Why the Labour Party still has a problem with black men (and it’s getting worse)

by Paul Wheeler

Back in 2014 I wrote a comment piece for Labour List. I was criticised then for an ‘unhelpful contribution to the debate’. Well it wasn’t meant to be helpful it was a warning that without action the existing problem about black male representation in the Labour Party was likely to get worse.

The recent elections to the NEC are a classic example of how the last six years have been wasted. Terry Paul and Jermain Jackman were excellent candidates who would have added much needed experience and knowledge to our National Executive. Neither were elected. Whilst we rightly congratulate the progress of black women to become Labour MPs at the last General Election the applause is missing for any new black men in the PLP. It’s shameful to our party that we now have more black men as Conservative MPs than on the Labour benches. The position in Labour local government is even worse with precisely two black leaders of Labour councils. Recent events in Southwark where a talented black councillor was rejected as Leader shows that the situation is not likely to improve either. We can criticise the Conservative Party for its politics but it’s record of promoting black men to positions of influence in Parliament and the party organisation is one that that we conspicuously lack.

For a party that believes in planning and social justice we display a remarkably ‘laissiez-faire’ approach to candidate selections. As a consequence, we have a ruthless free market with considerable advantage to those of insider knowledge of the process and networks built up over years at University and within parliament and favoured think tanks. The problem has been compounded as our membership becomes more middle class and an implicit tendency for many members and councillors to select in their own image. The problem could have corrected in the last six years if the Trades Unions (many who have large numbers of black men as members) had made serious efforts to sponsor talented black male candidates but they haven’t. In fact over the last three General Elections several Trades Unions, including my own Unite, have made the situation worse by endorsing privileged white men as favoured candidates in safe Labour seats such as Ilford South and Leeds East.

As a party we recognised over twenty years ago that we could not significantly increase the number of women MPs if we left the selection process to market forces. As well as All Women Shortlists a whole range of advocacy groups were created to support and mentor women candidates and the results have been impressive. Sadly, the Labour Party in the 21st century abandoned any idea of pro-active support and largely left the promotion of under-represented groups to factions within the party. For black men who suffer from wider issues of discrimination in society the outcome has been disastrous.

So, what next? Well as a party we can only resolve a problem if we recognise that we have one. We simply have to stop talking about the ‘BAME’ community and recognise that there are specific issues and concerns about political representation within that all-encompassing (and vaguely patronising) designation. Over the last quarter century many organisations from Universities to commercial companies have undertaken ground-breaking initiatives to identify and support recruitment from under-represented groups including black men. Labour and the Trades Unions should be humble enough to learn from them. If we carry on as before, indulge in a bout of virtue signalling and change nothing there will be consequences. The significant increase in support from black and hispanic men for Donald Trump in the Presidential election indicates in a stark way what happens if previously loyal groups think their interests are ignored.

There are few upsides from the last General Election but one is that there are a large number of Parliamentary Constituencies that Labour can win with vacancies (and potentially a number of safe Labour seats where long serving MPs will be standing down). As a party we can carry one leaving it to the free market or put forward a pro-active talent spotting and selection process that will allow communities who have supported the party for generations get a fair chance this time

Let’s hope that I don’t have to write this article again in 2026.

Paul Wheeler is a former Labour Party organiser and a member for over 40 years

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32 Responses to “Why the Labour Party still has a problem with black men (and it’s getting worse)”

  1. Tafia says:

    The minute you look at a candidate by the colour of their skin, you’ve lost the argument. Next you’ll be championing all women lists, BAME only lists etc etc and the general public at large will just view you as politically correct, identity dullards and rightly so.

  2. I agree that the problem with black men is real – I got my CLP to nominate Jermain Jackman and was very disappointed he did not get elected. However I do not know what happened in Southwark and articles should not assume prior knowledge – Unite is a deeply unsatisfactory union and its positions are always questionable, but this is well known. Local government is not.

