MODERATORS: George Ruddock of The Voice and former MP Dawn Butler at the forum
THE FAILURE of Britain’s Labour Party to clearly articulate policies and address issues that affect marginalised communities, is turning away one of its most loyal group of voters.
This was the overwhelming consensus arrived at by community representatives who took part in a Voice Editor’s Forum recently.
The event held in Brent, which was co-hosted by Star Media Corporation and broadcast on their Internet-based programme, Life with Dawn Butler, explored the issue of the black community’s apparent over reliance and support of one particular party, following The Voice’s provocative ‘Big Question’ series which recently asked: “Is Labour losing the Black Vote?”
Despite the party receiving 64 per cent of the black and minority ethnic (BME) vote in the last general election, 82 per cent of participants in a Voice online poll agreed that Labour is taking the black vote for granted.
According to The Voice’s managing director and editor, George Ruddock, the party is “only concerned about getting minorities to vote” but is doing nothing to truly engage the bme communities.
He pointed out that, despite recent research by Operation Black Vote, which showed that BMEs could decide over a quarter of the seats in the 2015 general election, there is a lack of representation. He also pointed out that the numbers of BME councillors across parties has not risen since the 1990s, remaining at a meagre four per cent.
Media consultant and veteran BBC journalist, Evadney Campbell, agreed that Labour is not doing enough to attract BME voters. She said: “The last election I did not have a single Labour councillor knock on my door. Why? Because they think I’m going to vote for them anyway.”
But Labour was not the only party to come under fire. Whilst it was agreed that the Conservative party has, in recent times, become more active in seducing black Britons, the general consensus was that all the parties are out of touch with BME communities.
Employment consultant, Keith Stewart, said: “My mum will vote Labour and nothing else…but when I look at all the parties there is nobody I can identify a connection with.”
CONCERNS: HR professional Susan Popoola (left ) and media consultant Evadney Campbell at the forum
Entrepreneur and founder of the National Black Women’s Network, Sonia Brown, accused the parties of focusing on the headline issues that usually forward their agendas, but failing to connect with the real concerns of the BME electorate such as education, unemployment and crime.
She said: “There is no point in talking about ‘green’ when people are worried about how do I shop between Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Aldi. The problem is real for people. They’ve seen their real cost of living going up and their real salaries going down, and there is nobody addressing those issues in a way that resonates with them - hence the apathy.”
Youth inclusion consultant and founder of The Noor Initiative, Bilal Dunn added that there was a need for political parties to break down their policies in simple terms, so young people could have a clear understanding of what is on offer.
But Labour party representatives who were in attendance at the forum argued that the reluctance of BME communities to become politically active is partly responsible.
“It isn’t enough just to register to vote, you’ve got to get involved,” argued Brent Labour councillor Jim Moher.
Entrepreneur Dr Dwain Neil, whose mother, the late Ambrosine Neil, was a Brent Labour councillor and a popular activist, agreed. He said: “If the community....does not organise itself in a way to hold these parties accountable, rightly, they will ignore us.”
Cllr Moher admitted that Labour needed to “readdress its appeal to all sections of the community” but was steadfast in defending his party. He pointed out that in Brent over half of the Labour councillors, the leader, and five out of 10 on the Executive are from BME communities.
CHANGE:Labour Councillor Jim Moher feels party needs to widens its appeal.
Butler, a former Labour MP, joined Moher in defending Britain’s main opposition party, pointing out that it was their party which led the fight for equality through legislation and decisive actions, such as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the Macpherson report.
However, human resources professional, Susan Popoola, urged the Labour representatives and the other attendees to not just focus on what Labour has done in the past, but concentrate on what it is doing now, and what it plans to do in the future.
In a bid to identify solutions to the disconnect between the policies and actions of the country’s main political parties and BME communities, Butler admitted that the Labour party needed to be “way clearer” on its policies, although she said it had to be careful not to reveal too much to its rivals.
She said: “You cannot expose all of your policies before general election or else the other party nicks them.”
More pointedly, retired civil servant and Labour hopeful, Dan Filson said the party needed to tailor its policies to address individual issues.
He added: “The key thing for Labour to win in 2015 is to be very articulate about what it’s for, rather than what it is against.”
Campbell stressed the importance of holding parties to account, and the need for a powerful black media that will encourage activism and give the community a voice. She hailed The Voice as the leader in the “charge” for change.
Cllr Moher urged the community to be proactive and “raise issues directly with…politicians.”
He added: “We will respond, because councillors are most accountable.”