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Labour MPs back 'ethnic forums'
By Gavin Cordon, Whitehall Editor
Black and Asian Labour MPs today welcomed moves to boost the role of ethnic minority members within the party.
Party chairman Ian McCartney is set to put forward rule changes which would for the first time allow the establishment of black and Asian forums.
The move represents a significant change of heart by the leadership which fiercely resisted attempts to organise forums on ethnic lines in the 1980s.
It comes at a time when Labour is haemorrhaging support among Muslims to the Liberal Democrats over the war in Iraq.
The change was welcomed by black MP, Diane Abbott.
“This is something that some of us campaigned for very hard in the 1980s and we were told then that it was a dangerous, separatist, extremist idea but it seems that they have finally come round to it,” she told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.
However, she said that the party’s progress in bringing forward black and Asian MPs remained “pitifully slow” with just 12 ethnic minority members in the current House of Commons.
Asian MP Keith Vaz, a former Foreign Office minister, also said that the party needed to go further with a requirement for an ethnic minority candidate on every shortlist for a parliamentary seat.
“We have to have affirmative action,” he told the World at One.
“I simply don’t understand why we haven’t taken that one last step. That really would make a terrific difference.”
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