On cheerleaders and leadership

Cheerleaders are nice. Don’t you agree? They make the supporters of their team feel good. They repeat chants and cheers to motivate those supporters and everyone feels that bit better for it. Whether they’re the American dancing pom-pom variety, or the British stupidly costumed mascot variety, I’m all for cheerleaders.

At least I am in sports. In politics … not so much. Because cheerleaders, by definition, express thoughtless praise. And the one thing politics needs is thought. The trouble is, during this contest for the leadership of the Labour Party, there are a lot of cheerleaders about.  They’re easily identified by their familiar calls like  “I’m supporting X, so you should too”. No real reasons why I should support their particular candidate. Just  that you should. Don’t get me wrong, this is all good cheerleader stuff. Motivating the people who already support your candidate. But it doesn’t win any new support. It doesn’t argue a case. It doesn’t persuade me to use my vote on making that candidate the leader of my party.

When the leadership selection process was first announced, I was completely open-minded about who I would support. I wanted to be persuaded. I wanted someone to show me the leader they would be. So I’ve read the articles, watched the interviews, and listened to what they all have to say. And I’ve finally seen what I wanted to see. Heard what I wanted to hear. I was finally persuaded. And now I’m telling you why I’ll be voting for Ed Miliband.

On Saturday, Labour held hustings in Leicester.  This was the first BAME hustings. BAME, if you don’t know, stands for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic. Now as I’m white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant all at the same time, I wasn’t sure whether I would find these hustings relevant. But I did. Of course I did. This was never solely about BAME issues. All the candidates had a lot to say on a number of subjects. There was a good discussion on importance of small businesses. There was debate on faith schools. And interesting comments on what kind of legacy the candidates might leave behind.

That was all informative and helpful, but it was actually representation of BAME MPs in Parliament that I found most revealing of all. David Miliband talked about his leadership academy again, and both he and Ed Balls talked about a fund for BAME members. Nice gestures, I thought,  but will it really raise the numbers of BAME members? There’s been training before. There’s the Next Generation programme, the BAME Friends of Labour, the BAME cross-party councillors task force. All good measures, I’m sure, but not really having a significant impact in making Parliament properly representative.

None of that showed me the kind of leader I wanted. A progressive, thoughtful, decisive leader, willing to make the hard decisions and unpopular choices, willing to put themselves out there. What I wanted to see was something pro-active. And on this issue, that means BAME shortlists.

The last time I thought about BAME shortlists was also during a hustings. It was the hustings for Deputy Leader. 4 of the 6 candidates supported the shortlists then, but the idea fell by the wayside amidst all the economic problems of the last couple of years. It was good to see someone putting it back on the agenda again.

Diane Abbot was the first black woman MP and has campaigned for BAME shortlists for years. So I wasn’t too surprised to hear it in her response. But I was really pleased to hear it from Ed Miliband. It was nice to be shown what kind of leader he’d be. He was actually being progressive, and not using it as the buzzword du jour. I liked that he is able to consider an option he knows is likely to face opposition, just as all-women shortlists have in the past. I liked that he wasn’t playing it safe with vague soundbites. I liked the hard policy choice. Ed pointed out that it wasn’t the ideal solution, but it was a necessary measure. And I also liked that he wants discussion with party members about how it would work.  I liked his consultative approach in making a decision he knows may not be popular with all members. His commitment and insistence that it was the right thing to do contrasted with other candidates’ rhetoric without action.

It was these qualities that persuaded me that Ed Miliband is the candidate I’d most like to see as the Leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t try to tell me how he was going to lead. He showed me. Which is why I’m happy to make the case for supporting him. No mere thoughtless cheerleading on this blog. I’m supporting Ed Miliband, and I think you should too.


