It is a source of great pride to me, the first black woman to represent the GLA constituency of Lambeth & Southwark at City Hall, that I am part of a London Assembly political group that reflects the ethnic diversity of the city we serve. Half of the Labour Group are women, and many of us come from London’s diverse BAME communities.
The Mayor’s office has made its own impressive strides in become more representative of London’s population. Sadiq Khan himself is, of course, both from a working-class background and of Pakistani heritage, while his deputy mayors include seven women and three BAME Londoners out of a team of ten. There’s also some genuinely impressive work underway to reduce inequality both among the City Hall workforce and for Londoners generally.
It’s clear that where the political will exists, real strides can be made. But the reality is that government in a city as diverse as London remains shockingly unrepresentative. A new report by Mercy Muroki and Philip Cowley of Queen Mary, University of London found that the number of black Londoners in the capital’s council chambers is around half of what it would be if it was in proportion to the number of black Londoners as a whole, and that – incredibly – there are five boroughs with no black Councillors at all.
The situation isn’t limited to the capital’s local authorities. Just 31 of London’s 73 MPs are women, 14 are BAME, only four identify as LGBT and just one – yes, one – identified as having a disability. To set this in context, 22 per cent of the working age population are disabled.
The judiciary doesn’t fare much better. As of 2018, less than a third of judges were women, and nine per cent were BAME. More encouragingly, the efforts to recruit a greater diversity of people to serve in London’s magistrates’ courts appears to have paid off – an impressive 58 per cent of magistrates are women and 28 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
It is incumbent on us all to strive to do better. The average age of a local councillor in Britain as a whole is over 60. While experience is to be valued and many of our older councillors in London make a huge contribution to public life, we cannot reasonably expect our boroughs to understand and address the needs of London’s young people unless there young councillors.
One statistic that really stands out for me is the fact that just four per cent of staff working at major national museums are BAME. How can we meaningfully tell the complex story of our country – a story of colonialism, migration, integration and profound change – when people at the very heart of that story simply aren’t there to help tell it?
The place of role models in society is incredibly important too. In an interview last week, Nish Kumar spoke of how the seminal BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me gave British Asians “permission to be comedians”. We need role models right across society – yes, in politics, but also in business, the arts, science and sport. What message does it send to black boys and girls that there are more FTSE 100 CEOs called Steve than there are people from ethnic minority backgrounds? What does it say about us that our ethnicity pay gap is a staggering 17.3 per cent?
So let’s step up. We all have a part to play in making our workplaces and our public life more representative. And we all have a part to play in giving our young people from all walks of life that “permission” to fulfil their potential.
Florence Eshalomi is London Assembly constituency member for Lambeth & Southwark and a member of the Assembly Labour Group.