Labour’s minority problem

by Henry Engler

Just one week after the major political parties launched their General Election campaigns, depressingly little headway has been made to cut through the cynicism of the electorate.

And voters aren’t the ones to blame. Their apathy is reflective of a much wider problem.

Seven years of austerity are taking their toll and none of the major parties have reached out far enough and wide enough to engage with real people in order to deliver their message.

And that’s before you take the ethnic minorities into account. While far from ignored, Labour has rested on its laurels in recent years and seen its traditional voter base eroded.

Bradford and Tower Hamlets should have been the wakeup call that the party needed but sadly the lessons have not been learnt and CLP’s around the UK are either being hollowed out, or failing to take advantage of the significant number of ethnic minority voters in their constituencies.

What’s worse is that this is often happening without the party noticing, especially in Labour-led authorities, or where the majority is superficially large.

Take Edmonton constituency in north London. This is a seat that has delivered large majorities for Labour. And why wouldn’t it, given its “traditional Labour” demographic. However, as recently as 1997 the seat was held by the Conservatives.

Let’s not forget that Clacton (formerly Harwich) was Labour until 2005. And Heywood & Middleton, which only remained Labour by a whisker in October’s by-election.

Therefore, it’s not inconceivable that constituencies such as Edmonton could be hollowed out through a combination of complacency, inactive membership, and voter apathy at what is perceived to be a lack of clear water between the three main political parties.

This situation is made more precarious by the fact that Labour is failing to win over ethnic minorities with its largely untargeted, broad-brush approach.

And the figures are eye-watering. To use Edmonton again as an example, Labour cemented a majority of 9,613 there in 2010. While this figure appears respectable, it disguises the fact that there is three times that number (27,000) of Muslims in a constituency that is 73% ethnic minority, based on the 2011 National Census figures. However, as elsewhere in London, Labour is neither engaging meaningfully with these minorities nor giving suitable candidates the opportunity to.

Take the recent selection in Holborn & St Pancras. Noone could argue that Keir Starmer isn’t a strong candidate with a respected track record in public office. However, the manner in which he was selected has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many minority candidates that coveted the seat. And that feeling is accentuated when you take into account the fact that ethnic minorities make up 55% of the constituency. That in itself shows that it was a real opportunity missed not to select a representative candidate.

The worry is the message these selections send out beyond the borders of the constituency, especially to voters in areas Labour hopes to win back, such as Bradford, whose voters will surely feel their decision to support Respect has been vindicated.

That’s why I was encouraged to read the recent interview with David Lammy, in which he acknowledged that Labour needs to address this current malaise. Not least because, as someone running to be Labour’s candidate for London mayor, he’ll be acutely aware of the fact that Labour lost the 2012 London election by just 100,000 votes. That figure is further dwarfed by the 4.5m members of the ethnic minority community in the city.

So while constituencies turn to this year’s general election, one that is far from being decided yet, I call on all grassroots members, activists and Labour representatives to cast the net as wide as possible in order to engage meaningfully with this significant section of the community.

And I urge the party leadership to look beyond the lawyers, SpAds and career politicians in order to enable a far greater number of ethnic minority candidates to represent their diverse communities to ensure that once again Labour is the party of the people.

Henry Engler has been a Labour party member for 15 years and, in a professional capacity, has worked closely with ethnic minority organisations

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13 Responses to “Labour’s minority problem”

  1. Landless Peasant says:

    I’m in Bradford and I can tell you right now why Galloway won and Labour didn’t; Iraq.

  2. Ummunaite says:

    This is why we need primaries for Labour parliamentary selections and maybe open primaries for safe seats.

