Why, in a diverse Commons, are the hands on our levers of power ’hideously white?’

The key select committees have 30 chairs in each of them. What is less well-known is that not one of the chairs is from a black or ethnic minority. For a country and government that is striving to become ‘diverse’, this is not a good look.

While the media last week were otherwise occupied with Downing Street, previous parties and present restrictions, an election in parliament took place. Every sitting MP had a vote in this election. 

The purpose of the vote was to fill a position vacated when Yvette Cooper became a member of the shadow committee. The election was held to fill the position of chair of the home office select committee.

Mr Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, commented that this is a powerful position. Not only can the selected person subpoena witnesses, but they can also make statements to the house. Further, they can issue reports and recommendations on the biggest issues of the day.

Mr Huq said that all the chairs of the key committees serve as members of the liaison committee. They are all entitled to ‘grill the prime minister at close quarters.’

Unlike at prime minister’s question time, where comment slots are drawn out of a hat (and with very poor odds) the chairs are allowed follow-up questions.

Because the chairships are appointed between the two big parties, proportional to how many MP’s each party has, this election was a guaranteed Labour post.

‘Despite the fact that we need a parliament which reflects wider society, with strategies and policies in place to achieve this, there is not one single committee chair which is filled by a black person or anyone from a minority ethnic background.’

Mr Huq stated that he had tried to change this and had failed.

Originally Mr Huq was an academic and socialist, who wrote books on drugs and riots. He became an MP in 2015. He was Labour’s home affairs spokesperson and a shadow minister and therefore felt qualified to apply.

When applying for the position of chair of the home office select committee Mr Huq was warned about the awkward conversations the elections would entail, namely ‘sucking up to the Tories for votes and fierce competition with members of his own party.’ Nonetheless, he went for it.

Dame Diana Johnson, the continuity candidate from the committee beat him with 152 votes against his 132. Mr Huq agrees that Dame Johnson will be great, however, his experience has confirmed things that he had been warned of.

In 2020 Mr Huq’s friend and fellow London BAME MP Kate Osamor reported that LGBT and disability are represented among committee chairs. Women were catching up but black and minority ethnic groups and representation had been left lagging far behind.

Ms Osamor said that unfortunately BAME candidates very often are not taken seriously. Mr Huq agreed, saying that media tends to get things mixed up on occasion.

Mr Huq said that media coverage once described him as ‘considering a tilt’ rather than a serious contender.

Because they are not always taken seriously possible candidates do not stand as they are concerned about how they will be perceived.

It is easy to see then why there is an underestimation/underachievement loop. BAME footballers who struggle to become managers, black lawyers unable to make partnerships, and black police officers rarely becoming chief constables.

These are important omissions because select committees can hold the powerful to account, on behalf of the nation.

There have been cases where this has happened. Mr Huq reminds us of the discomfort of Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley regarding the working practices of his company and Rupert Murdoch’s beleaguered appearance amid the hacking scandal.

To have a committee chair who can identify with knowing how it feels to be racially abused or to be called a ‘Paki’ would send out a powerful signal.

Mr Huq said that he hoped things would change. However, he could not help but notice that on the three committees he served on (justice, public administration, and Brexit) all the chairs had been either offspring of MP’s or knighted. He felt that this may be a replicating pattern.

While there has definitely been progress in diversity with Diane Abbot taking a seat, the roles which shape how the executive carries out the job seems to have stalled. Mr Huq wonders if we will ever see a person of colour in the Speaker’s chair.

Surely, concluded Mr Huq, the concern for every MP should be how it appears that there is no person of black or minority ethnic background on the committees.

More MPs should be voting in these elections. In fact, less than 50% of all eligible people actually do. They need to see the broader picture for the future of the UK.

While it may seem that we have a diverse house, with Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid in powerful positions, in the committees where important decisions take place, it is still ‘hideously white.’

As we head into 2022 Mr Huq asks if this is acceptable.


(Courtesy of article by Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing and Acton)


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