CLEGG: Black support would enhance Lib Dems
BRITAIN'S BLACK voters can decide the 2015 election if they vote strategically and more of them cast their ballots, an analysis of constituencies by The Voice shows.
And campaigners are busy alerting the community to this potential and warning the parties, including Labour, the historic beneficiary of the black vote, that this time there will be a price for black people’s support.
“Political parties will see black communities flex political muscles and won’t be offered crumbs,” said Simon Woolley, chief executive of Operation Black Vote (OBV), an organisation that promotes the registration of black voters. “We want to see issues addressed, like disproportionate unemployment and inequality.”
In Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, voters choose 650 representatives to sit in parliament, which means if a party is to claim a clear victory in an election in it has to win at least 326 seats.
At the 2010 General Election, the Labour Party, which had held office for the previous thirteen years, gained 258 seats, 68 short of a majority. While voters sent 307 Conservatives to Westminster, that was still 19 short of a majority.
MILIBAND: Much to lose if deserted by black voters
In the end, the Liberal Democrats, who won 57 seats, spurned their seeming natural ally, Labour, to enter Britain’s first coalition government in 36 years with the Tories.
The results of 2010 have been concentrating political minds, including those of black activists.
The conclusion is that black people can decide who is Britain’s next prime minister. As things now stand in the Commons after a number of Conservative by-election losses they will need 23 additional seats at the next election to govern alone. Labour requires 71 additional seats.
A significant fact is that there are 18 constituencies in England where black voters account for between 16 per cent of and 35 percent of the electorate, including a dozen where they are a fifth or more of the voters. Notably, the Labour Party won all these seats.
Furthermore, there are 24 constituencies with Conservative majorities where the potential black vote is greater than the winning candidates’ margins of victory. That by itself may not, on the face of it, be significant given the voting bias by black Britons for Labour. In other words, the Labour Party’s candidates might be assumed to have already received the black vote.
In fact, at the last election the Tories and the Lib Dems each received 18 per cent of the black vote, indicating that 64 per cent voted Labour. Among all black voters, 87 per cent of black Africans and 78 per cent black Caribbeans cast their ballots for the Labour Party. On the other hand only 31 per cent of white voters did so.
Clearly, the black vote is an important base for Labour - or any one that can prise it away.
But there was a time when the Labour Party could have counted on up to 90 percent of the black vote.
So, while there has been no stampede away from Labour, it is clear that the monopoly on the black vote by the party that three decades ago sent the first cohort of black MPs - Paul Boateng, Dianne Abbott, Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz - to Westminster has eased.
But analysts say that there are factors for black voters to address if they are to assert the political power that is close to their grasp. Not least of these is that they have to register to vote, then case their ballots.
A study of ethnic minority voting patterns in 2010 by the think-tank, Runnymede Trust, found that of the 79 per cent of Black Africans registered to vote, only 60 percent actually did, making them the ethnic group least likely to vote. Among black Caribbeans, 89 percent registered. Only 66 per cent voted.
MUCH TO GAIN, OR LOSE: David Cameron
It is issues such as these that the latest voter initiative by OBV, in conjunction with Britain’s black churches, is attempting to address.
“If we don’t get involved, future generations will not see the benefits of campaigns that have been fought in the past and disillusionment will set in,” said Hackney councillor, Patrick Vernon.
Vernon believes that churches are appropriate vehicles from which to broadcast the message of political involvement.
“Politics,” he said, “affects lives: what school your child goes to, what services you receive as well as crime and community safety.”
They question for black voters, if they cast votes essentially en bloc, is for whom they should vote and at what price.
There is a belief among many that despite its perceived inclusiveness and its spearheading of legislation that improved opportunities for minorities, the black support for Labour has been disproportionate to the return.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna - who supports efforts to get black people registered feels that while his party has to monopoly right to the black vote, it has reason to be proud many of its programmes that impacted the black community positively.
He said: “Nobody has the right to support from any part of the community. While Labour is proud of our past introducing equalities laws, we do not take support for granted.”
LEADING INITIATIVE TO GET BLACK VOTES: Simon Woolley
Meanwhile, the Tories and Lib Dems are criticised for their lack of substantial black representation. For instance there are no black people in the current cabinet.
In 2010, the Tories however elected their first black female MP in Helen Grant, who has since been appointed junior equalities minister. The Lib Dems have no ethnic minority MPs.
Further, last September, David Cameron, the Tory leader and prime minister, appointed Reading West MP Alok Sharma the Conservative Party’s vice chairman. Sharma is to focus on engaging black and other minority ethnic voters.
Two months later, Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, in his role as deputy prime minister, ordered a review into alleged racist banking practices in light of statistics that show people of African heritage are four times more likely to be turned down for a bank loan.
Such developments cause black activists to take notice.
But it is early to say whether they reach the bar to entice win the kind of support that will affect Britain’s electoral map.