  3. John P Reid says:

    I think the mayoral election comparison to general election is wrong,even the most highest turnout at Mayoral elections in 2008 it was less than 50% and the lowest general election there was a 60% turnout in 2001′ I appreciate that certain constituencies such as Tottenham that in the past had a high BAME population, (10 years from now creat ian council estates such as Broadwater, will be mainly Turkish) the idea that Boris, managed to appeal to BAME people, while not falling into the trap that BAME people all use to vote the same anyway, was more of an Anti Ken vote than pro Boris, as such,it could be said that was the view of white voters too.

    Harwich /Clacton, saw Ukip partly returned due to Carswell own vote, I know A BAME and gay vote who both voted ?Ukip ,there I know ex right wing tories who voted Ukip, in 2009 and the recent EU elections who would have voted Ukip, in October but consider them too right wing, Clacton is one of the most white places in the UK, but the .ukip vote is white flight, infact the GLC use to pay for pensioners to retire in council himse there.

    Regarding Edmonton returning The tories in 1992′ it was a yuppie town, or the equivalent of Essex Man before Hornsey or parts of Hackney.

    Muslim also arent a race,it’s a religion, I know white Muslims who voted for Galloway in 2005 Tower Hamlets.

    The Keir Stammer victory, wasn’t my personal favourite, but we will have to scrap AWS for a few years if we’re to have Male BAME candidates, or actually define what female is if A Grnder or inter sex,or pre op transgender candidate say they’re female, and no more Jack Dromeys winning AWS,I recall a male in Bevan/Michael Foots old seat, being replaced by a women, so he stood as a independent and won, also when Bernie grant first stood for parliament ,10 different high profile labour members told the electorate to vote for the SDP candidate there,!!!

    Take the Mayoral selection, constituencies have the chance to nominate 2 people OBE a female and anoth, there’s 2 BME males who want it, and 2 females one white one Black, ( and white Journalist Christian Wolmar) so it’s imposible for any constiuency to nominate both the black males

  4. Ben Cobley says:

    Giving favouritism to ethnic minorities is incredibly problematic, though I get the issue. My way of seeing democratic politics is you have a community, then that community provides party members, then those members elect a candidate and the electors elect an MP who represents them. If that process is not electing MPs that are ‘representative’ then the community should be acting to make sure it does.

    Of course that is problematic (not least because you need to organise – and some groups are motivated to organise more than others), but democracy is problematic and imperfect – it’s point is not to be perfect but to represent.

    But coming back to my original point, if you give favouritism to some groups, you alienate others, and this is what is happening in Labour now, or rather has happened with the white working class. They have found ethnic and religious groups being given favouritism in their areas and concluded that they don’t belong and are unwelcome and have withdrawn away from politics.

    Favouritism by colour of course favours those who are doing well and are not disadvantaged, while those being used to justify the favouritism remain on the outside, unless they are politically organised.

  5. swatantra says:

    The AWS has to stay until we get parity; and lets have an ABAME as well in proportion.
    But anyway Labour is a Party of Minorities or Special Interest Groups, like working class and trade unionists and young people and the priveliged born with silver spoons in their mouths like Benn and Blair and Foot. It should be an open and inclusive Party, otherwise it cannot call itself a One Nation Party.

  6. Tafia says:

    Their apathy is reflective of a much wider problem.

    Seven years of austerity are taking their toll

    It’s not austerity that’s caused the cynicism – it;s the fact that MPs expenses and all the other stuff linked to it that blew up have not gone away and have not been dealt with the way the public were led to believe they would be. And a penny to a pinch of pig shit, Farage will bring it all up again closer to the day

  7. Michael Worcester says:

    re comment ‘I urge the party leadership to look beyond the lawyers, SpAds and career politicians in order to enable a far greater number of ethnic minority candidates to represent their diverse communities to ensure that once again Labour is the party of the people.’

    In Birmingham 27/77 Labour councillors and 2/10 MPs are Pakistani Muslim so I hope if this is implemented that Labour pander to a different minority for a change.

  8. Dave Roberts. says:

    As we get nearer to the General Election articles like this worry me. Even if any of the figures and anecdotes were true a matter of concern should be that the writer views the problem within the Labour Party as whites versus everyone else.

