SEEKING YOUR VOTES: Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives
BLACK POLITICIANS from Britain’s three major political parties have renewed calls for their leaders to support measures to attract ethnic minority voters, following an article published in The Voice last week pointing to the potential power of this group.
The Labour Party is traditionally the biggest beneficiary of the UK’s black vote, winning 87 per cent of the ballots cast by people of African background in the 2010 election and 78 per cent of votes from people of Caribbean background.
But Kamalejeet Jandu, a party activist who heads the group, Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Labour, has warned of the danger of a “drift away from the Labour Party” if it takes black votes for granted and fails to develop a black agenda, including fielding more black candidates in safe seats.
Jandu said: “That danger exists in many black communities where people are unhappy about the level of engagement. This has to be addressed as this anger could turn people away.”
The Voice story explored how African and Caribbean voters could decide who wins or loses the next general election depending on where and, most importantly, if they choose to cast their ballot.
A breakdown of voting data showed that constituencies such as Battersea, Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Croydon Central, and Harrow East - where there is a large percentage of black voters - could play a deciding role in the 2015 election.
Their influence could be further enhanced at the next election, black activists believe in light of the 40 per cent growth of the UK black population over the past decade, from 1.1 to more than 1.8 million, based on the findings of the 2011 Census.
But while Labour mulls over the possibility of desertion by black voters, the dangers of failing to entice black voters is not limited only to Labour.
In the last election only 16 per cent of the black vote went to the Conservatives and six per cent to the Liberal Democrats. But in several constituencies won by either party, their majorities were less than the black vote, and more significantly, the black population.
They, therefore, could have much to gain if disenchanted black Britons drifted from Labour and found homes in them, rather than on the political sidelines.
VOTES: Labour Party leader Ed Miliband; and Deputy PM Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives, long considered complacent towards the concerns of black and other minority ethnic voters, appointed MP Alok Sharma deputy chairman and gave him a portfolio that includes black and minority ethnic minority (BME) engagement.
Sharma said: “The Voice is right to say that black voters will play a key role in deciding who wins the next general election. At the last election, only 16 per cent of Black and Minority Ethnic voters put their faith in us. This was a humbling experience and the truth is that in the past, as a party, we have not engaged as actively and consistently with ethnic minority communities as we should have done. But this is changing. So we are now actively getting out there listening to voices from ethnic minority communities and also explaining what we stand for.”
He added: “I take great encouragement from the fact that the core values espoused by many from ethnic minority backgrounds are much more aligned with those of the Conservatives than Labour this was one of the central conclusions of the respected Ethnic Minority British Election Survey.”
Sharma has also called on his government to consider introducing measures to increase the numbers of BME professionals in the boardroom.
He has requested that the number of employees from both white and BME backgrounds within the workforce as a whole, as well as at senior and board level, should be made public.
But beyond the job and boardroom initiatives proposed by Sharma, other political campaigners believe that parties should take specific action to increase the number of black people in Parliament.
Jandu, for instance, is pushing for what he calls a “majority ethnic minority” list. It would work in the same way as all-women shortlists, requiring Labour to pick black candidates to stand in constituencies where BME communities are in the majority.
He believes there should be up to 60 MPs to represent the black British population.
“Every institution should reflect the make up of society, and there there are advantages to that,” Jandu said.
The suggestion has support from Lester Hollway, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Sutton, south London. He is campaigning for a black shortlist within his own party.
“It is only through a shortlist that we can increase participation and representation of black minorities,” Holloway said.
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
Reporter Bart Chan asks potential voters if they believe the black community is powerful enough to elect Britain’s next PM and what issues they want to see addressed
“We’re getting more involved in politics”
Bonnie Gray, self-employed
“Black voters quite reasonably could make a difference because of the shift and movement in the population. We’ve got a high contingency of black people all over the country now and everybody is getting involved in politics. Things like child benefit are important, not for me personally, but for one-parent families and others in the community.
Roads and jobs also stand out for me. The coalition government has not done very well because some of the economic problems we have were caused by the bankers, but now poor people are bearing the brunt of it. None of the politicians are doing a good job, but we have to vote for somebody, so I’d go for Labour. But they’re all rubbish; from Miliband right back to…what’s his name? Cameron. Politicians say one thing before they get into power, and once they get into power they do another particularly Nick Clegg.”
“Ed Miliband sounds promising”
Olu Ogunbanjo, IT tester
“So far I haven’t been impressed with coalition, not just for the black community, but for everybody in general. Their policies are making life more difficult for normal people who are trying to survive. Ed Miliband sounds like a promising leader; it’s just a case of wait and see to find out what he can bring to the table.
I’m inclined to go back to Labour, but the whole issue of war and Iraq did put me off, as did the financial mess they left behind. I thought the Conservatives would have a better plan than what they’re doing right now; I haven’t been impressed so far. If you can make me prime minister, I’ll do the job.”
“We must stand up and vote”
Abigail Otchere, student
“I think the black community can determine the next prime minister. Because a lot of black people don’t vote, they feel they don’t get a say but if they stand up and vote I think it would make a difference. I voted in the last general election. I think I would vote for Labour in the next election.
Ed Miliband is one politician I like. As a student I don’t feel favoured by the government, because of the high tuition fees. The rise is unfair, students shouldn’t be paying this much. Youth clubs as well are important – a lot of them are being closed. If more remained open, it would help lower crime.”
“We don’t get involved”
Sylvester Ottah, IT consultant
“Personally, I don’t think the black community can elect the next prime minister. There are two reasons. One, the British tend to vote in a special way; people say ‘I’ve always voted Conservative, I’ll stick to voting Conservative’. And, it’s the same with Labour. It may be different with the Liberal Democrats – but I expect them to have a complete meltdown in the next election because of their lies. Secondly, the black community is not heavily involved in UK politics.
A lot of them are of the opinion that their vote doesn’t count, and because of that they decide not to vote. You have a couple of areas where people will vote, but overall, nationwide, I don’t think so. Security, health, the economy and education are important to me. With all the cuts to the police, security is a major issue. We’re trying to privatise a lot of things; the Government is simply handing over the responsibility to service providers that are not accountable to anyone. I really have no time for politicians, because when they’re in opposition they say anything, when they’re in government… just look at Clegg – what a disappointment.”
“We live here too”
Timi Joe, student
“The black community can make a difference in the outcome of the next general election. It’s important to vote, because you live in this country and the people you vote for make the changes, so we should make the choice of who we want. I didn’t vote in the last election, but the Conservatives shouldn’t have been voted in.
They and the Liberal Democrats aren’t doing a good job. I like Tony Blair; he’s not just a politician, he’s a business character. Since he’s left politics he’s doing business in other countries and also helping them with their problems. He’s alright by me.”
“I’d back Boris”
Lake Tembo, electrician
“At this stage, there’s not much the black community can do to influence who the next prime minister is. I want a prime minister to be someone who listens. I would say the mayor, Boris Johnson, looks very good, someone very down to earth. I could see myself voting for Boris for prime minister. But I don’t see a black person becoming prime minister anytime soon, maybe in 30 or 40 years’ time. The reason I say that is because if you look at the knighthoods recently handed out to some Olympians, Mo Farah wasn’t included, and I don’t know why.
There is absolutely an element of discrimination running through the establishment, and I’m not surprised – it’s just the way it is, it’s England. If you look at America, black people are seen as part of the community, and what they say is more heard, compared to black people in the UK. I voted for Cameron in the last election, and I think I’ll vote for the Conservatives next time too.”