Friday, January 26, 2007

Reception in the House of Commons

Last night I was at a reception in the Members Dining Room of the House of Commons. The reception hosted by Liberal Democrats Leader, Sir Menzies Campbell was for members from the black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

My invitation said that the event would start at 7pm so I arrived a little early and was in the Members Dining Room in time but not many people were there then so I waited for a short time before Dan Rogerson (MP for Cornwall North) arrived, I know him from by-elections and conferences so we spoke for a bit about how his time in Parliament is going and what I am currently doing. After Dan left I started talking to Alistair Carmichael (MP for Orkney & Shetland) who is the Liberal Democrats, Shadow Transport Secretary. I have spoken to Alistair previously but we had a good discussion on what Alistair is doing now and how it is different for since he had always been involved in the Home Affairs team. While I was talking to Alistair Lorely Burt (MP for Solihull) came over to say Hi. I know Lorely from being on the West Midlands Liberal Democrats Executive. Lorely didn’t have much time as she was trying to meet as many people as possible before she left to make sure she got home last night as she had constituency work today. I then found myself talking to Andrew Stunell (MP for Hazel Grove) who I know from by-elections, conferences and from a Policy Working Group that we were on together. After many years in the Whips office Andrew is now the Liberal Democrats Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, an area in which we share an interest. So we spoke about the situation with Your community, your choice and the work that is happening to rewrite that. While I was talking to Andrew we were joined by Cllr Qurban Hussain the Deputy Leader of the Council in Luton where the Liberal Democrats have minority control.

As we were talking Sir Menzies Campbell started to the proceedings and welcomed us all to the Houses of Parliament. After for a while about how he wanted to see the Liberal Democrats benches in Westminster and Brussels reflect the make up of society. Sir Menzies Campbell then introduced former TV presenter and campaigner, Floella Benjamin who will spoke about how far the BME community had come in the UK and she spoke of her experiences as a young child when as she played in the back garden of her house the neighbour through a bucket of urine over her and her brothers & sisters. After Floella Benjamin, Sir Menzies Campbell called on Simon Woolley, National Co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote. This was the first time I had heard Simon Woolley speak he talked about the frank discussion he had with the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary party on Wednesday night and said that he was serious about seeing better representation of the BME community in Westminster and so would ensure that the Liberal Democrats took the issue seriously too.

After Simon Woolley, Sir Menzies Campbell introduced Lord Dholakia who became a Liberal Democrat Peer in 1997 and has served as an assistant whip between (1997-2002), sat on the recent panel that selected cross-bench peers, was Party President from 2000-2004 and in November 2004 was elected joint Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. The final speaker of the night was Sajjad Karim (MEP for North West England) the only elected BME Liberal Democrat Parliamentarian. Sajjad Karim spoke about how it was difficult in the past for members from the BME background to get selected for elections but that things are getting easier.

After the speeches were done I had a chat with Hong Ling Dyer who I know from when I was involved in the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, we were joined by Sir Menzies Campbell press officer Puja Darbari who spoke about how this had been a busy week for Sir Menzies Campbell and his team with the launch the Liberal Democrats ‘We Can Cut Crime’ campaign on Monday, followed by the debate on Iraq in the House of Commons on Wednesday when Sir Menzies Campbell outlined the Liberal Democrats strategy to bring troops home from Iraq by October and then there was a lot of press work to do promoting last nights event. Later I spoke to Mike Girling of the Liberal Democrats Press Office. One Mike’s responsibilities is to get the Liberal Democrats message out through the BME media. We spoke of some of the obvious outlets there are and how and where he look to find others he could target.



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