The ‘other’ diversity issue – the BME voice in UK politics

The ‘other’ diversity issue – the BME voice in UK politics

The Prime Minister’s perceived ‘woman problem’ is well-documented. But the black and minority ethnic (BME) vote should be of increasing importance to the political parties at election time. However, compared to the measures to close the gender gap, there are fewer signs of efforts to boost BME representation in Parliament or Government.

On Monday the Church of England voted to allow women bishops; on Tuesday and Wednesday, David Cameron’s reshuffle was heralded as an advance for Tory women. While these represent critical advancements in themselves, there seems to be a slice of diversity that we perpetually overlook: black and minority ethnic (BME) groups.

The ethnic diversity of MPs remains disproportionate to the population as a whole. There are currently 27 minority ethnic MPs in the House of Commons; 4.2% of the total, while 17.9% of the population fall into non-white groups.

This is a sizeable proportion of the electorate, with potential to be decisive. Policy Exchange’s A portrait of modern Britain reported in 2015 there will be 50 Conservative seats where Labour is second and the BME vote is larger than the Tory vote.

This category is of course very diverse. But a recent Ipsos-MORI poll found that BME voters are 33 per cent more likely to vote for Labour in 2015 than white voters, and seven points less likely to vote Conservative. This trend manifested clearly during the last election when Labour captured 68 per cent of the ethnic minorities vote, compared with just 16 per cent for the Tories.

This picture might be explained by socio-economic standing of ethnic minority voters: the BBC’s Great British Class Survey 2013 found that only one-fifth of the ethnic minority population considered itself middle class.

As such, the Conservatives might be conscious of the fate of Mitt Romney in 2012, who carried the white vote in the US but lost the election because of President Obama’s total dominance within BME communities. All is not lost, however, with UK Indian minorities up to four times more likely to identify with the Conservatives.

The Tory front bench now includes some recently promoted ethnic minority talent, and David Cameron has made efforts to present a more diverse, inclusive Tory party. The fact remains though that Labour governments have been responsible for all the major legislation advancing or protecting ethnic minority rights – the Tory offer is more about policies that appeal to BME voters or families on grounds other than identity, such as education, the economy or law and order.

As for representation, the small pool of BME Parliamentarians makes it more unlikely we will see many non-white front line political stars. Thirty years has seen some progress, but the political class will continue, for the foreseeable future, to look rather different than the UK as a whole.

Explore the Road to the Manifestos – our guide to the people, processes and policies that matter.

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