BAME Labour: Time for Reform

The Labour Party has long seen itself as the unequivocal champion of values of equality and diversity, and relies heavily on the ‘Ethnic Minority vote’ in elections.

The Labour Party has long seen itself as the unequivocal champion of values of equality and diversity, and relies heavily on the ‘Ethnic Minority vote’ in elections. However, opportunities for Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) members to organise ourselves within the Party are severely stunted by the current form of BAME Labour, an affiliated society that misconstrues itself as representative of all BAME members of the Labour Party, when in actuality it was revealed to have only 731 active members eligible to vote in its elections this summer. In a Party that now comprises well over half a million members, this statistic is both shocking and deeply concerning.

BAME Labour as we currently know it grew out of the radical, grassroots self-organised group of Trade Union and Labour Party activists called Black Sections, best known for achieving the election of the first four Black MPs to an otherwise all-White Parliament in 1987. However, whilst still an incredibly powerful organisation that boasts ring-fenced seats on the Party’s top governing bodies, over the years BAME Labour has since compromised heavily on its powers and autonomy, leaving it a hollow and ineffectual apparatus in desperate need of reform.
In its current configuration, the BAME Labour Executive Committee is characterised by low levels of activity and only theoretical autonomy. Communication with its membership and access to its financial resources are restricted by Party officials, and most BAME members of the Labour Party know little about what BAME Labour is or what it does. This situation has in part been conducive to the organisation’s inertia, apparent in the steep decline in membership of the organisation and subsequent atrophy of local BAME structures within the Party, namely Ethnic Minority Forums.

The launch of the Labour Party Democracy Review is a welcome opportunity to challenge this untenable state of affairs and create new opportunities for BAME members to organise to strengthen their collective voice within the Party. It calls on members to submit their concerns about the current situation, and their demands for the structures they deem necessary for their collective advancement in the Party and their ability to shape its direction (information on how to contribute can be found at the end of this article1).

In line with the spirit of the day within the Labour Party, it is absolutely clear that demands must be made to hand the cobwebbed BAME structures back to the membership. This must be done by scrapping the separate membership fee and broken application system, and instead considering every BAME member of the Labour Party automatically a member of BAME Labour, as with the Youth and Women’s structures in the Party.

Existing local structures for BAME self-organisation (Ethnic Minority Forums) must be strengthened and supported, and Ethnic Minority Officers must be given a voting place on the Executive Committees of local Labour Parties. These local structures must feed directly upwards to regional and national structures, where all positions should be elected directly via a One Member One Vote ballot of all Labour members who identify as BAME.

BAME Labour must be given direct control over its own constitution and democratic proceedings, with extra finances and a dedicated staff member allocated to it by the Party to ensure it is able to reach its full organisational potential. It must also have the power to convene a regular conference with policy making powers.
The exclusionary and anti-democratic nature of this organisation is failing ethnic minority members of the Labour Party and the time is ripe to consider serious reform. Three decades on from the successes of Black Sections, we must seize this opportunity for change to ensure the structures that were forged for us through radical collective struggle and grassroots organising are democratised and placed once again securely in the hands of BAME members.

The Labour Party Democracy Review is currently inviting submissions from party members on BAME Labour, as well as Young Labour and the Labour Party Women’s Conference. These submissions must be made by January 12th. More information on the Democracy Review is available here.

  1. The Party does not hold comprehensive data on which of its members are Black, Asian or an Ethnic Minority, so many members who identify as such may not yet have been made aware that this consultation is going on. To have a voice in shaping the future of BAME self-organisation within the Party, it is essential that you feed back your thoughts, experiences and demands directly to the Labour Party via emailing [email protected] (or by post to Labour Party Democracy Review, The Labour Party, 105 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QT).