Tuesday, May 15, 2018

FIRC: a personal response to the Alderdice Report

Federal International Relations Committee will be discussing its response to the Alderdice Report on Thursday evening, and we have been asked to give some thought to the matter. And, perhaps because my expectations are quite low in terms of useful outcomes, it seems sensible to put my thoughts into the public domain. I’ve adapted the five questions posed in the report, in order to make them suitable for the Committee...

Are there barriers to participation for BAME members? If so, what and where are they?

The barriers tend to be similar to those affecting other underrepresented groups. The cost of attending international events, and the lack of financial support for all but the six members of the ALDE Party Council, reduce the pool of potential participants to those who can afford airfares and accommodation, and this is even more so for Liberal International, whose events are, for obvious reasons, more far flung.

Given that the Party has no budget for international relations activity, other than grudgingly paying our membership fees for both ALDE and Liberal International, and that there is a danger that there will be no staff resource available at all shortly, it is hard to envisage how this might change. A fund to support potential delegates to international events might address the issue of participation, but would not be seen as a high priority at the moment.

Ironically, recent delegations to ALDE Party Congresses have seen an improvement in the diversity of our delegates, and much credit should go to the Party’s former International Officer, Harriet Shone, who did much to make this possible.

Do barriers differ in the Committee?

In terms of the Committee, diversity isn’t bad, with two directly elected BAME members out of six, plus the Federal Board’s nominee. However, the representatives of all of the other various groups entitled to nominate members of the Committee are all white (men), and the co-opted members are both white.

How effective are existing mechanisms/procedures in addressing the issue?

Elections have clearly been effective, nominees have not, thus far. That said, election results offer little guarantee of appropriate levels of BAME representation, and attention needs to be given to the three potential co-options as a way of making good any deficiency. This requires more active and imaginative approaches by Committee Members than has sometimes been the case recently.

Does the Committee do enough to engage with BAME voters and ensure accessibility for potential BAME members?

The mechanism for formally reaching out beyond the Party is unclear, and the Committee has no means of doing so other than articles in Liberal Democrat Voice, lacking as it does a presence on the Party website, or on social media. The communication plan is not taken seriously, and no effective effort has been made to take it forward.

What further steps should, or could, be taken by the Committee to address the issues identified in the review?

Firstly, the Committee needs to strengthen its profile amongst Party members, so as to increase the pool of potential candidates in future elections, and increase engagement. Secondly, it needs to establish what people might be interested in, becoming less Eurocentric along the way if at all possible. Jointly hosting events with groups such as Chinese Liberal Democrats would be a way of doing that. Building links with the various “Friends of...” groups would also help.

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