As Black and ethnic minority members and activists in the Labour Party and allies of our BAME comrades, we write to you with great concern and disappointment about the current state of BAME Labour.
In 2010, BAME Labour had 3,363 members and issued that many ballot papers in that years leadership election. At the time, Labour Party membership was 177,559.
Fast forward seven years and – despite Labour Party membership rocketing to well over half a million – membership of BAME Labour has fallen to a shocking 731 members.
That means that the sole group which purports to represent all ethnic minority members of the Labour Party has only 731 members, out of an organisation nearing 600,000 members. And that a seat on the Labour Party’s ruling body – the National Executive Committee – is granted to somebody with an electorate of only 731. Of that electorate, only 520 actually voted in the recent BAME Labour elections. And, as you don’t have to be a Labour Party member to join BAME Labour, some of those 520 may have not even been party members.
The Labour Party Rulebook clearly states that: The NEC shall comprise one member elected by the BAME Labour ... This member to be elected once the individual membership of the socialist society has reached 2,500. Therefore, these recent elections clearly contravened the stipulations of the rulebook.
Elected officers of BAME Labour – including the Chair, Secretary and Treasurer – are not allowed access to the membership data, finances or running of elections of BAME Labour. This all lies solely in the power of Labour Party staff. Something has clearly gone amiss when an election is conducted by Labour staff, which contravenes their very own rulebook.
Sadly for many BAME members of the Labour Party, this situation comes as no surprise. BAME Labour does not only avoid publicising itself or recruiting members, but it actively puts up obstacles to members joining and getting involved.
Countless Labour members have tried to no avail to get involved in BAME Labour. Many have reported filling out the application form and paying the membership fee, only to never hear a word from BAME Labour. Others have been automatically dropped from BAME Labour after 2 years membership and not been notified that they needed to re-join every 2 years. Others attempted to stand for the BAME Labour Executive Committee this year, only to be ruled ineligible on spurious grounds relating to the length of membership of the 20 members required to nominate them.It is clear for all to see that BAME Labour is failing. The organisation has evolved chaotically, from Black Sections to the Black Socialist Society to BAME Labour, and now resembles a hybrid creature which neither abides by the rules of a Socialist Society or a Section.
On the one hand, similar to Socialist Societies, it has an autonomous status, a separate constitution, joining fee, processes and admits people who are not Labour Party members. On the other hand, like a Section, it is granted a fully independent NEC representative – regardless of how low its membership drops – and it is entirely administered by Labour Party staff.
Let us be clear. We want an organisation which represents BAME members of the Labour Party, facilitates our democratic participation within the party, represents us on the National Executive Committee and National Policy Forum, and acts as a vibrant forum for healthy debate and self-organisation. BAME Labour is not that.
BAME Labour must be opened up to all self-identifying BAME members of the Labour Party. The Labour Party must actively publicise this and promote this to its members. The membership fee should be scrapped – as should the broken application system. And BAME Labour must re-think it’s exclusionary requirements for standing for its Executive Committee. Currently, in practice, the rigid and convoluted rules around seeking nominations to stand mean that only those on the agreed BAME Labour slate can actually stand. This is not healthy for our internal democracy. Most importantly, the Labour Party must start collecting data on the ethnicity – and other protected characteristics – of its members. It is a dereliction of its duty to equality and diversity that it does not already do this. If the Party can find the time and resources to scan the social media of all of its members, then it can also find the time and resources to invite all BAME members to self-identify as such and be included in BAME Labour.
We need to know why membership of BAME Labour has been allowed to fall to such a historic low – and if that lies within the powerlessness of elected BAME Labour officers to contact their membership, then we must move that power from Labour HQ to BAME Labour officers. We need a plan to grow the organisation into one which genuinely encourages the involvement and participation of all Black and ethnic minority Labour Party members through constituency-based ethnic minority forums. We must empower BAME Labour with a national policy-making conference like women's conference and Young Labour conference, so that the organisation can truly speak for Black and ethnic minority people in the party and in the country.
The exclusionary and anti-democratic nature of this organisation is failing ethnic minority members of the Labour Party and serious reforms need to be considered. We demand urgent action at this year’s conference to ensure that BAME Labour is made fit for purpose.