    Let me state first of all that there is no BME or BAME community either in London or anywhere else. It is now impossible to discover where these terms came from but the fact that senior Labour Party figures mouth them endlessly should be of great concern to people like myself who want a Labour government and a Labour Mayor of London. What the writer has done is to take a whole series of disconnected events and make a theory out of them. Let’s deconstruct his argument.

    As is now clear Tower Hamlets and Bradford were different to mainstream events in the country and to each other. In both constituencies younger politically ambitious elements with the communities and Labour reacted against the control of the political processes and set up their own groupings.

    In Tower Hamlets it was Respect which then collapsed after a couple of years with most Respect councillors defecting to Labour. One, who was also a member of the SWP, actually went from Respect to the Tories! In 2010 the whole edifice collapsed and Galloway lost his seat coming third and not bothering to turn up for the vote.

    The Respect element now with business money and the backing of Islamic Forum Europe formed Tower Hamlets First a totally Bangladeshi group that has now run the borough into the ground. The administration is now in the hands of Commissioners put in by the DCLG and an an electoral court meets in a couple of weeks to decide whether or not Tower Hamlets first rigged the last council and Mayoral elections.

    In Bradford a similar situation arose when groups of younger Kashmiri Muslims, excluded from political power by the Biridari system simply joined Respect. They have now all left, are independents, will probably rejoin Labour or enter a coalition and Galloway will lose his seat.

    What the above have to do with Clacton and Heywood and Middleton is any ones guess, perhaps the writer could tell us. The last two, if the voters are to be believed, voted for UKIP because of immigration, a subject which Labour is vulnerable on.

    What this writer in a very convoluted and disorganised way has tried to say is that unless Labour starts to impose ethnic minorities as candidates they will lose elections because people from ethnic minorities are increasingly voting for their own racial groups.

    This of course means that Labour have to cut deals with largely unelected ethnic minority leaders to secure blocks of votes. That has been tried, Livingstone relied on it twice in London and lost and if Labour do so again they will lose and rightly so because it is racist, corrupt and ignores the reality of ethnic minority individuals making their own decisions.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Swatantra unless we have BAME AWS who are working class I can’t see how you can resolve this, then Diane Abbott will moan that the Tories have more male BAME MPs than us, and we’ll get Oona King following Chuka Ammunas steps and pretending to be working class, or transgender choice on AWS or Jack Drimeys winning AWS

    At our local AGM last. Week I pointed out that self defined ethnicity, means that or BAME rep could be 1/4 BAME and look white and stand for it, I know several 1/4 BME mixed race people who define them selves when asked as Black.

  10. John P Reid says:

    The working class shortlist idea also ,excludes,local candidates,I don’t think say in my or Swatantras neck of the woods, there were many BME people born there,maybe moved there when they were teenagers etc, where will these lists stop,

  11. John P reid says:

    Unless they’re under 30′ I should have put,

  12. Dave Roberts. says:

    As there was a reference to Edmonton in the article I enclose a link to an Enfield Council site which is very informative. I hope you can get through as it is very informative and gives a ward by ward breakdown for the whole borough. If it doesn’t work I’ll give the google link I got it from.

  13. Dave Roberts. says:

    It doesn’t work but basically shows that of the two wards in Enfield with the highest and lowest proportion of ethnic minorities whites are still the largest group. In Town Ward they are 82% with the rest divided between eight other groups and 6.8% Greek and Turkish who have classified themselves on many occasions as white.

    The lowest is Edmonton Ward with 39% white and the rest as above with 13% Greek and Turkish.

    Groups aged under 15 53%
    15-64 58.9%
    65 plus 83.1%

    What has not been quantified is the arrival and high birth rate of Eastern Europeans which is now significant. In terms of economic well being and productivity, whites Turks and Greeks outperform all other groups.

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