Having lived in the UK since arriving from Pakistan in 1952, I have seen a dramatic increase in the proportion of our country that self-describes as BME (black and minority ethnic). I don’t know the 1952 percentage, but it would have been tiny.
The 2011 Census for England & Wales shows that all “white” categories combined came to 85.9 per cent of the population, so all BME categories combined represented 14 per cent of the England & Wales population. (I gave up trying to find my way around the Scottish census website. The idea that Scottish people need to be counted in a different way from the English is one of stranger aspects of devolution!)
The Commons has of course changed to reflect the changing nature of our country. A Commons Library briefing paper on the 2015 General Election reports that 41 MPs were elected who identify as BME. 41 out of 650 MPs is 6.3%. Before bewailing that percentage, we should recognise the time lags involved. For example
- BME citizens are on average younger than white British citizens, and all MPs are by definition aged over 18, and in practice somewhat older!
- Older BME citizens on average had lower educational qualifications than white British citizens of the same age cohort, and MPs tend to be better educated than the average citizen.
Accordingly, instead of beating my breast, I celebrate the 6.5 per cent ratio as progress, knowing that the further into the recent past one goes, the lower the equivalent percentage. In 2020 I expect the percentage to rise again.
One of the sad facts that many Conservatives often forget is that the Labour Party was ahead of us in recognising and welcoming the growing diversity of our country. It was the Labour Party that put almost all of the major race equality legislation on the statute book. Meanwhile we had MPs like Enoch Powell, and others who there is no point in naming now. Thankfully, with time our Party recognised that the country was changing, and that we needed to reflect Britain as it is, and not as it was. This trend accelerated when David Cameron became our leader and rightly set out to detoxify our brand.
Accordingly in the last decade or so, the number of Conservative MPs who identify as BME has risen strongly. As it rose, I started to notice something at an intuitive level. A day or so ago I decided to go beyond intuition and look at the data.
The 41 MPs who identify as BME consist of 17 Conservatives, 23 Labour and 1 SNP. In the tables below I have ignored Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, MP for Ochil & South Perthshire, since I gave up on the Scottish census website.
The 17 Conservative MPs are listed below.
|MP Name||Constituency Name||Constituency BME %|
|Sharma, Alok||Reading West||19.11%|
|Chishti, Rehman||Gillingham & Rainham||10.39%|
|Grant, Helen||Maidstone & The Weald||6.86%|
|Gyimah, Sam||Surrey East||6.50%|
|Vara, Shailesh Lakhman||Cambridgeshire North West||6.28%|
|Jayawardena, Ranil Malcolm||Hampshire North East||4.52%|
|Cleverly, James Spencer||Braintree||3.32%|
|Sunak, Rishi||Richmond (Yorks)||3.14%|
|Patel, Priti Sushil||Witham||3.01%|
|Kennedy, Seema Louise Ghiassi||South Ribble||2.80%|
|Number of MPs = 17||Average||6.35%|
The 23 Labour MPs are also listed below:
|MP Name||Constituency Name||Constituency BME %|
|Mahmood, Shabana||Birmingham Ladywood||72.67%|
|Sharma, Virendra||Ealing Southall||69.55%|
|Vaz, Keith Anthony||Leicester East||68.56%|
|Hussain, Imran||Bradford East||62.92%|
|Shah, Naseem Akhter||Bradford West||62.92%|
|Butler, Dawn||Brent Central||61.25%|
|Mahmood, Khalid||Birmingham Perry Barr||60.33%|
|Malhotra, Seema||Feltham & Heston||55.13%|
|Ali, Rushanara||Bethnal Green & Bow||53.06%|
|Lammy, David Lindon||Tottenham||49.91%|
|Abbott, Diane Julie||Hackney North & Stoke Newington||42.26%|
|Umunna, Chuka Harrison||Streatham||41.81%|
|Vaz, Valerie||Walsall South||39.29%|
|Huq, Rupa Asha||Ealing Central & Acton||36.69%|
|Siddiq, Tulip||Hampstead & Kilburn||34.48%|
|Khan, Sadiq Aman||Tooting||34.10%|
|Qureshi, Yasmin||Bolton South East||27.01%|
|Onwurah, Chi||Newcastle upon Tyne Central||25.78%|
|Debbonaire, Thangam||Bristol West||25.48%|
|Hendrick, Mark Phillip||Preston||23.73%|
|Lewis, Clive Anthony||Norwich South||9.99%|
|Nandy, Lisa Eva||Wigan||2.94%|
|Number of MPs = 23||Average||26.73%|
What is striking is the difference in the average BME percentages of the constituencies, with a Conservative average of 6.3 per cent and a Labour average of 26.7 per cent. Furthermore the highest Conservative BME percentage is lower than all but two of the Labour BME percentages.
I think there are some key messages.
Conservative associations select candidates on merit
I already knew that many of the Conservative BME MPs who are household names represented constituencies that were predominantly white. However it is striking to see the hard data tabulated as above.
This is something that we should be shouting from the rooftops about, as it nails any Labour attempt to claim that the Conservative Party has a bias against BME citizens. When selecting the people who are our Party’s future, our MP candidates, we select the best people regardless of ethnicity.
Labour primarily picks BME candidates only for heavily BME constituencies
It is revealing that all but two Labour BME MPs represent seats with a high BME percentage. While I haven’t look at the ethnic mix of all Labour held seats, I suspect that the party does hold many seats where the BME percentage is not very high. If BME candidates were being selected for those seats (as Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy above were) they would be in Parliament.
We need to win more BME votes
This is like the dog who didn’t bark in the night time; it is something one sees from the absence in the above table. We do not have BME MPs from constituencies with high BME electorates. That is not due to our failure to select BME candidates for such seats; I can recite a few from memory. It is because they did not win.
Lord Ashcroft’s 2012 report “Degrees of Separation: Ethnic minority voters and the Conservative Party” contained detailed data on what ethnic minority voters thought about our party at that time. While there were some green shoots, overall the data was not encouraging. However by the 2015 general election, research for British Future found that our vote share among ethnic minorities had gone up. That contributed towards our election victory, but we have a long way to go.
The Conservative Muslim Forum, and the many other “Friends of [country name]” groups within the party are doing their bit to help accelerate this trend. If you think we can help, get in touch!