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What is the state of black politics in the UK?

TRAILBLAZERS: Lambeth councillor Florence Nosegbe and Former Brent MP Dawn Butler

THE NEEDS of Britain's black communities have become easy to ignore because not enough are using their vote to sway policy-makers, a think-tank of political and business leader has said.

Poor voter registration was cited as the single biggest challenge to black politics in the UK at the first of The Voice's Editor Forum, held on Monday, December 5.

It brought together black politicians representing the three major parties as well as business experts at Operation Black Vote (OBV) headquarters, in Bethnal Green, east London, to discuss the current state of black politics.

Managing director George Ruddock, who chaired the meeting, said: "This is the first of a series of editors forums we are introducing. From these forums we hope to generate debate, learn from it and publish the findings so our readers can continue the debate."

"There is currently 27 BME (black and minority ethnic) MPs - the most there has ever been. Is black politics in the UK in good shape? Operation Black Vote would have you think it is, but we are asking is it really?"

NEGATIVES

One of the issues raised was by Sylbourne Sydial, a Conservative Party member and activist, who said he was concerned many black people felt compelled to vote for the Labour Party because of "historical factors" preventing individuals from thinking for themselves.

Backing candidates just because they are black but not understanding their policies or being overly-critical of black leaders were also highlighted as obstacles to getting the African and African Caribbean community enthused about politics.

Those at the meeting also called for cross-party politicians to put aside ideological differences and unite to fight black issues as well as support each other against institutional racism they might face by forming caucuses like in the US.

Black churches were identified as an untapped resource to galvanise first-time or apathetic voters.


UNITE: David Weaver urges people to act on democratic rights

Long-standing political activist David Weaver, representing OBV, said: "The narrative around race and what it means to be black in the UK has been diluted ­ we need to reassert black leadership."

He continued: "Our power is in our vote ­– that is what political parties listen to. They know our communities aren't doing it."

"If the establishment feels we can't organise and unite to act on our democratic rights that shows the challenge there," he added.

Former Brent MP Dawn Butler lost her seat at the last election in 2010 when two constituencies were merged forcing her to go head to head with Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather who beat Butler by 1,345 votes, or 3 per cent. Had more black voters turned out, there may have been a different ending.

Butler said: "Getting people registered in the first place is a problem but being registered to vote does not mean they are coming. If it's raining or if it¹s cold ­ black people aren't coming out. We should look at getting people to sign up to postal votes."

RAISE THE GAME

Lambeth councillor Florence Nosegbe, also cabinet member for culture, sport and the 2012 games, said black politicians had to be proactive in rallying support whether at local or national level.

She said: "Organise your members. You want to watch Eastenders instead of voting? No. You have to be there to support me even if it means me picking you all up and dropping you home. One vote can make all the difference."

Councillor Nosegbe said that in Lambeth they had already identified candidates who could stand at the next elections and were encouraging them to get involved in their communities to boost their track records and increase their chances of selection.

Quite often they could find themselves up against an old vanguard in local parties who are resistant to change.

The Labour politician added: "If someone in their 30s/40s/50S has never voted it can be difficult to convince them so I am passionate about getting young people involved in the political process."


AWARENESS: Liberal Democrat councillor Lester Holloway and Southwark councillor Dora Dixon-Fyle

She continued: "They need to understand what I am doing and hold me to account. Why are young people more interested in X Factor than who their local representatives are? We need to go out into the communities and that's what we are doing with the Lambeth mayor scheme."

"It was criticised as too expensive but I say it's money well spent if we are getting young people excited about politics and training them on public speaking and how to write a manifesto. Why is that not being discussed in schools? This needs to be happening up and down the country," she added.

Butler added she was introducing Bernie's List named in honour of the late Tottenham MP Bernie Grant as a means of encouraging young black people to get involved in politics whatever their party through mentoring.

RACE

Liberal Democrat councillor Lester Holloway, a former editor of the now-defunct New Nation newspaper, said he felt some black politicians were too scared to raise so-called "black" issues.

He added: "You rarely come across those who say they are in politics to do something about the huge disadvantage black communities face like stop and search or the high levels of incarceration of black men in prisons and mental institutions."

"We have a political culture that says you can¹t talk about race; that you have to represent everybody ­ but that does mean you still can't take forward those issues."

Butler added: "When racism was more overt there was a cause to rally behind.

"As young people grow up without feeling they are being discriminated against there appears less to fight for, but if you want equality you have to continue to fight for it."

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