at understanding the underlying issues and far better at advocating for this. And whenever they do, and whenever I do, you get called ‘woke’ because you care. If ‘woke’ means that I wake up in the morning and I fight inequality, and that I fight for people who are being oppressed in our country, and I fight for every person to be valued for the individual that they are… then you can call me ‘woke’ and I am proud of it”, said leadership contender Layla Moran, arguing that getting known for fighting for race equality would help the Lib Dems to answer the question of what the party stands for. Her leadership rival Ed Davey said he would also be proud to be considered ‘woke’.
“The Black Lives Matter protest is a huge wake-up call. That has to go beyond the curriculum and statues. I think there is structural racism in our society. I think it is in the criminal justice system, at work, the health and the education system. Frankly, if you look for it, you will find it. I think there has been a degree of complacency – in our party, in our country, in liberalism – I think we haven’t realised what our fellow citizens face,” said Davey. He said that he would prioritise challenging stop and search, since this had consistently arisen as the experience of discrimination for young black people in particular, causing hurt and shaping broader views of society.
Layla Moran said that she would prioritise education. “I got into politics to tackle educational inequalities“, she said. Her agenda for education included pushing for changes to the school curriculum to reflect the history of Empire. This was another point of agreement between the candidates. “We do have to teach all the many flaws of British history – the British Empire in particular”, said Davey, saying that shocking things were done under British rule in India and Africa. “We need to make sure our whole society faces up to that. I don’t believe we can move forward on the racial equality agenda if people don’t realise the history of racism in our country and how the white population in Britain treated people in other countries, including people who became British in such an appalling way,” said Davey.
Layla Moran argued that a focus in the party on the importance of a “local candidates” in Westminster selections was one barrier to change. “Local is as local does” should be the principle, she said. “What can get in the way of diversity is a belief that our target seats aren’t ready for a Black representative”, said Layla Moran, arguing that the Conservative party’s selection of minority candidates in seats that did not high levels of ethnic diversity was something that the LibDems should be able to emulate.
Asked whether the Liberal Democrats should lead calls for reparations for slavery, the candidates instead emphasised action to tackle barriers to equal opportunity, including structural racism. Ed Davey said he would prioritise mandatory reporting of the ethnic pay gap rather than reparations.
Both candidates argued against the idea that today’s Liberal Democrats should reject donations to the party from families whose wealth could be traced back to slavery. Layla Moran said it was wrong in principle to “visit the sins of the father” on their descendants if later generations supported the party’s liberal ethos, arguing that the more constructive approach would be to dedicate such funds to support race equality projects in the party. Ed Davey supported that approach, saying that donors seeking to support a liberal and anti-racist party would favour a reparative approach which sought to ‘right those wrongs’ now.
Both leadership candidates acknowledged that the questions submitted by party members reflected a scepticism about past commitments to cultural change in the party, particularly from black and ethnic minority party members.
The candidates also pledged to resource and fund leadership programmes for aspiring candidates, and to audit progress in parliamentary staff, in local council selections and to track the efforts of local parties to become more reflective of the communities that they seek to represent.
Closing the hustings, Sunder Katwala reflected that the debate had demonstrated a significant amount of consensus between the candidates and within the party – including a recognition of the candidates and members that the party had a lot of work to do close to home on race equality in the party. He asked the candidates why it would make a difference to race equality as to which of them became the next leader.
“What I am clear on is that we need a team to tackle race equality within the party. This is an urgent issue which we have failed on continuously as a party. We don’t need another review, we need action. I will deliver that”, said Ed Davey.
“We need to become a movement to tackle racial inequality. We mustn’t let this be a moment. We need to be an anti-racist party if we want to contribute to this. We need a leader who can deliver this if we want to succeed. I am that person“, said Layla Moran.
Roderick Lynch, chair of the Liberal Democrat campaign for racial equality, welcomed the specific pledges of the candidates. “The journey has been glacially slow to racial equality in this party. It’s time to ensure that pledges turn into action”, he said in closing the hustings.