New research from Operation Black Vote has concentrated minds across Westminster: it has revealed that the ethnic minority vote could have a major impact in 168 marginal seats at the next election. In all these seats – including nearly 40% of those in London – the number of BAME voters outnumbers the majority held by the sitting MP.
In Ilford North, the Tories have a majority of 5,404 and a BME electorate of 35,051; in Cardiff Central our majority is 4,570 with a BME electorate of 12,445 and in Bristol East Labour’s 3,772 majority is dwarfed by the 11,420 BME votes. (See the report at http://www.scribd.com/doc/159511648/Power-of-the-Black-Vote-OBV)
For Liberal Democrats this presents a major challenge. 68% of ethnic minorities voted Labour at the last election compared with 31% of white voters. And Labour has 15 BME MPs compared with, er, no Lib Dems at all.
So clearly even those Lib Dems who haven’t considered race equality a priority are having to think again, quickly, if they are going to maximise their electoral chances. How should they address this? Fortunately, the leadership of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats have spent the last year on Nick Clegg’s Race Equality Task Force producing a 20,000-word, closely argued report on race equality in education and employment – two key areas of huge concern to BME voters. After concerted campaigning by EMLD, supported by SLF, within the party for acceptance of the report’s recommendations, our representatives in government have already begun implementation in some areas: Nick Clegg personally intervened recently to add a raft of diversity issues to Michael Gove’s National Curriculum.
The main conclusions of the report are contained within a motion on the agenda of our Autumn party conference. They commit the party to a range of measures specifically addressing race discrimination.
One of the key findings of the Task Force report was that Labour’s change in the approach to equality, or more specifically the way this change had been implemented, was a major cause of the failure to address race discrimination successfully. Labour had moved away from taking each diversity strand separately and instead adopted the ‘human rights-based’ approach: defending the rights of each individual and groups of individuals. Unfortunately, though this approach was supposed to address the denial of rights to groups of people, this was ignored despite the fact that ethnic minority citizens are discriminated against collectively because of their race. The result of this inaction has been that in many areas race equality has actually got worse. The motion commits Liberal Democrats in government to reassert the importance of addressing race discrimination and inequality and of each equality strand having its own programme of action.
For example, a major concern of black parents is the high rate of school expulsion of children, particularly boys, of black Caribbean origin. If there was a problem with the behaviour of these children then the more there are in a school, the more expulsions there would be. But data from the Dept for Education showed that the reverse was true. The fewer black Caribbean children there are in a school, the greater the likelihood of their expulsion. Among its recommendations the motion calls for full implementation of the Children’s Commissioner’s report into prevention of and positive alternatives to exclusion.
In the workplace, a report for the DWP showed that when a BAME worker applied for a job there was a 4% chance that a public sector employer would throw their application in the bin because of their race – but a 35% chance with a private sector company. More than 50% of black youth under 24 are unemployed compared to about 22% of white youth. The motion demands that all private sector and third sector organisations in receipt of public money, broadcasting licences or other benefits awarded on behalf of the public must undertake meaningful equality monitoring and forward it to the relevant public authority, which shall in turn publish this data for each organisation by name, annually. Whole sectors of industry such as Arts Council-funded theatres or the Lottery-funded British film industry swallow millions of public money and yet we are not allowed to know how well they reflect the diversity of the public they claim to serve.
At the next general election the electorate has to be convinced on three fronts: that we understand the issues, that we will act on them if they vote for us, but also that we can prove our worth through our record of achievement in office. If the party adopts this policy and implements it in government before the election we will be able to show ethnic minority communities that the Liberal Democrats have delivered where Labour messed up. It would appear that 168 constituencies are now depending on it.