    The results of the feminist movement have also been questionable. While in the 1990s some progress was made and this led to election victories, in the noughties the record of the party has been disasterous and contributed to the fall in votes. The voters know when the party is promoting its own and not people with a genuine inter

  3. John P Reid says:

    Jermaine jackman buys into the idea it’s not good labour being pro authoritarian police as it’s pointless getting white working class votes outside the cities as if they’re socially conservative they’ll always want the real thing
    And I say I disagreed as someone who got 3 different black/Asian female 22 year old councillors elected in Dagenham/ Ilford and Havering 2 years ago where 12 years ago The BNP had won ( the latter a 88% white area)
    Terry Paul was ok but stood on a Slate with oriole who had questionable views and Gurinder Josan Singh and Jo Baxter won in their own right
    Let’s get this straight
    Pre 1997 to be in the NEC you were a Mp snd neither Paul Boateng or Bernie ages to stood post 97 pre 2014 no black men seriously stood
    And if the 4 Black women who’ve ever stood for the NEC, Diane Abbott 87-90 as a map got voted off , the left backing Denis skinner
    Oona king quit after a year in 2011 went too the lords
    2012-2015 Kate Osamor became a mp 2019-2019 Claudia Webbe ( backer of Ken Livingstone) quit became a MP( currently suspended

    What labour needs to twig, is whims former Ukip supporter Priti Patel joined the Tories the year William Hague with his I want my country back were heading for A foreign land speech” or Baroness Varrsi with her support for Michael Howard’s liking of Section 28

    Many other Black people joined the Tories in 2005 when Heir to Blair Cameron was tory leader like – Kemi Badenoch or Shaun Bailey

    Many other Black people who use to vote labour don’t anymore like doninique Samuels, inaya Iman Folarin, Nimko Ali, Esther Krakue, Tomiwa Owolade
    Or councillor tele Lawal who’s appeared on tv. /YouTube with Lee jasper and Stafford Scott and disagreed with their views that pullback people are victims

    So yes maybe one day they’ll be black members on the NEC but this victim quota stuff either drives black oriole away assumes black left wingers have the same views or the tokenism shows sometimes people aren’t up to the job

    Of course it’s great Abrea Oppong Asare, Michelle williams or Flo ashamari are MPs and yes there’s all female short lists

    But maybe better is labour asking why it lost the election and could increase representation by winning seats in traditional wotking class areas , look AT the Medway Kent where Naushabah Khan
    Is a Councillor she stood in the Rochester Stroud by election 2014 which bar a small boundary change was labour upto 2020
    Then lady Nugee turned up smeared at the St George flag
    She was a good candidate had a chat with her about those who voted Remain need to go on council estates snd talk too the working class like Hilary Benn and Yvette copper learn why we voted leave
    And she agreed , it’s likely the current Labour Party lead by Mr 2nd referendum for remain will lose the kent council seats snd we could lose Taino Owatmis seat in Coventry who’s only got a 200 majority in 2024

  4. A.J. says:

    Terry Paul looks a really nice guy, so it’s a pity he spouts such meaningless drivel on ‘Labour List’, covering all the trendy bases. Oh, I’m not sure there was anything about climate change.
    Where I was born and brought up, within walking distance of a big immigrant area, they had a habit of fighting amongst themselves in the streets and getting their names in the local paper for all the wrong reasons. Only some of the Sikhs and Muslims seemed to give a toss about Labour politics, but they weren’t exactly thick on the ground at meetings (although one market trader seemed keen on playing poodle to the then leader of the council). Canvassing was a joke: shrugs of indifference, else ‘no English spoken here’. A Muslim community leader, a very nice chap indeed although quite young, used to chat to his own people on the basis that it was a waste of time our trying.
    That was 1984-87. God knows what it must be like now. The central and eastern European people I knew were generally ferociously anti-Labour. There were one or two tendy young ‘Marxists’ working in the public sector; that was all. Labour members were either middle-class Scargillites (in the minority) or quite keen on Neil Kinnock (my own position at that time). Not much else. If a black man – or woman – had turned up, one of the middle-class trendies would soon have been inviting them home for high tea and a vague discussion about Black Sections.
    Now, is Terry really a centrist? Doesn’t sound like it.

