Surrinder Chera reflects on Make Votes Matter’s first event aimed specifically at engaging Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities on electoral reform.
Black Votes Matter set out to explore how the current voting system disadvantages minorities, and what can be done to improve the situation.
I strongly believe that Proportional Representation (PR) can create societies which are more equal, which would have a positive impact on diversity and political representation. However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that BME communities may have specific concerns around PR, such as the risk of extremist groups gaining power. As people from BME communities are currently under-represented in the campaign for PR, MVM decided to host this event to listen to people’s views and dispel some of those myths about PR benefitting extremists.
To help bring this topic to life, we needed to assemble a panel of prominent BME commentators and activists.
We were thrilled to have such a distinguished panel join us including prominent Guardian journalist Gary Younge (pictured, right). Gary has authored a number of articles and books, and made films tackling various themes related to Black history.
It was interesting to hear him set out his arguments on why he had converted to PR, and on extremists he made a very valid point saying it is better to expose their views by having them in the room as part of the debate than it is to have them festering in the shadows.
Justina Cruickshank, Vice-Chair of the Electoral Reform Society, shared her perspectives on voting reform from many years’ experience of campaigning for Proportional Representation. I really like the powerful statement she made about PR when she said: “I’ll tell you what PR is not. It’s not a silver bullet that is an advantage for certain groups. PR is an advantage for all groups. It does not discriminate. It ensures that every vote matters and every vote is equal.”
Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of the Equalities Trust, added her fascinating insights on inequality.
Contrasting countries like Norway, which use PR, with the UK, she gave a stark warning about economic inequality.
“Cross-country analysis suggests that democracy is associated with a reduction in economic inequality. The UK and the US are the poster children for economic inequality. If you want the American dream, don’t go to America, go to Norway,” said Dr Wyporska.
Last, but definitely not least, Olalekan Odedeyi outlined his inspiring practical examples of grassroots engagement work with BME communities that he’s been doing in and around Middlesbrough over many years. On PR, he said: “PR is going to do a great job of solving voter inequality, and reducing a lot of wasted votes as it produces more representation.”
Our London-based local groups sprung into action to help us publicise the event and as it was held in Wood Green, we are hopeful that local group MVM North London will see an increase in members from BME communities. My thanks go to all of these groups for helping to publicise the event.
Some people who attended on the night have expressed an interest in getting involved in helping MVM develop diversity in the campaign, which is great! All attendees were given a specially created further reading resource pack, which features a range of research and reports related to PR and BME communities.
The event gave us ample material to diversify and grow the movement which will all help to improve our engagement with BME communities.
I have also set up a meeting with Dr Wanda Wyporska and Klina Jordan, our Co-Chief Executive, to discuss future collaborations, and I’m following up with the other panelists.
We plan to further build on the network of contacts made in setting up this event. To help with this, MVM has set up a diversity working group, and anyone who is interested can get involved.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.