Sir Keir Starmer has been accused of ignoring the concerns of Black, Asian and minority ethnic Labour members after failing to address key issues at a party event.
Ahead of the BAME members’ conference last weekend, a group of Black and Asian members wrote to the party leader raising questions about the lack of representation in party leadership and moves to increase diversity.
“Many BAME members do not feel we are being adequately listened to or supported in the party in recent years,” the letter, seen by The Independent, said.
But a number of members who attended the conference on Saturday said Sir Keir “just spoke and left” after giving his speech, taking no questions and failing to address the letter or the issues raised.
Jermain Jackman, chair of the 1987 Caucus which represents young Black men in Labour, said the party risked Black voters drifting away.
“What is the party’s to-do list? If the Labour Party are not alive to the changes amongst the Black community, as well as the changes the Tories are making within the Black community in terms of their engagement, then they can forget that voter block. No one is gonna knock on doors for them,” Mr Jackman told The Independent.
“As a Black man I don’t feel empowered being a part of this party. I am 100 per cent for Labour’s history and my politics align with it, but I’m not happy with the current state of things. I’ve heard some worrying comments from very senior Black members within the movement about how powerless they feel and unheard they are; that’s made me feel less optimistic about the future of this party.”
The letter, which has not been acknowledged by Labour leadership, said that, of the 50 most senior staff working for the Labour Party nationally and regionally, just two are of Black or ethnic minority heritage. It asked: “What are you doing to address this deficit of BAME senior staff members? Are Black and ethnic minority members not good enough to work for the party?”
Members also highlighted the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme, which was announced in 2018 to address under-representation. However, only one group has been through the scheme. The letter also raised a delay in responding to the recommendations of the Forde Report, which warned of racism in the party.
When approached by The Independent, Labour did not address the concerns raised in the letter but said the conference had been “a brilliantly attended, positive online event for members”.
It comes after former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, the first Black woman elected to parliament, accused Labour of sidelining Black politicians to the left of the party after it emerged that she was among a number of Black MPs who had not been invited to the BAME conference.
“To add insult to injury, when this was raised with Labour Party they initially said we were lying,” Ms Abbott told The Independent. “This is all the more concerning when you remember that Black people have for generations been one of Labour’s most loyal voting blocks.”
“The Labour Party’s attitude to Black, Asian and minority ethnic issues is disappointing,” the Hackney MP said, adding that there has never been an apology for the abuse perpetrated by top party officials, who still work for Labour after referring to her as “hideous” and “truly repulsive” in WhatsApp messages, as revealed in the Forde report.
Some Black MPs only received details of the event, following complaints about being excluded, after it had already started. One party member told The Independent. “We can’t say we’re trying to solve the issues if we’re not going to include everyone it affects.”
“The webinar nature of the event didn’t really give much opportunity to input or for issues to be really explored,” Maurice McLeod, a Labour member who attended the BAME conference, told The Independent.
“There were some good speakers who raised some of the issues that many Black members are concerned about such as the Forde Report, the treatment of Black MPs and biased selection processes.
“However, the organisation of the event sounds off. Black MPs were ignored and there no chance to really input or debate.”
It is understood that Sir Keir spoke about the decline in living standards under the Conservative Party disproportionately affecting ethnic communities and reiterated his pledge that his Labour government will introduce a landmark new Race Equality Act, will implement all the Lammy Review recommendations, and create a curriculum that reflects our country’s diverse history and society.