Concern at level of faith support for would-be MP
Jun 12 2007
by Martin Shipton, Western Mail
The selection of a new Labour candidate in a safe parliamentary seat has become embroiled in controversy after an influx of new members from the local Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. At the next general election, Alan Williams will be standing down from the Swansea West seat he has held since 1964. A selection process to choose Mr Williams’s successor is under way, and a new candidate will be picked next month by local party members.
Among the contenders for the nomination is Dr Parvaiz Ali, who for the past 15 months has chaired Swansea West Constituency Labour Party (CLP). Some local party members say they have become uneasy about the large number of individuals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin who have joined the CLP since Dr Ali took over as chairman. They suspect the new members have been recruited in a bid to secure the candidacy for Dr Ali. Dr Ali, who last month was an Assembly regional list candidate in Mid and West Wales, is head of nuclear medicine at Swansea NHS Trust. He says he has simply made a bid to recruit more members in recent months.
The Western Mail has had sight of documentation relating to the membership of Swansea West CLP. It suggests that before May of last year there were only around 10 members of the CLP with names indicating they had origins in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Since then a further 135 people with names associated with the two countries have joined the CLP, with almost 100 of them becoming members in the last three months of 2006. Meanwhile, since the beginning of 2006, only about 20 people unconnected to the two Asian countries have joined the CLP. About a third of the membership of Swansea West CLP now have origins in Pakistan or Bangladesh. By contrast, the ethnic minority population of Swansea is less than 3% of the total. Approximately 45 of the new Pakistani and Bangladeshi members do not appear on the electoral register in the constituency.
Naz Malik, a member of Swansea West CLP who is also director of Awema (the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association), said, “It seems to me that what has been happening is a blatant attempt at opportunism by playing the numbers game. I am, of course, very much in favour of people from whatever origin joining political parties. But the timing of this particular recruitment drive, and the fact that the vast majority of the new recruits are from two relatively small communities, suggests a conscious effort to target particular groups. If there is a desire to bring in more members from the ethnic minorities, why have none been recruited from Swansea’s Chinese or Filipino communities? It is most unfortunate that the vast majority of the new recruits are of the same faith as Dr Ali rather than from a mixture of groups. I think it is very regrettable that the Labour Party has done so little to address the under-representation of ethnic minorities in Parliament and at the National Assembly. This kind of mass recruitment by a candidate seeking selection is the consequence of that, I fear.”
Mr Malik said he was also concerned that a significant number of the new members did not appear on the electoral register. “That seems to me to raise questions about whether the individuals are entitled to membership of the local branches,” he said.
Dr Ali said, “When I took over as chair of the CLP 15 months ago, I made it clear that I would be seeking to recruit a lot of new members. I want to see as many people as possible in the Labour Party. I don’t care what background people have – I want to recruit anybody and everybody. If you lived in Swansea West, I would be seeking to recruit you. It is entirely up to members of the party who they vote for in the selection contest.” Asked about the new members who were not on the electoral register, he said, “That is not an issue. They can easily get on the register.”
A Labour Party spokesman said, “Welsh Labour welcomes new members from all communities in Wales. Being a member of the Labour Party is a valuable and worthwhile thing to do for people who care about the future of their country and communities. All members eligible to take part in the process will find it open, transparent and fair, with an opportunity to have their say on who represents them as the Labour candidate in the next general election.” It is understood that more than half the new members will be disqualified from voting because of a party decision to hold an early selection meeting.
Hmmm. I think the wise words of Ayoub Khan apply here.