Britain ditches plan to boost minority MPs over white backlash fears

January 24th, 2009 - 7:03 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 24 (IANS) Fearing white backlash, the British government has shelved plans to introduce laws that would encourage electoral shortlists of ethnic minority candidates, a newspaper reported Saturday.“It was not going to work. There was no political capital for it to happen; it could not be forced through,” The Guardian quoted a government source as saying.

“There was a fear of a white backlash among the voters and (ruling Labour) party. There are not as many ethnic minority voters as women voters, so it’s difficult to sell,” the source added.

The rejection follows a bid by Keith Vaz, Britain’s senior Asian MP, to persuade his Labour Party to accept all-ethnic minority shortlists of candidates for constituencies with heavy black and Asian populations - along the lines of all-women shortlists introduced by ex-prime minister Tony Blair.

The British parliament has 15 black and ethnic minority MPs out of a total of 646, but would need at least 58 to reflect the demographic profile of the country.

However, positive discrimination is illegal in Britain, and Vaz has sought to address the problem in an equality bill due to be introduced this year.

Vaz expressed his disappointment, saying: “They have not put it in the bill because they thought they would not get it through parliament, but I think we would have.

“It has the support of the Liberal Democrats and I don’t think the Conservatives would have opposed it because it does not compel any party to have it; it just stops it from being unlawful.”

However, Asian fellow-Labour MP Khalid Mahmood opposed the measure, saying: “If you look at most inner city areas they have chosen an ethnic minority candidate. You would alienate the white electorate and you still would not achieve what you want to achieve.”

A 16-member House of Commons committee, set up by the speaker, last week began discussions on ways to increase the number of black and ethnic minority MPs, but as with all other such Speakers’ Conferences, minutes of the meetings will be kept secret for 30 years.

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