  5. A.J. says:

    I should have thought Burgon and Tarry were highly acceptable to any tenacious Corbynite.

  6. A.J. says:

    I shouldn’t have thought David ‘Why Isn’t That Camera Pointing In My Direction?’ Lammy is much of a role model. If someone developed a new flavour of crisps he’d have something irrelevant to say about it.

  7. Alf says:

    Don’t expect any action from Starmer. He’s useless. I know Blairites who call him a Tory!

  8. John P Reid says:

    Come to think

    Imagine in 2010 it was said “there’s only been 1 black Person 0n The nec in the past ”( Diane Abbott) “so we should all vote for the supporter of the Iraq war ,progress candidate Oona king “
    “if you don’t you’re a racist”
    Would that have been O.K?

  9. John P Reid says:

    When Gurinder and jo Baxter stood in the by election for the NEC and won in the spring ,I know corbnites who voted for them as well as blue labour brexiters and blue labour Ed Miliband fans ,they got a real cross section ( probably a dozen) wasn’t just labour first sorts
    The reason real trick for oriole to Buck the trend of momentum winning is to actually be real labour supporters who accept other wings

  10. John P Reid says:

    Other great black people-have quit labour
    Renie Anjeh. Franco Salou
    And a couple of others I hadn’t mentioned now at turning point
    And I don’t believe in quotas

  11. Dave Roberts says:

    The problem here is actually the reverse of what you think it is. Political correctness and quotas, racial quotas in this case, is what you are demanding. The record of black people as Labour MPs isn’t a very good one let’s have a look. Bernie Grant who used to parade around in African robes and when PC Blakelock was hacked to death on the Broadwater Farm in 1985 said that the Police had got a good thrashing, came came from Guyana or somewhere. Diane Abbott who thinks that Scandinavian nurses wouldn’t understand the needs of black patients at a Hackney hospital and can’t do her sums on police pay, I could go on and on.

    The most under represented sections of the population at every level in our society are white working class women but nobody seems to care about them. In Ilford South an excellent Sikh candidate had false accusations of sexual harassment made against him and during his suspension the Momentum head Honcho Sam Tarry was selected. Lots more where these came from.

  12. Tafia says:

    Labour’s problem is it no longer represents the working class. A very very good article by former-Firefighter and Fire Brigades Union official Paul Embery writes a very scathing and very accurate summary of the entirely self-inflicted and completely avoidable damage Labour has willingly done to itself


  13. A.J. says:

    The ‘Blairites’ Alf knows must be very dim indeed.

  14. Anne says:

    You probably have a valid point Paul, but, at present, many of us have had enough of people/groups shouting ‘discrimination.’ This may sound a little strong but the focus should be on holding this awful government to account. David Lammy is an excellent role model for black men. I am not in favour of women only short lists either – I don’t believe the best candidate for that area is chosen by this method – there are a number of examples of this that can be used.

  15. A.J. says:

    I have to agree with Tafia. I read Paul Embery’s article, too. The attitudes he discusses did not, however, appear overnight but were one of the driving forces behind Margaret Thatcher securing victory in 1979. Blair took some of those people back, but only because Major and Room-Sharer were so bloody hopeless – and still are. One could probably go back further than circa 1975, when the forces of the ‘Left’ combined to overwhelm and alienate white working class voters in multiple areas: health, housing and education to name but three. Labour’s middle-class hostility to grammar schools was pretty disgusting – and the policies of Heath’s government did nothing to help. The white working classes – what remains of them – are now caught between the rock of Labour stupidity and the hard place of Johnson’s blundering. A white man might want to invite his black mate round for a cup of tea or to the pub for a couple of pints but told he’s a criminal for wanting to do so.
    Yet working class support for Conservative policies goes back a long way – well before Major Attlee went to war.
    Paul Wheeler, of course, is referring to something very specific. But Bernie Grant set that cause back a long, long way with one stupid remark. Yet isn’t there now at least one Bernie Grant Arts Centre? Nor does this BLM nonsense help the little old black lady waiting at the bus stop to go to church (if she’s allowed) or to do her shopping. She needs police protection. She needs the rule of law (and, God knows, a lot of coppers leave plenty to be desired). A lot of posturing about Churchill and Nelson and the National Trust foaming at the mouth is no answer, no answer at all.

