Why Labour is failing BAME voters

The Labour Party has traditionally been the party that black voters have put their faith in. But, argues Lester Holloway, it has a long way to go in truly representing them

PICTURED: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

BLACK COMMUNITIES are putting their faith in Labour like never before. 

But is this support being reflected with black candidates? 

All the indications are that Labour is so far failing to reflect their support in terms of would-be MPs. Yet it is not too late to improve before a snap election.

A study by the Runnymede Trust earlier this year showed a huge swing towards Labour from African and Caribbean communities at the 2017 general election, after decades of decline in successive elections. It showed African support running at 82 percent and Caribbean support at 87 percent.

Most votes are loaned and need to be rewarded. Labour’s programme of transformative change will make a real difference to the lives of everyday people, but the party also needs to look like its’ voters.

‘A New Era’ is how The Voice welcomed the breakthrough of the first black MPs in 1987. 

The election of Diane Abbott, the late Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng felt like the start of something big, but over three decades later black representation is proportionately even further behind the population at large.

Let me explain. The real measure of success is the elimination of the gap between the number of MPs of colour and the proportion that should be there if the House of Commons actually reflected society.

If you compare the four BME MPs in 1987 with the population census at the time (1981) we should have had 35 more MPs of colour back then. 

Fast forward to the last election, in 2017; the non-white population has grown considerably along with the number of BME MPs. 

The Voice Newspaper front page, 1987

But when you compare it to the 2011 population census, we are currently 39 MPs short. In other words, we have proportionally gone backwards.

Labour has over half (31) of all non-white MPs but that is not nearly enough given that Labour has often proclaimed itself as the anti-racist party and enjoys overwhelming support from black communities.  

Yet while some internal selections to become a candidate have gone to good veteran Socialists too few have gone to people of colour. Even fewer to people of black African heritage.

As a snap election looms, the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) must have a list of black Labour candidates ready to fight held and winnable seats as they arise. 

But there are other changes that need to happen. Simply having a reserved place on shortlists is not enough; these are seen as a token and simply don’t work.

While all-BME shortlists are currently not allowed, we need to see more shortlists that just happen to be all-BME, as we did in Lewisham East, Chingford and Woodford Green, Brent Central and Ealing Southall. None of these resulted in a legal challenge.

Labour should also invest in an A-list of potential BME candidates democratically chosen by the party in advance, and then slot them into vacancies without a local selection in a proportion of winnable seats.

Also, trade unions need to start backing black candidates who support trade unionism but who may not necessarily be veterans of the union movement. 

That will often mean throwing their weight behind ‘outsiders’ over their own people and daring to believe there are Socialists outside ‘the pool’ who are just as committed to Corbyn’s vision of radical change for the many.

These measures will go a long way to making Labour’s candidates better reflect its diverse base and the population at large. It should be a top priority.

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