Election 2015: Which party can best address the needs of minority voters?
April 22, 2015
Operation Black Vote have been working across the country to ensure that minority voters
are registered to vote and can make their voices count next month
As Election Day 2015 inches ever closer the parties are bringing out all the stops to secure votes with many voters still undecided on which way to cast their vote. For black and ethnic minority voters there are specific issues and concerns that they would like to be addressed by their future government. For this reason, the major parties are increasingly tailoring their manifestos towards minority voters, who are becoming a more and more powerful group of voters.
The purpose of this article is to highlight what each of the main parties has pledged to do for black and minority Britons if they come to power, which we hope will help readers make a more informed choice at the ballot next month.
When David Cameron and his wife recently celebrated the Sikh festival of Vaishaki in Essex, adorned in the religious clothing, there was something a bit forced about the image and their visit taking place so close to Election Day – perhaps I’m just cynical. It seems that those images were intended to send a very clear message: We are interested in Britain’s ethnic minority population.
Having been in government since 2010, the Conservatives’ dedication to improving the lives of British BME people can now be assessed. One thing David Cameron’s government said they would do during their term in power was to make it mandatory for companies to publish the racial and ethnic demographics of their workforce, in a bid to ensure diversity is being practiced. This has failed to materialise.
What have they done for BME Britons?
Reduced air passenger duty on flights to Asia and the Caribbean making it cheaper for Asian and Caribbean people living here to return home and visit their families
Pushed for further enquiries into the corruption and gross misconduct that shaped the Stephen Lawrence case
Reviewed police stop-and-search powers (although what action will be taken following on from this is unclear)
What about the party itself?
Well, as the Conservative party’s chairman Grant Shapps points out, “Today we have record numbers of BME candidates standing for the Conservative party at the election in May.” Indeed, the Conservatives do appear to have made some genuine efforts to further diversity within their party’s ranks, with 18 BME candidates in held seats, not far behind Labour’s 19.
As with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have had enough time to prove their commitment to issues important to minority voters.
Over the past five years as part of a coalition government, the Lib Dems are partly responsible for eroding both the Equality Act and Equality and Human Rights watchdog along with partaking in the general austerity measures which have proved injurious to many middle and working class minority Brits.
The Liberal Democrats were part of a coalition so it is not entirely fair to judge them purely based on the past five years, although since they would form part of a coalition rather than win a majority next month it does seem fair to question whether they would be stronger in implementing their ideas in any future coalition.
What have they promised to do in their new manifesto?
Increasing the proportion of apprentices that are black and minority ethnic (BAME)
To ‘monitor and tackle the BAME pay gap’
Review the causes of the overrepresentation of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system
Historically the party of minority voters, some have criticised Labour for becoming complacent surrounding the matter of minority voter support. Labour MP Lord Boateng, the first black cabinet minister, is hopeful that Labour can hold onto the majority of minority votes. “There’s no room for complacency, but we do have a track record of addressing disadvantage and discrimination. I think that’s pretty clear,” said Lord Boateng.
Last week Ed Milliband visited the Peepul Centre in Leicester, where hall was decorated red and he was welcomed by black and Asian activists. Mr Milliband was there to launch his party’s BME manifesto, outlining the measures the party will take specifically to address those issues most pertinent to BME communities. Milliband, like his main rival Cameron, did not miss the opportunity of force-feeding the public his pro-diversity position by saying “Happy Vaisakhi,” in acknowledgment of the Sikh holy day and adding that, “It’s also Tamil new year.”
Based purely on their policies, does Labour really deserve your votes? What does Labour plan to do for minority communities if they assume power next month?
To increase BAME representation within politics, the judiciary, civil service and police force
Come down hard on hate-crime
Make skin-based police stop and search illegal
Labour’s Asian MP Sadiq Khan has always been very vocal regarding the need to do more for Britain’s minority communities through politics. Joining Milliband for the BME manifesto launch on Tuesday, Khan said: “We want a sea change in people’s attitudes and aspirations. People should be aiming for the top, whether it’s in the boardroom, the civil service or the criminal justice system, irrespective of their background.”
Recently, responding to the publication of figures showing that a 50% rise in the number of young BME people in long-term unemployment has occurred since 2010, Mr Khan expressed his frustration at the Conservatives allowing for such a rise in black unemployment to occur. “If you’re under 25 and black, you’re twice as likely to be out of work as the national average. We simply cannot afford another five years of wasted talent under the Tories,” said Mr Khan.
A read of the Green Party manifesto might convince you that they are a party whose vision for Britain, and the world, is aligned with that of most minority voters – their openness to immigration and desire to tackle climate change, which is already ravaging so many communities in Africa and Asia.
The manifesto includes mention of:
Placing restrictions upon the use of stop and search by the police
Paying ‘special attention’ to BAME mental health issues (a major issue which certainly needs addressing)
Setting targets for the participation of black and minority ethnic people in sport
Ensuring that all public bodies are “reflective of society”
There are, then, some good suggestions from the Green Party even if they are somewhat vague and unclear on how they will enforce these changes. With the party’s BAME manifesto yet to come, however, there is still time for the Green’s to present themselves as serious contenders for BME votes.
As for the party’s candidates, the Green Party has not helped itself put forward the message that they are a party that values modern Britain’s diversity. With just 4% of their candidates being from BME backgrounds – a smaller proportion than even Ukip – the Greens might want to further diversify their party if they want minority voters to identify more closely with them.
With a string of racist remarks having come from its party members and supporters, along with the party’s strong anti-immigration rhetoric, it is little wonder that Ukip is not predicted to gain many minority votes in the coming election.
Dubbed the racist party time and time again, is it fair to completely write off Ukip as a party which can represent black and minority Britons?
Ukip’s manifesto has come under fire for its lack of diversity; there is a noticeable lack of brown faces in the party’s publication. Where a black person did appear, it was on a page about overseas aid, meaning that the only black person in the manifesto is one cast as a victim and dependent on the help of a white Westerner (pictured alongside them).
As if this was not problematic enough, Nigel Farage’s response to this criticism then made matters far worse for the party and its attempts to rid itself of its ‘racist’ label. Stating that ‘there was one fully black person' in the manifesto, as well as ‘one of our leading spokesmen who is half black,’ Mr Farage’s reference to one of his members as ‘half black,’ rather than mixed-race, seemed somewhat outdated and a desperate bid to convince possibly himself, and others, that Ukip is a party that welcomes and encourages diversity.
Think back also to the controversial Channel 4 documentary Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True, aired last month, where Nigel Farage spoke frankly about racism in Britain today, which he suggested is almost extinct before then saying that his party would scrap much of the legislation which exists to protect workers against racial discrimination.
What, if anything, can be said in Ukip’s defence?
Well, they are straight up with their views and do not pretend that protecting and welcoming diversity is a key issue for them which they will devote their time and effort towards. In voting Ukip you know exactly what to expect so at least voters are not being sold false promises about what will be done for minority groups.
Also, as Mr Farage has pointed out, over 10% of Ukip’s party candidates come from BME backgrounds, a figure that is larger than that of, say, the Green party. “We're probably more diverse in our membership than some of the other parties who talk about all of this in a sort of 'holier than thou' way,” says Farage.
Why should parties care about winning over minority voters anyway?
The latest statistics estimate that ethnic minorities will constitute 20% of Britain’s population by 2030 and 30% by 2050, meaning that they will increasingly have a powerful influence over voting outcomes. Soon any major political party that is not attentive to the needs of BMEs will not stand a fighting chance of winning an election.