The fallout following the Liberal Democrats throwing out a conference motion on race equality has been picked up by the Guardian diary today.
The article follows a blog in the Liberator by Gary Titley which highlighted the Federal Conference Committee’s decision to ditch a motion endorsing a report by a race equality taskforce set up by leader Nick Clegg.
The taskforce – of which I am a member – has produced a comprehensive report on education and employment after taking evidence from a large number of experts, and makes a number of recommendations for policy changes to tackle racism and discrimination.
Members of the taskforce met Clegg in his Westminster office on Monday 14th January, and although Clegg expressed concern with some recommendations there was an agreement that we would all work towards amending the report, and seek to find consensus that would allow the leader to endorse the report and a foreword from himself.
However at Federal Conference Committee last week Baroness Sal Brinton reportedly told them that Clegg did not support the report at all, and as a result the motion was ditched. Liberator has suggested, not unfairly, that Clegg’s views had been misrepresented at FCC.
The Guardian diary reports:
“There is a logic about national politics. And so, faced with a party that seems to have little to say on the matter of racial equality, Nick Clegg, a logical sort of chap, resolved to do something about it. He commissioned a report from a racial equalities taskforce chaired by the Lib Dem peer Baroness Hussein-Ece. It took a year, ran to 20,000 words, took evidence from many experts, and was, to some degree, critical of coalition policies. A landmark for the party and for its independence, thought those involved. In fact, it was just the start of current difficulties. For, as things stand, there will be not even a mention of the year-long exercise when the faithful meet at their main party conference. A motion that would have prompted that debate was thrown out last week by officials on the Lib Dem federal conference committee. Why did they do that? No one is quite sure. According to a blog yesterday by party sage Simon Titley, “Clegg has signalled that he is unhappy with the report and refused to add his name to it.” But that doesn’t seem quite right, because when taskforce members met the deputy prime minister soon afterwards, he had concerns, but none of them were deal-breakers. Instead, it seems that someone on the committee exaggerated Clegg’s concerns so loyalists would kick the issue into the long grass, which they did. The prime suspect is well known and not much liked, but it would be invidious to name them here.”
I understand that Clegg’s office have reaffirmed their support for the report and motion in principle, and that talks are continuing to find common ground so that the taskforce report is launched with the leaders’ support.
It may be the case that the motion goes forward to the autumn party conference now that FCC have axed it from the agenda of the spring conference. It’s certainly not going away. And there are serious questions to be answered as to how – and why – Clegg’s views seem to have been so misrepresented when they were relayed to the FCC.
The Liberator reports:
“The Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has decided to reject a motion on racial equality for debate at the party’s spring conference.
“This is not just any old motion, but a motion from the party’s Racial Equality Task Force, which was set up about a year ago by Nick Clegg in response to concerns that not enough was being done on race equality. The Task Force is chaired by Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, who was asked to examine the issue and come up with recommendations.
“The Task Force took evidence from educationalists and other experts, and produced a 20,000-word report containing many recommendations. However, the report is critical of coalition government policy, pointing out in particular that the government has no coherent strategy, and that its Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will weaken existing legislation and neuter the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
“Clegg has signalled that he is unhappy with the report and refused to add his name to it. That’s his privilege, but what is not right is that the FCC should kowtow and block debate of the report. The government and the party are not the same thing, and the conference should be able to hold debates without fear of upsetting the Conservatives.
“In the meantime, there is one place where a debate will still be held. The Social Liberal Forum and Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats will jointly host a one-day conference on race equality in London on Saturday 16 February. There are more details on the SLF website and you can register here.
“POSTSCRIPT: More news of the FCC’s decision not to accept the Racial Equality Task Force’s motion for debate at party conference. It turns out that opposition to the motion was led by Baroness Sal Brinton, who convinced the FCC that the party leader disapproved of the Task Force report. The FCC meeting was poorly attended because of the bad weather, and members unable to attend included those in a position to refute Brinton’s claims.
“Nick Clegg is actually generally supportive of the Task Force and its report. There will be a meeting this Wednesday evening between leading members of the Task Force and some of Clegg’s staff, at which a few amendments to the report will be agreed, but none of these changes will be significant.
“An appeal against the FCC decision is likely to be lodged, but its chances of success are currently unclear. If there is no debate at spring conference, the Task Force report will be left in limbo.
“Meanwhile, Brinton’s hostility to the Task Force defies logic. It seems to date back to a dispute a year ago between Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) and those involved in the ‘Leadership Programme’ (an initiative ostensibly intended to support parliamentary candidates from under-represented groups but which actually seems to benefit mainly white middle-class women). Brinton is heavily involved in both the Leadership Programme and the Diversity Engagement Group based at party HQ. Perhaps she sees the Task Force as a threat to this fiefdom?”
From my meeting with the leader last week I can confirm that the Liberator is right to say that Clegg is generally supportive of the report and motion. Indeed while there are a handful of recommendations that will be reviewed there is no indication that Clegg disagrees with the thrust of the report.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway