Diversity is essential but it’s more than race and gender

COMMENT: Camden council leader Georgia Gould’s challenge is not to just praise the make up of a new set of backbenchers, but to promote upwards a diverse executive too

Thursday, 12th May

camden council 5 Pancras Square Image 2021-02-24 at 14.37.51 (5)

‘Past Labour council leaderships in Camden made great strides in bringing more women into the chamber, but never seemed as convincing on racial diversity’

SABRINA Francis’s appointment as the Mayor of Camden was delayed for a whole year due to the Covid lockdown.

In truth, Camden had been waiting for a lot longer for a black woman to represent us as the borough’s first citizen.

She explained with great conviction last month the treatment she still experienced in the rooms of white men who so commonly hold these ceremonial but prominent roles.

During her time as mayor she has seen Cecil Rhodes’ name removed from a council housing estate and a school in West Hampstead change its name to end an association with a slave trader, but when it comes to the council meetings she chairs she has often talked about how few of the councillors looking back at her “look like me”.

It is upsetting that a handful of election candidates required security detail just to go about their business during the campaign and polling day amid threats of racial attacks.

And we support Cllr Francis when she calls for us to act on the sentiments that came out of those racial injustice protests two years ago.

Past Labour council leaderships in Camden made great strides in bringing more women into the chamber, but never seemed as convincing on racial diversity.

After all in 50 years of local politics in Camden, Cllr Francis was only the third black Labour councillor – ever – to be elected despite the ethnic diversity you see all around the borough.

In last week’s elections the party appears, from a simple glance at the team photo, to have righted this wrong somewhat and credit should go to the council leader Georgia Gould for apparently personally encouraging those from under-represented groups to consider standing for election. In turn, this will hopefully inspire further generations. But diversity isn’t simply about race and gender.

The range of political thought represented in the newly elected chamber may well come up for discussion again given the way the party was reshaped by a very controversial candidate selection process, and notwithstanding an insistence that constructive critics will emerge.

Cllr Gould appears to have also realised that diversity means more and perhaps understands Camden was once a local authority which benefited from having councillors from diverse occupations – the highly paid and upwardly mobile public affairs consultants sitting as councillors alongside truck drivers, cabbies and rat-catchers. There were more council tenants on the benches too.

But around 20 years ago, this began to drift – at one stage eight of the 10 members of the cabinet had been to Oxford or Cambridge.

Many of them then headed into jobs into politics, or public affairs, communications and so on – professions lacking that worldly-wise experience that could help them at the Town Hall.

This is an elite which pervades the most senior levels in any London local authority.
Cllr Gould’s challenge is not to just praise the make up of a new set of backbenchers, but to promote upwards a diverse executive too.

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