Is there a place for black politicians in Labour?

With Butler’s deputy leader bid at risk and Clive Lewis struggling to get support the party’s leadership elections is seriously lacking in diversity despite the loyalty of black voters says Maurice McLeod


Before anyone has had time to lick their wounds after a bruising general election defeat, the starting pistol has already been fired in the race to see who will make up the new leadership of the Labour Party.

Much has been written about the destruction of ‘Labour’s traditional heartlands’ in the Midlands and the North and commentators quite rightly point out that the party needs to win back these voters if it is to form a Government at any time in the near future.

This cannot be at the expense of Labour’s other heartland though.

Despite December’s defeat, Labour better in areas with large BAME populations. Britain’s black communities, in particular, have been unshakeably loyal to the Labour party with 82-87% of black voters choosing Labour in 2017.

This was shown in constituencies like Vauxhall where Florence Eshalomi got elected with a 19,612 majority, Streatham where Bell Ribeiro-Addy was elected with a 17,690 majority and Battersea where Marsha de Cordova more than doubled her majority to 5,668.


These areas are made up of 19-31% BAME voting populations. More than that, they have 12-24% black populations.

Black voters are less politically engaged than their white (or even their Asian) neighbours with the Electoral Commission reporting that in 2015 only 76% of black potential voters were even registered, compared to 80% of Asian people and 85% of white people.


Politics needs to show that its relevant and that it can genuinely be a force for change in people’s lives or there is a risk that more and more working class people in general and black people in particular, will just give up on the whole thing and disengage even further.

Even with these missing registered voters, The Runnymede Trust estimated that around 10% of voters in 2017 were BAME. This is 4.8m voters UK-wide.

Despite this loyalty the number of senior black voices in the party has always been embarrassingly low. Before Corbyn’s transformative shadow cabinet, Labour had very few black MPs in senior roles.

Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng were elected in 1987 and I find it kind of embarrassing that no black MP has made it Leader, deputy leader of Chair of the party 33 years later.

Image matters.

Despite putting forward policies that would have brought real change to the lives of so many in Britain, the media and those opposed to change were able to present Jeremy Corbyn and by association, the Labour party, to a sizeable chunk of the population as being part of a metropolitan elite.

This jarred with enough voters in the forgotten parts of Britain to persuade them to choose the very embodiment of upper class privilege in Boris Johnson over Corbyn’s.

This unwanted leadership election gives the party a chance to look more like the country it’s trying to represent.

If someone with the experience, stature and quality of Dawn Butler, who was the first elected black woman to serve as a minister in the UK, doesn’t make the ballot for deputy leader, Labour will have to ask itself what roles it sees black politicians playing in its future.

With Clive Lewis facing an uphill task to make it on to the ballot for leader, Labour could be offering its membership a list of nominees with no black candidates for either position.  

Of course, above all, it’s about policies and qualities more than identities.


But Dawn Butler is a consummate media performer, calm and assured under pressure while still having the realness to connect with voters of all backgrounds.

She has a glowing track record of fighting for marginalised communities, whether black, brown, traveller or LGBTQ. She is a proven feminist and is great at the despatch box.

If Butler doesn’t make it on to the ballot and the party, Labour will be missing an opportunity to show it really is not just for the many but of the many.

Comments Form


  1. | Henley Smith

    I’m a Black Labour voter;My Parents were Staunch Labour voters;It’s Shameful the White Labour MP has Nominated Any Black Labour Candidate for Any High Profile Positions in the Labour Party!?The Majority of Black Labour voters are From a Working Class back ground!!! Time is More Than Enough for Change


  2. | Iris Bailey

    Many of us who are black struggle just to be heard in our local Labour Party. We are marginalised, not allowed to speak and constantly out-manoeuvred when it comes to applying for anything because we are not informed until the last minute. BAME Labour has ceased to function and it is a disgrace that so many CLPs have not been allowed to set up BAME Forums as is our constitutional right. Racist words and noises are used at meetings and when we complain we are told we are bullying …. typical dog-whistle tactics to prevent us having a say. Why don’t you run a survey and invite ALL BAME members of the Labour Party to tell you their experience? It would make a great story.


    • | Joe Sample

      Maybe you need to consider other political parties. The plantation mentality of voting labour is crumbling.


  3. | Val

    Black politicians must learn the divide an rule game an realise how it is used against us. When one is elected, learn how to unite an support each other. This leadership election will show what really is happening. BAME members must start acting as one an support each other. The covert racism still exist more so than ever now. Let us all be transformed. The people who say they for us let them stand out an say so clearly.


  4. | Anthony Atterbury

    I am sure Chuka Umunna decision to leave the Labour Party is coming back to haunt him.


  5. | Fitzjames Wood

    Labour’s embracing of identity politics while at the same time excluding a real socialist agenda (an agenda that fights racism in all forms while addressing the real social and economic issues we face together) has resulted in a fractured and self-serving collection of disparate groups all vying for their voice to be heard and their issues addressed and validated at the expense of any and exclusion of all other far greater issues that affect the future of all of our society today. This has alienated many non BAME, non LGBTQ+ etc. who don’t understand or care about the rather nuanced arguments regarding race/equality/sex/sexual orientation, but do care about high rents, lack of housing, poor low waged jobs and do care how their experience of Europe has appeared to rob the working classes of so much and, they perceive, given them nothing in return. Unless Labour politicians dump identity politics and reach out to all, they will never regain power and the racist policies of parties blind to the needs of the many and the few will continue to erode our civil liberties, our NHS, our jobs etc. and it won’t matter what colour/ethnic/sexual orientation you are we will all be forever equally screwed.


  6. | wez.tindian

    People are associated with people who look like them in their successes and achievement, is instinctive within cultural collectives disregarding colour.

    Britain’s black diaspora achievement is historic, and memorising our past is an essential part of who we are as a race, should not be left to the discretion of institutions that perpetuate the white race as superior in perpetuating the status quo is to promote segregation by the whitewashing of selected historical events regarding being black.

    Mavericks and individuals has established how denial and control is to placate through the hijacking of those same go-getters and do-gooder’s been invited from the fields through the back doors to bask in the auspiciousness for consumption.

    Displayed on the tables within the kitchens of the white plantation master’s house of achievement through acquisitions for conspicuous consumption is to be subjugated again, by national images and trinkets, shiny things that can only be viewed through rose tinted glasses, or beer goggles worn by the bewitched, and the subjugated.

    Through pomp and the ceremonial bestowing of political titles, Knight hood, lords, dame’s, the titles they were to have bestowed on them for acceptance, regarding the obligatory non-disclosure procedure, for exclusive rights to be wheeled out, collectively as trophies in the most public of display cabinets, the media as the preverbal black sheep of the diaspora family, to promote the establishment on social occasions as conformation of multiculturalism at work, can be problematic, then to be wheeled back to be placed under the dust sheets of conformity, only to be denounced and stigmatized by the mavericks of the black collectives, as uncle toms.

    There are many who have not taken the white man’s shilling, not for self-interest but for the cause, musicians, poets, authors, scholars individuals when the question asked is – if you know your history, you will know where you are coming from.


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