Political leaders should reflect the communities they serve, to ensure everybody’s views are heard in the policy-making process.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are still significantly under-represented in political positions.
The LGA’s 2018 councillor census revealed that BAME individuals held just 4.2 per cent of councillor positions in England – a minimal increase from 3.5 per cent in 2004 – despite making up 13.5 per cent of the general population.
More work needs to be done to ensure that councillors across the country are representing the diverse communities that they serve. The LGA is advocating for the recruitment and retention of BAME councillors, but the reality is that more strides need to be made to reach equality of representation.
So why is diverse and inclusive leadership vital for local communities? It is important that political leaders reflect the communities they serve to ensure that everybody’s views are listened to, reflected on, heard and represented in broader policy discussions.
Beyond this, the under-representation of BAME individuals in the wider political sphere is deemed to be a catalyst for political distrust and apathy among BAME communities.
With more BAME people taking on political leadership positions, therefore, we can fulfil broader national objectives of increasing trust, engagement and participation of BAME individuals in politics.
The end goal is a thriving, inclusive democracy and representative legislative system, which absorbs the views of everybody, regardless of their background.
The LGA has been vocal about the need to address diversity in local politics and, increasingly, it has become a prominent theme running across the LGA’s political and managerial leadership programmes.
From the beginning of their political journey, the LGA’s ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign supports councils to recruit a diverse range of councillor candidates. Once elected, a whole series of successful training and development programmes offer spaces for diverse groups of councillors to develop their leadership, skills and personal abilities in workshops covering a range of portfolio areas.
The LGA’s ‘BAME weekender’ exclusively offers a chance for BAME individuals to openly address and overcome the specific challenges faced by councillors. But this sort of challenge and support isn’t new. In 1996, Lord Simon Woolley established Operation Black Vote (OBV) – the first initiative focusing on the black democratic deficit in Britain.
Building on its foundation of promoting equality and human rights of black people, its entire ethos is underpinned by political education, participation and the representation of BAME individuals in politics. Through councillor and MP shadowing schemes, plus various other leadership programmes and initiatives, OBV pushes for greater political involvement of BAME communities, locally and nationally.
With a shared vision to increase civic engagement among BAME communities, the LGA and OBV are pulling together their resources and networks to not only promote the positive role that BAME individuals can play in civic and political life, but also to build the confidence and familiarity of those already in political settings.
Standing together with a common agenda, this evolving partnership provides a meaningful channel through which to discuss openly the challenges, and to address the issues faced by BAME communities.
In doing so, the agenda of diverse and inclusive leadership required in local government will become stronger and louder – because when those in political positions reflect the cultural diversity of society, positive change that makes a difference will become a reality, and our local communities will be strengthened.