Minority Reports: Why the ethnic minority vote could hold the keys to Downing Street

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work if political parties want to engage BME vote.

With campaigning in full swing ahead of the closest contested general election in a generation, black and minority ethnic (BME) voters will play a key role in the outcome of the next General Election. The Policy Exchange report, published last year, suggested that the BME community is likely to make up one third of the UK population by 2050, making it an incredibly sizeable and influential section of the electorate. Let’s also not forget that the mixed race community is the fastest growing ethnic minority in the UK – which adds another interesting dimension as to how parties have a successful political dialogue with all members of the electorate.

The Policy Exchange report, co-authored by Rishi Sunak, considered by many as a surprising but welcomed successor to fill William Hague’s vacant seat of Richmond, North Yorkshire, has been described as a wake-up guide in the run up to the 2015 elections. Sunak commented “Ethnic minorities are not one homogeneous political group. From education to employment, housing to trust in the police, politicians from all parties must understand the different issues affecting individual communities.”

BME communities have traditionally supported the Labour Party. The Conservative vote among the five largest ethnic minority groups at the 2010 general election was just 16% compared with 68% for Labour. This is, however, changing and there are concerns amongst Labour that the party is losing its appeal to BME voters. One way of engaging BME communities in what political parties have to say is to ensure we have a more representative parliament.

Labour has 36 new BME candidates standing; 9% of new Labour PPCs. The Conservatives have 48 new BME candidates; 14% of new Conservative PPCs and the Liberal Democrats, who have yet to elect a BME MP, have 41 new BME candidates standing; 9% of newly selected PPCs. This is a big step in the right direction by all the main parties in the UK and is most certainly the best way to ensure a more representative House of Commons.

On Friday 10 April, I attended an event:  Asian Women in Politics, where three female South Asian PPCs, Natasha Asghar for the Conservatives, Uma Kumaran for Labour and Kavya Kaushik for the Liberal Democrats,  gave their insights into what they feel political parties need to do in order to engage more with BME voters. Putting their political differences aside, all three candidates agreed that there needs be a combined effort by parties and the communities.

Political parties, of course, need to select candidates from diverse backgrounds, but the BME communities need to ensure they are engaging in politics, both at a grassroots and national level. Politics is often not seen as a career option for minority groups meaning a lack of interest in politics being passed down to generation after generation. What is also interesting from my experience is that these communities are often more engaged with politics ‘back home’.

One thing is clear: the ‘ethnic vote’ is becoming increasingly difficult for one party to have a monopoly on. Those parties who develop a manifesto which caters for Britain’s diversity will inevitably do well and benefit from an increased number of votes in 2015.