  16. Dave Roberts says:

    Well said Tafia and I will definitely buy that book. I doubt that it will be well, if at all, reviewed in The Guardian, or should Al Grauniad.

  17. A.J. says:

    Anyone seen the episode of ‘Steptoe And Son’ in which Harold tries to get elected to the council, only to be turned down because he’s ‘working class’?

  18. A.J. says:

    That episode of ‘Steptoe And Son’ was broadcast in 1965, by the way. So Harold Wilson was still relatively new as Prime Minister but the Labour Party was already seeking to attract a more middle-class – for which read mostly white – voter (even within the neighbourhood of Oil Drum Lane). You see my point? Paul Embery refers to the Party becoming more managerial of late. The ward in which I was active in the mid-eighties was overwhelmingly working class – but overseen by the middle classes, often from a comfortable distance. We thought one particular lady was perhaps a lady-in-waiting to HM, so regal did she appear…

  19. A.J. says:

    Just refreshing my memory about Bernie Grant and his supporters. Makes me wonder if Labour should ever be allowed to win a dog-show let alone a General Election, Woodrow Wyatt had it right all along.

  20. A.J. says:

    Tony Banks – ‘Baron Stratford’ – the original posturing ponce. Keith Vaz – what a lovely chap he is. There are others – yes, you, Jack Straw, you’re another. And Clare Short on the distaff side. You can trace a line from this lot – some of whom kissed the hem of Blair’s garment – to Starmer and Rayner taking the knee. “Quick, Angela, down, the photographer’s just making his way through the door… Did you get everything you needed, duckie?” No, bad as the Tories are this lot are a hundred times worse – the true Nasty Party.

  21. A.J. says:

    Might I suggest that any interested party, be they black or white, who wants to advance the cause of socialism think about joining that strange organization that calls itself the ‘Conservative Party’.

    Or they could always move to Scotland. Plenty of choice up there.

  22. A.J. says:

    Today in ‘The Guardian’ we’ve got funny old Bernie Sanders virtually demanding the Democratic Party reconnect with its blue collar voters whilst spouting the same kind of crap about the ‘gay community’ etc. etc. that we’re used to hearing here. The only ‘community’ I ever knew – though no-one ever called it that – involved a bunch of people who didn’t much like one another, corner shops, two pubs, the chippie, post office, paper shop etc. Only the communist who had his party newspaper delivered probably thought of himself as middle-class. He certainly lived in a posher house than we did.
    ‘The Guardian’ also points out that Labour were struggling before Comrade Corbyn appeared on the scene, with the loss of seats like Mansfield. Winning seats like Canterbury was hardly fair exchange.
    I rather like Ben Bradley.

  23. A.J. says:

    How come no-one has mentioned Bill Morris – as nice a man as ever drew breath? If the Labour Party – and the unions – had had more like him… Always liked his style.

  24. A.J. says:

    All right, so I was pulling David Lammy’s leg a bit. I’m sure he’ll not mind.

    I’ll ask my daughter’s boyfriend what he thinks of all this when he’s next round for a meal. His Dad came to this country from Nigeria when he was seven. Now earns a bloody fortune in computers. Laddo is an engineer who has just taken his first degree.

    My sixty-first birthday at the end of the week. In addition to the bottle of brandy – which I’ve already started on – Matt Hancock could make it a real great occasion by announcing his resignation.

    With me on that one, Anne?

