British MPs try to emulate Obama success - in secret

January 20th, 2009 - 4:57 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 20 (IANS) As Barrack Obama takes over the US presidency, British MPs Tuesday began secret hearings to consider how to get more blacks and Asians into the House of Commons, the world’s oldest parliament that remains mostly white.A committee began confidential hearings after being specially set up on the instructions of Prime Minister Gordon Brown to examine how to bring in not only more ethnic minorities, but also an increased number of women and disabled people into parliament.

The 16 members of the committee, who are mandated to fight the “disparity” between society and parliament, heard evidence from the campaigning group Operation Black Vote (OBV), the disability network Radar and the Women’s Institute.

The committee, which includes blind ex-home minister David Blunkett, was convened after growing calls by MPs and others for parliament to reflect the wider British society - particularly in the light of Obama’s election victory.

The committee was set up under special powers enjoyed by the Speaker to explore areas of consensus on controversial issues of electoral reform.

Known as Speakers’ conferences, they have been used only five times since they started in 1916.

Papers of the conference are not made public for 30 years and there is no obligation on the government to accept recommendations, but most are usually adopted.

The British lower house currently has only 15 black and Asian members and one in five MPs is a woman.

According Keith Vaz, Britain’s longest-serving Asian-origin MP, the House of Commons will need some 58 ethnic minority MPs in order to reflect the current proportion of ethnic minorities in the overall population.

Vaz’s idea is for political parties in Britain to introduce voluntary measures to increase the number of ethnic minority candidates - just as they did with women some years ago.

Measures could include all-ethnic minority shortlists for some seats - particularly in major urban centres - in the next general election, which is due by the summer of 2010.

Vaz has the support of the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third largest party, whose leader Nick Clegg has criticised what he called “the woeful under-representation of Britain’s ethnic minorities in Parliament.”

“Legislating to allow all-minority shortlists is a crucial step, which should be used as a backstop to force parties to act now. We can no longer tolerate a political system that does not represent Britain as a whole,” he said last year.

Hailing Obama’s victory, OBV director Simon Woolley said: “This moment of liberation will mean that the deluge of Black talent in the UK and beyond will come out of the shadows and play its rightful part in making this country, our world a better place to be in.”

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