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 IT’S RELEVANT’
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.
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.
‘DAWN BUTLER IS A CONSUMATE MEDIA PERFORMER’
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.