  25. John P Reid says:

    Micheal Howards Tory campaign in 2005, “are you thinking what we’re thinking, it’s not racist to talk about immigration” was met with tony Blairs reply “no one ever said it was”, and Gordon Browns over heard recording saying Mrs Duffy when she questioned the levels of Eastern European Migration, calling her a bigoted Woman”
    Of which he apologised,   now recently the far left said he shouldn’t have replied as she was bigoted for talking about immigration so either Blair and Brown were wrong for saying no one ever said talking about immigration was wrong ,or Novara media types are wrong, as if that’s the case then Labours never gonna win again

    The thing with scaremongering working class communities, To quote Bob Dylan the defence of devaluing the pound is.
    If you’ve got nothing
    You’ve got nothing to lose

    A.j. never seen it will watch later https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=N_hZbZr-9ng

    Lastly great quote from Priti patel: ‘Illegals you find where others have missed ’em/But you’re no xenophobe with your lovely points system

  26. John P Reid says:

    Paul embery is asked about minority ethnic people voting labour 56 minutes. In

    Trevor philips said labour party is institutionally racist as labour automatically vote labour as far back as 1998 https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v7sevFjAMXY&t=1294s

  27. John says:

    BLM trademark and Defund the police last summer did they speak out about grenfell I don’t recall it and the BLM lot the student guardian left You just alienate people
    Of their individual Identity and don’t care for post industrial areas, The next problem ,look AT the words of MLK JNR ,judge people on merit not in control of their skin colour ,The idea there’s Privilege of people who aren’t going to base logic on who is a victim And the circumstances of what’s going on and the join the literally positive discrimination Twaddle argument, the same the white person as the next black person chances It’s prejudice and Some will say conclude they hope they did have to have affirmative action to get change , but with that in mind , its not a competent solution and to say your if we don’t have positive discrimination we’ll go backwards then labour will lose the working class and it cant hop of winning without them and when labour get around to
    Noticing that ,backwards step they’ll have to diss it too

  28. John P Reid says:

    Black people are mental slaves as they’ve suffered from institutionalised racism
    One day a Tory government won’t give hand ours the way London assembly of unions do and then they’ll be no way the victim Olympics can get handouts

  29. John. P Reid says:

    During the last 3 years there’s been so much criticism of brexiters as racist it was one of those things when 2 years ago labour finally gave in to its snobs and said let’s have a second referendum of remain that the rich kid Guardian readers were saying if you don’t vote labour. And are 100% behind  corbyn and remain you’re a racist and when anyone tried to mention this was not the case if was met with screams of your denial proved you’re a racist, I bet you secretly voted for those racist conservatives
    Now it does prove a point that the momentum/ Student/ Young labour Corbynites will have to accept that just calling the working class racist won’t stick anymore when the EHRC report came out and Corbyn unfortunately thinking it was a  Personal arrack on him ,dismissed the finding as such he was disagreeing with a legal report snd the party to stick too the rules had no choice
    He has since clarrified his position but hadn’t apologised and clearly hasn’t learnt from his mistake
    It’s all good him trying to rectify it if he hasn’t learnt from it , it shows the whole arrogance ignoring what was going in snd just screaming racist at a opponent snd dismissing criticism of himself if he doesn’t learn from the report his office interfered ignored snd didn’t work to stamp out anti semitism then he can’t continue as he’s
    Still sort of the screen racism , when it’s pointed out people on the other side aren’t racist, scream racist some more and ignore his own sides  Prejudice 
    I also have to question the idea labour is a party for POC, in 1999  Trevor Philips Said labour is institutionally racist, we automatically assume Black people  vote labour
    10years ago I thought I’d heard  that for the last time,yet
    labour say we’ve got the black vote,3years ago A old man said as black people are moving to Essex it’ll increase our vote

  30. John P. reid says:

    Anti semitism -of this is just criticising the Israel government, in fact I don’t think some oriole are even aware of the Israel government and have a deep hatred of he’s going back to myths in the bible of the money lending stories of the east end of London of The 40’s

    And I’ve got a wheel chair user friend in who was appallingly treated by the local Labour Party, and many of my gay lesbian friend ones ,who with myself 0n gay/ lesbian pride marches with 30 years ago question the term LGBT and at the moment the Labour Party doesn’t realise the definition of a woman is. A Adult female human

  31. John p Reid says:

    I should have mrntioned the quote “black people are mental slaves” was from someone else not me a BLM person ”lol”

  32. John P Reid says:

    Luke akehurst could do a Rachel Dolazel

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