Has Labour's equality drive backfired? Tories certainly think so

Labour and Tories go head to head on equality and discrimination

The Young Labour Equalities Conference has been criticised

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A major row has broken about over a Labour conference on equality, with some claiming the entry requirements are in fact discriminatory. 

Labour is hosting a Young Labour Equalities Conference in March, however there is one group that appears to be excluded. White, heterosexual, able-bodied men.

Those who want to attend have been told they must identify as LGBT, female, disabled or as being from an ethnic minority background. They also need to be under the age of 27 as of February 8, and a member of the Labour Party.

The main purpose of the conference appears to be to elect members of the Young Labour National Committee, in each of the four categories. However you can only vote for each category if you identify as a part of it yourself.

Whilst it probably makes sense that only certain groups can vote for these roles, the fact white straight able-bodied men are marganisalised has caused outrage for some, particularly Conservative politicians.

Ben Bradley MP, the Tories' vice chair for youth, tweeted using the hashtag #LabourFail and claimed the conference "doesn't sound too equal to me," whilst MP Andrew Bridgen found the ban so surprising he tweeted "you could not make it up!"

Bridgen also spoke to The Telegraph and revealed he has informed the Equalities and Human Rights Commission of the alleged discrimination at the conference. He said that Labour is "no longer about equality or fighting against discrimination" but instead has been "entirely taken over by identity politics and specific groups of activists."

This isn't the first time Bridgen has made a complaint about Labour to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, as he has also reported the party for offering a discount to black and minority ethnic members purchasing tickets to a rally in the East Midlands. BAME members only had to pay £30 for the event, whilst others had to pay £40.

Labour claimed this was an attempt to "improve representation," but the commission is now investigating whether it should take any action against the party.

The Tory deputy chairman has also weighed in, slamming the conference as “another example of discrimination by Labour.” He suggested the party has a "lazy assumption" that straight white men "can't fight for equality." However he believes "it's essential that political parties represent each and every person irrespective of race, sexuality or age." He added that Labour must act to "ensure that this discrimination comes to an end" now.

A spokesperson for Labour has defended the decision and said "there is nothing new about spaces for people with protected characteristics meeting to discuss the inequalities and obstacles they face.” They also told RT that the aim of the conference is to make sure people from "disadvantaged groups" are able to vote for Young Labour's National Committee representatives. Votes for other officers take place online.

Other roles up for grabs which will not be voted for at the conference include the national chair, the NEC youth representative and international officer.

Caroline Hill and Jasmin Beckett, two activists who already hold key Labour roles, have hit back at the criticism by publishing an article for The Guardian. Hill is the current Young Labour national chair whilst Beckett is on Labour's NEC as teeh youth representative.

They claim in Parliament "straight, white, able-bodied men are disproportionately overrepresented" and they are excluded from the equality event because "they are not oppressed in politics." The pair believe that Labour is currently the only party which is "committed to making Parliament more than just a debating club for old white men" and call on Parliament to appear "more like our streets." They also claim to "know we’re making the Tories nervous for their jobs."

The editor of Labour List, Sienna Rodgers, has told talkRADIO: "Creating spaces for marginalised groups helps amplify voices that are often ignored, dismissed or shut down.

"Young women, young BAME members, young disabled people and young LGBT members are self-organising to highlight causes they're passionate about and to coordinate campaign activities.

"You only have to look at the statistics to see initiatives taken by activists in the party work. Labour has more female MPs than any other party. Forty five percent of Labour MPs are women, compared to only 21% of Tory MPs."

There's certainly merit in Rodgers' argument, and in the statistics she points out. However, it seems the core message behind the equality conference is going to be drowned out in squabbling - and the real purpose will be sadly lost.