Labour is not selecting enough BME candidates in winnable seats

Many of 2017's BAME candidates have not been selected again.

For any casual observer of parliament, what is apparent is the marked increase in Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) politicians appearing on our TV screens from both main political parties.

Of the group of MPs elected at the last general election, 7.8% or 52 of the total 650 members were from BME backgrounds.

Yet while the number of ethnic minority MPs has improved in every election, they still do not equal the % of BME people in the country, currently 14%.

In a truly representative Parliament, the proportion of people from non-white backgrounds should be 91, nearly double the number at present.  

Some of this can be attributed to quite understandable reasons, family, work/life balance or just a lack of ambition for a full-on political career.

Aspiring BME candidates are more heavily concentrated in the medical and legal professions or in business.

But for those that do engage politically, the feeling is overwhelmingly one of having to fight a system which is still too heavily geared against them.

For instance, the number of ethnic minority candidates selected by Labour to fight marginal seats so far, is barely touching ten percent and some have even been replaced by their white counterparts.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham recently voiced his concern at the ‘depressing’ fact that the natural party for ethnic minorities had failed on this once again, even whilst the Tories appear to have more visible ethnic minority MP’s rising to senior positions and cabinet roles.

In seats across the country, ethnic minority candidates struggle badly, often having to balance the expectations of their community with the pressure that they must always be mainstream to have any chance of becoming an MP. 

Their white colleagues appear almost too eager to find any fault which may indicate too much of their community aspect and not enough of the mainstream.

This inevitably results in a backlash where minority groups band together to form powerful blocks to fight against what they perceive to be discrimination, essentially that of having to conform to a higher standard to get ahead.

If you take just a cursory glance at the political parties at local level of both hues, the situation at times has become toxic, allegations of anti-black racism in some and Islamophobia in others is becoming all too common.  

David Lammy laments the failure of Labour to come up with an equivalent of the all-women shortlist, which was a sustained response to an endemic problem.

In 2017, Dianne Abbott openly called for all-black shortlists, arguing that all-women shortlists have not worked for black and ethnic minority women.

And will the situation improve if we simply allow this status quo to continue? Well the evidence suggests not! 

In South Thanet, Loughborough, Redditch, City of London & Westminster, BME candidates who fought the last election but lost, have all been replaced by white candidates.

Similarly, in the five marginal seats of Welwyn Hatfield, Putney, Harrow East, Wimbeldon and Telford, ethnic minority candidates who contested the seat in 2017 have all been replaced by white women through the imposition of all-women shortlists, three of these seats are in heavily diverse areas of London.  

Depressingly we have seen it too many times now, this almost excruciatingly entitled sense of self that it is acceptable to use whatever means necessary to exclude very able and ambitious candidates who happen to have a BME background.

And in areas where the ethnic minority population is particularly high, the party urgently needs to address how it implements measures in both its processes and recruitment so that high calibre ethnic minorities candidates can succeed.

With a snap election yet again a serious possibility, officials of both parties will be scrambling to choose candidates in often safe seats or marginals where the sitting MP is standing down.  

It is morally right that we get a much more representative parliament, one that listens to voices from across the nation and not just those who have an advantage because of their background.

Fairer representation also matters because it adds legitimacy to the democratic process, so in marginals across the country where ethnic minorities often have a crucial role in being the key difference over which party wins, having more BME candidates gives a greater sense of belonging and inclusion and helps make Westminster a less intimidating space for marginalised voices to engage in the political system.

The broader issue of achieving this and promoting greater diversity and inclusivity, should give us all the impetus to ensure that candidates from BME backgrounds are encouraged not just to come forward but be chosen, especially in winnable seats.

Councillor Mas Patel is the commissioner for air quality and climate change in Newham, East London.

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

6 Responses to “Labour is not selecting enough BME candidates in winnable seats”

  1. Tom Sacold

    Maybe if Labour selected real socialists on merit we wouldn’t be so adrift in the polls

  2. Dave Roberts

    Just before I go to bed think on this. In Tower Hamlets where there is the biggest Muslim community outside of a Muslim country the current Mayor, John Biggs, has stated that he doesn’t want a non white MP or candidate for the seat now vacated by Jim Fitzpatrick. He is instead promoting an Canary Wharf multi millionaire businessman and arms dealer called Howard Dawber. It’s early days but everyone needs to get involved in this because there are really good Bangladeshi candidates. More tomorrow.

  3. Chester Draws

    Yet while the number of ethnic minority MPs has improved in every election, they still do not equal the % of BME people in the country, currently 14%.

    A very misleading statistic. The number of minority candidates very nearly matches the percentage of the population who are old enough, and been in the UK long enough to become MPs.

    If you go down a completely “representative” route, you need a couple of MPs who have been in the UK less than five years and who barely speak English. You’d also need your Parliament to have 100 people under the age of 25 with no qualifications. And a couple of Poles and a Traveller for that matter.

    On the plus side, at least the criminal community is now being represented.

  4. Dave Roberts

    Good number crunching Chester and you are of course correct. The whole underlying logic behind this article and indeed the industry of which it is a part is that if everything were equal then we would have exactly the same proportions of every ethnic group represented in every sphere of our society. This is of course nonsense and those running the scam, for that’s what it is, are aware of this.

    The London Borough of Hackney has one of the biggest concentrations of Turkish and Vietnamese people in the country within it’s boundaries yet, as far as I know, there is one Turkish and no Vietnamese councillor. The reasons for this are simple, they aren’t involved in local politics and if you aren’t a member of a political party the chances of being elected are pretty much zero. Simples! Total lack of rocket science, etc you would have thought.

    The other rationale, if I can use that word about this whole criminal enterprise, is that each racial group can only be represented by a member of its own. This is what springs, logically, from the call for action to correct a supposed imbalance in “representation”. This of course is racist which is probably why Diane Abbott is peddling it as she is one of the countries leading exponents of this divisive poison. She seems blissfully unaware that the majority of her constituents are not black and issues statements such as white people divide and rule non whites and objecting to Scandinavian nurses in a local hospital because they wouldn’t understand the needs of black patients!

    I recall well the unity between all racial groups in the 70’s when we stood together in East London against the National Front with the slogan ” Black and white, unite and fight”. When I see the kind of racist clap trap in the article above I wonder why we bothered.

  5. Dave Roberts

    A last comment and we never really get a good debate going here as the writers always bottle it and never contribute. How come the main crook involved in this BME, or is it BAME fraude Simon Wooley is still at large? He stole somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million quid through Lee Jasper from the fund set up by Ken Livingstone to help ” black” Londoners. Never mind what about all the Londoners who weren’t black, where did the money go?

  6. Dave Roberts

    I see the well known con man and thief Simon Woolley is silent on this site.

Leave a Reply