When it comes to minorities, woo, don’t appease

by Kevin Meagher

How far should a political party go in trying to win over ethnic minority voters? Baroness Warsi is clear that the Conservatives can’t win next year’s general election without more of them, while senior Labour figures like Sadiq Khan and David Lammy have raised the prospect of all-minority shortlists for parliamentary selections.

If nothing else, demography suggests it is smart politics for all parties to win a commanding share of what is now a growing market. The 2011 Census shows that around eight million people – 14 per cent of the population – are now non-White, (with half of that total – 7.5 per cent – being Asian/ Asian British). Academics at Leeds University reckon this figure will rise to 20 per cent of the UK population by 2051 while the Policy Exchange think tank reckons the figure will be nearer to a third.

But politicians need to be clear that they don’t succumb to a conceptual fallacy. When they talk of “making politics look more like the electorate” they are speaking in code for promoting candidates because of their skin colour. This is hopelessly naïve and horribly tokenistic.

Minority ethnic communities are not simply ‘Black’ or ‘Asian’. Indeed, the impact of large-scale European immigration over the past decade makes that a nonsense. As does the growth in people from mixed-race backgrounds, who are now said to make up the second largest minority ethnic group.

Instead of descending into gesture politics with the promotion of ethnic-only shortlists, or treating minorities like electoral blocs, parties should focus on providing a fair and transparent policy offer to woo them instead.

Despite the diversity, there are often common issues of concern. Take public health. We know that South Asians have a higher propensity towards Type Two diabetes and that Afro-Carribbean people are three to five times more likely than any other group to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia. Meanwhile the Irish, a predominantly White ethnic group (and, arguably, the UK’s largest), suffer from a higher preponderance to genetic conditions like coeliac disease and haemochromatosis.

Alas, public health officials put little effort into tackling these specific group problems. Rather than telling us to drink less, stop smoking and take more exercise, wouldn’t it be better to focus on ironing out the specific inequalities that determine the heath, wellbeing and life chances of different ethnic groups across society?

The basic reason, however, why 68 per cent of people from minority ethnic communities voted Labour in 2010 is that they come from communities facing genuine hardship and where memories of discrimination and prejudice are often very real. With a range of social and economic disadvantages stacked against, them, many are simply voting out of economic self-interest.

That said, Labour needs to accept this figure will erode in years to come. A broadening ethnic middle class will see to that. The upside is that the party will be able to wean itself off its dubious practice of sub-contracting it’s relationships with some ethnic communities – particularly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – to self-appointed community leaders, while it turns a blind eye to practices like ‘tolerated entryism’in its own backyard.

In contrast, the Tories need to kick their habit of crass tokenism. Baroness Warsi was a perfectly decent and sometimes courageous politician (one of the few to raise the plight of Christians in the Middle East). But she was sitting in the Cabinet under the manufactured title of ‘Senior Minister of State’ at the Foreign Office one simple reason: she offered ethnic – and gender – ballast to David Cameron.

Appeasing minority groups or patronising them is, frankly, a form of low-fi racism. A fair and open offer, targeted to their specific needs, is what ethnic minority voters should be entitled to – just like anyone else.  Let’s just leave the side deals, tokenism, positive discrimination and patronising attitudes in the past.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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2 Responses to “When it comes to minorities, woo, don’t appease”

  1. Tafia says:

    Labour has been both appeasing and patronising minorities in northern towns for decades. I know, I was involved in it. It was the resentment of that that partly led to the rise of the BNP

  2. John ried says:

    Having some knoweldge of the Tower hamlets situation, the huge change in Demographics that Barking had 10 years ago leading to the BNP gaining seats, too East ham having rivalry between Sikhs and pakistani’s,,the iruse in Eastern Europeans both fleeing form tyranny to coming here for Ecenomic reasons and the change in the make up of people in North London where both housing saw Middle class city people moving to Edmonton, plus Turkish/Cypriot popel eplacing African Carribean people,

    I’ve come to the conclusion, that what consituencies really need is people who know at those communities really need, by hainvg locals all be they universty educated, I suport Bame short lists in priciple, but as i said what happens if an African Carribean person wins edmonton,only for the demgraphics to reveal that 10 years form Now the locals are majority Turkish,

    for the record,I accept that apart form a group of Indian descendent people, who were either Budhist or cathoilic,and may have had a good education to bring to their work, that the majority of peopel who came form other countries to the UK in the late 40’s got Blue collar jobs joined unions,were renting their accomodation and were attracted to the Labour party, Despite Margaret thathcer being associated with organsiations htat had no time for eht problems that BAME people suffered form ,such as lack of oppurtunities in School,s and councils not being able to help them from,gettng a decent education or away out of the socail trap of the state, or the high unemplyment of the 80’s seeing more peopel form BAME backgrounds finding it dificult to get jobs, and also Mrs Thatchers Allies the police not showing sympathy for Black people in the 80’s ,Margaret thatcher still attracted alot of BAME votes, especially from asian Business women,

    Its said that BAME people are more socially tolerant of helping hte poor, but where the conservatives during Hague and Howards time tired ot be hard on appearing to be intolerant of other cultures, they distanced tehmselves form a group of people who in many cases Suchas alot of Nigerian chrisitans are socially conservative, Of course the Labour party was socially conservative itslef upt to the early 70’s

    the headline of course say’s Minorities, not neccesarily Ethnic, as gay poeple or people who’s religion is different to the morals of the majority of the U.K, by which i don’t mean that ,If a religion was sexist and Homophobic, that all those who follow that religion share those views, but where some of one religion have a dislike of another group of people ,hypathetically Gays,or Jews ,then where we’ve had ken livingstone ,turning a blind eye to that hatred, and at the same time giving mixed messages that ,it isn’t happening as pretending it doens’t exist, then ‘we’re betraying what we are as the Labour party, by denying, a certain religious grpups bigotry, in going out of our way to appeal to that group,

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