Brian Paddick is not going to be the London mayor. Such a statement is sacrilege for party loyalists who are required, as if by oath, to keep up the pretence that their man can win on 3rd May when every opinion poll has him between 6% and 12%.
The Lib Dem has, to his credit, been performing well in the televised debates but Paddmania has yet to show itself. The claim he stands a chance to become mayor is intellectually dishonest and every voter knows it.
Far better for Paddick to be straight-up with the electorate and say: ‘No, I can’t win under this current system but if you want to see future alternatives to this two-horse race vote for me now so that my higher vote can help brake the mould of this tweedledum / tweedledee politics next time around.’
To his credit Paddick made a greater play for the ‘black vote’ than any other candidate, talking boldly about racism in the Met and disproportionate black youth unemployment. By contrast Livingstone seemed to assume he already had the ‘black vote’ sown up and in the bag, and therefore didn’t have to ‘risk’ alienating sections of the wider population by raising issues of racism.
Yet it was always going to take more than a four-week election campaign to shift perceptions about the Lib Dems and diversity
The reality is that it will take another four years of consistent and high-profile campaigning on issues of race equality for the party to have any chance of making serious in-roads to capturing Labour’s black voters in 2016. That will be the acid test of their real commitment. If the party lapse back into silence on these issues again it will be back to square one.
I hope that the Lib Dems will increase their numbers on the London assembly, but again polls suggest otherwise and there’s no point in sticking our heads in the sand about it. Failure to improve on our current three AM’s will mean the party once again will have an all-white team in the London Assembly, as we have had since City Hall was created in 2000.
Should that be the case, then by the following London elections in 2016 the Lib Dems will have seen out eight years as the only major party without a black or Asian person on the assembly. Next time around unless they have a person of colour in first or second place on their ‘top-up list’ they can kiss goodbye to credibility in the multicultural inner cities.
There is a possibility that TV’s Apprentice winner Tim Campbell could be the next Tory candidate for London mayor. Labour’s David Lammy wants to run next time around too. So the Lib Dems need to start thinking seriously about head-hunting a credible BAME mayoral candidate who will excite London.
To get such a candidate I believe they will need to think outside the box and recruit people who are not currently party members.
There are few people who fit the bill. Church pastor Bishop Wayne Malcolm and SOUL radio head-honcho Merlin Emanuel are among them. Both are great communicators with a deep political perspectives but may be reluctant to enter party politics. Yet people like them carry a great deal of grassroots credibility. If the party want future stars like that the recruiting will have to be done at a high level to have any chance of getting them on board.
The Lib Dems will need to move beyond the mentality of promoting black faces that they have personally heard of and who make them feel comfortable.
A high-level party official once told a friend that Floella Benjamin would “pull in the black vote”. We are still waiting for that to happen. More recently, Clegg was seen enthusiastically endorsing Pauline Pearce, the so-called ‘Hackney Heroine’, who was also thrust into a BBC Newsnight debate. And the party have been fetting Duwayne Brooks, who is more well known for being Stephen Lawrence’s friend who was with him on that fateful night in 1993.
This search for ready-made black ‘celebrities’ stands in contrast to Labour who make their own celebrities. Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Valerie Amos, Chuka Umunna… all became household names as a result of politics. Grant aside – who was a tabloid hate-figure before entering parliament – none of them achieved the kind of national celebrity the Lib Dem’s enjoyed. Yet it is the Labour ones who are in the black historical hall of fame.
The planning for 2016 needs to start immediately after the results are in on 3rd May, and appealing to black Londoners with credible candidates should be central to the party’s approach.