Harriet Harman has commissioned the pressure group Operation Black Vote to report on how the scheme would work. The report has not been published, but an accurate summary of the main proposals
was published in The Observer last month. Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote told The Observer that:
Unless we take positive action measures we are not going to have a representative democracy for more than 75 years. It's not that we don't have Obamas, but we don't have the mechanisms for them to see the light of day.'
In a commentary in this week's New Statesman, I argued against the proposals as a regressive step, arguing that "ethnic faces for ethnic voters" would be a big step backwards - and the opposite of the Obama effect.
The Independent reported reaction from several MPs, and the criticism from several Asian MPs has been picked up by the Times of India.
Sunny Hundal on Comment is Free and Kanishk Tharoor on OurKingdom agree with me about the dangers of this approach.
Simon Woolley of the Operation Black Vote makes the case for all black shortlists on Comment is Free. In the Independent, Diane Abbott believes that critics are being 'both silly and selfish' and seeking to kick away the ladder from everybody else, and is reluctant to believe that anybody could have a different view. I don't think the claim that it would take 75 years to achieve fair representation stands up, and had a short letter published in response.
Clearly, it is a debate which will continue. Two thoughts about the reaction:
The claim that the division is between Afro-Caribbean and Asian MPs is not the whole story. The reaction does suggest that is one factor. But two of the most senior Asian MPs Keith Vaz and Virendra Sharma back all-black shortlists, while Chuka Umunna, recently selected in Streatham, is a sceptic. So this could equally be seen as a generational division. Those born before 1970 are more likely to be in favour; those born afterwards to be against. And MPs with high numbers of black and Asian voters are more likely to be in favour; those in seats which are predominantly white are opposed.
And, while Labour's black and Asian MPs are almost equally divided, this should not be a debate about minorities, among minorities.
I think we need to look at ethnicity, gender and class cohesively, and will be doing more work on this.