  1. That increase from 2% to 6% is a 200% increase, going from one-quarter to three-quarters of a fully proportionate PLP in three Parliaments. (It contrasts to the zero progress, from 2% to 2% from 1987 to 1997, while the overall % of women candidates has risen from approx 21% to 26% from 1992-2010),

    My priority is “fair chances and no unfair barriers” for potential candidates and MPs. Why we need to look at cohorts as well as the whole Parliament to assess progress on that is explained here.

    We have now achieved that, without all black-shortlists, as you can see from over 10% of new candidates and over 10% of new MPs being BME. BME candidates have fair chances under the present system, which is new and was not the case in 1997. And several fear ghettoisation (being told to wait for ‘their seats’ to come up) if we now adopted all black shortlists. (Labor women win less open selections now than they did in 1992).

    So the central point for AWS (women won’t get 50% of selections so level the playing field) does not apply to the BME case. I think Vaz’ analysis is out of date in terms of Labour’s progress.

    A Parliament that looks like Britain follows from that but that must be a cross-party issue. (The Tories are now doing so well; the LibDems have specific problems on which I have been trying to offer constructive advice).

    It happens that Labour’s BME MPs have a wide range of views on the issue – there are more differences within the group than among women on AWS – but this has to be an issue for the whole party, because racial, gender or class inequality should be shared concerns.

  2. I haven’t seen EM’s position reported, except on twitter? What commitment has he made?

    I am very sceptical of the argument for all black/all BAME shortlists. Presumably the core point has to be that BME candidates won’t have fair chances without them, just as the case for AWS is that we would be nowhere near 50% of selections going to women without them (and are not there with them).

    But that doesn’t apply here. Over 10% of newly selected Labour candidates are non-white; 10.7% of newly elected Labour MPs in 2010 are non-white: this now adds up to 6% of the whole PLP (up from 2% in 1997) but isn’t the crucial point that hitting 10% of new selections means we have a level playing field now?

    I think there are a range of other potentially regressive features of this.

    • Hi Sunder. Sorry for the delay in replying to your comment. Firstly, thanks for commenting at all. It’s nice to see you’re still popping in and reading my blog. Secondly, as I said in my post, I’m a white anglo-saxon protestant so can’t pretend to understand all the nuances.

      The point I was making is I liked that Ed Miliband had been willing to point out there was a case for BAME shortlists and also that he wanted to consult BAME party members on the issue. I personally want that consultative approach from our party leader, rather than the authoritative approach we’ve become used to which has, at times, led us down the wrong paths.

      At the end of the day, Parliament simply does not have the same proportion of BAME members as the number of BAME people living in the country. Surely that’s what is meant by fair representation? Please tell me if I’m wrong, because as I say this is my perspective as a white 30-something from Newcastle.

      Also, while I appreciate your argument about us now having 6% of the PLP made up by non-white members, I think a 4% increase from 1997 to 2010 is not really my idea of very good progress, especially with the massive influx of new MPs.

      It was Keith Vaz who said that for Parliament to reflect the population of ethnic minority citizens there would have to be 58 MPs from an ethnic minority. There were 27 elected in May.

      I’m slightly wary writing as a white guy, but the essential point of my article, was that I liked what Ed Miliband was fighting for and how he was going about it.

  3. the BAME cross-party councillors task force. All good measures, I’m sure, but not really having a significant impact in making Parliament properly representative.

    Hi, just a quick point on the above, the taskforce found that what a lot of BAME women wanted was a mentoring scheme with councillors. This led to a scheme in which 60 woman participated, resulting in 14 standing in the recent election 4 of which are now Councillors.

    Change takes time but it does happen with proper measures in place to practically address the issues.

  4. Interesting.

    I also have entered this with an open mind, probably a stong idea of who I *didn’t* want but not sure who I did want.

    I am probably not ready to come out all guns blazing for Ed, at this stage, but I am definitely leaning toward him.

    Great blog, really enjoyable read.

  5. Excellent piece Rob. Ed is actually implementing measures rather than merely showing enthusiasm. Good reminder about deputy leadership promises about bame shortlists too.

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