The Conservatives have dropped their “A-list” which helped elect more women and Black and Asian MPs, according to the Independent. While the scheme was only ever intended to be a short term measure it is deeply disappointing that it has been scrapped after just one general election. The Tories have 11 BAME MPs but this is just over three percent of their Commons contingent.
David Cameron should have axed the A-list when his benches reflected the BAME population of Britain which, based on the current numbers of Conservative MPs should be at least 33 BAME’s. Ditching the scheme now suggests the Tories want to shut the door and pull up the drawbridge again. ‘We’ve got quite enough of them, thank you’, seems to be the message.
It reinforces the impression that the new Black MPs of 2010 – like Sam Gyimah (pictured) – where only a temporary makeover to counter the ‘nasty party’ image. The decision is all the more surprising given that many of the new intake are blazing a trail in the party. Helen Grant, Sajid Javid and Gyimah have just been promoted to Government, and Kwasi Kwarteng and Priti Patel are building up solid reputations that will surely translate into promotions in the near future.
Cameron may argue that now the Rubicon has been crossed and Conservatives can see how valuable BAME talent can be that the floodgates will open and a new wave of Black Tories will be elected on their own steam without the need for a mechanism to help them on their way. I don’t believe it for a second. The reality is that opportunities for new Black Conservatives will be extremely limited in 2015, and my prediction is that not a single new BAME person will join those already on the green benches.
In many ways the Tories have reverted to type. The multicoloured paint has washed off and the same old leopard with the same old spots has re-emerged. I suppose this is hardly a surprise given the Rightward shift currently underway in Conservative ranks, and the scrapping of the A-list is merely one manifestation of the back-to-Tory-traditions movement.
Yet as Cameron does away with the A-list, the argument has never been stronger for positive action measures in the Lib Dems. We already have an A-list of sorts in the shape of those on the Candidate Leadership Programme but given grassroots attitudes towards positive action it will take something more to ensure BAME talent is not once again rejected for the most winnable seats. I favour all-Black shortlists in at least one currently-held seat where a vacancy emerges. Admittedly this option is unlikely to be adopted this side of the election.
I’m happy to be proven wrong should a BAME Lib Dem candidate make it through without the aid of all-Black lists, but should we emerge on the other side of the 2015 election with yet another all-white Commons team the arguments against this measure will look threadbare, and the arguments for, irresistible.
So au revoir to the Tory A-list, it was good while it lasted. That’s as diverse as we’re going to see the Conservatives. But the point is it worked, it did not cause revolution in the Home Counties, and it delivered highly able MPs who are proving themselves in Westminster. If there is any lesson to be learnt it is that positive action is essential to break through glass ceilings, especially when those glass panes are so low it prevents BAME politicians getting in at all.
There is nothing to fear and everything to gain. And if the Tories can do it there is no reason why a progressive party like the Lib Dems cannot take it a stage further and embrace all-Black shortlists.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway