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The Conservative and Labour Parties continue to select BME candidates very differently

Labour generally selects BME candidates in winnable seats only when the seat is very ethnically diverse. The Conservative Party is genuinely "colour blind."

Summary

Posted 4 December 2020

After the 2010 general election, I started to focus on the fact that the Conservative Party had several BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) MPs who represented "very white" seats. For example, Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi, both being MPs I had some interest in.

However at that time I did not do any comprehensive analysis. I first did that a year after the 2015 general election, and then again a year after the 2017 general election. (The "number crunching" can be a bit tedious, so I tend to put it off!)

I recently did the same again after the 2019 general election. My article "The distribution of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) MPs after the 2019 general election" was published by Movement 46 on 26 November. It reported a continuation of the same pattern that I had first demonstrated with solid data after the 2015 general election.

You can read it below.

The distribution of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) MPs after the 2019 general election

In 2016 I decided to take a global look at all BME MPs as they stood at that time. The findings reported in my website article “UK political party differences in selecting BME Parliamentary candidates” were illuminating.

The article looked at the House of Commons as it stood after the 2015 general election. The BME MPs were taken as those who self-identify as BME in a booklet about the composition of the House of Commons published by Parliament. The ethnic composition of every constituency in England and Wales I took from the National Census 2011.

The Labour Party has the reputation of being far more “BME friendly” than the Conservative Party. However, the facts showed that Conservatives were willing to select BME candidates in safe, “very White”, Conservative seats in a way that the Labour Party was not in its “very White” safe seats. Instead, BME Labour MPs tended to represent seats that were noticeably more diverse than the average Labour held seat.

I repeated the exercise after the 2017 general election, and published the results in my website article “UK black and minority ethnic MPs after the 2017 general election.” While the number of BME MPs in both major parties had increased significantly, the pattern identified above remained.

I have now updated my analysis for the 2019 general election. Sadly, the demographic information still has to rely upon the National Census 2011. While having more up to date census statistics would change most of the numbers, I have no reason to believe that they would change the overall patterns.

How do the parties stand?

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party holds 359 constituencies in England & Wales. (Scotland and Northern Ireland are ignored because their census websites do not have data in the format that I require, as far as I can tell.)

In terms of diversity, they range from Harrow East, 60.8% BME, to Workington, 1.0% BME. The raw arithmetical average of the 359 seats is 7.13%, showing that the average Conservative held constituency is not very diverse.

Below I have listed all 22 Conservative MPs who self-identify as BME, with the constituencies ranked in order of diversity.

Conservative Party BME MPs
NameConstituencyBME %
Alok SharmaReading West19.11%
Adam AfriyieWindsor13.15%
Kwasi KwartengSpelthorne12.70%
Rehman ChishtiGillingham and Rainham10.39%
Gagan MohindraSouth West Hertfordshire10.38%
Bim AfolamiHitchin and Harpenden9.60%
Imran Ahmad-KhanWakefield8.30%
Saqib BhattiMeriden8.13%
Darren HenryBroxtowe8.10%
Helen GrantMaidstone & The Weald6.86%
Claire CoutinhoEast Surrey6.50%
Shailesh VaraNorth West Cambridgeshire6.28%
Ranil JayawardenaNorth East Hampshire4.52%
Sajid JavidBromsgrove4.21%
Kemi BadenochSaffron Walden3.61%
Suella FernandesFareham3.41%
James CleverlyBraintree3.32%
Rishi SunakRichmond (Yorks)3.14%
Priti PatelWitham3.01%
Alan MakHavant2.94%
Nadhim ZahawiStratford-on-Avon2.88%
Nusrat GhaniWealden2.70%

The arithmetical average of all 22 constituencies is 6.97% BME, which is slightly “Whiter” by 0.16% than the average Conservative held constituency. This is not a very big difference, but the direction is the same as in 2015 and 2017.

The key message is that when selecting BME candidates for winnable, and often very safe, seats, the Conservative Party does not restrict them to seats with a high BME%. Indeed the trend is very slightly the opposite, by 0.16%.

Labour Party

The Labour Party holds 201 constituencies in England & Wales.

In terms of diversity, they range from East Ham, 76.9% BME, to Easington, 1.3% BME. The raw arithmetical average of the 201 seats is 23.14%, showing that the average Labour held constituency is much more diverse than the average Conservative held constituency. That is consistent with Labour being much better represented in inner cities, rather than in rural areas.

Below I have listed all 41 Labour MPs who self-identify as BME, with the constituencies ranked in order of diversity.

Labour Party BME MPs
NameConstituencyBME %
Shabana MahmoodBirmingham, Ladywood72.67%
Virendra SharmaEaling, Southall69.55%
Claudia WebbeLeicester East68.56%
Tahir AliBirmingham, Hall Green64.47%
Imran HussainBradford East62.92%
Naz ShahBradford West62.92%
Dawn ButlerBrent Central61.25%
Khalid MahmoodBirmingham, Perry Barr60.33%
Apsana BegumPoplar and Limehouse56.52%
Seema MalhotraFeltham and Heston55.13%
Tanmanjeet Singh DhesiSlough54.92%
Rushanara AliBethnal Green and Bow53.06%
Kate OsamorEdmonton52.74%
David LammyTottenham49.91%
Afzal KhanManchester, Gorton47.57%
Sarah OwenLuton North45.12%
Janet DabyLewisham East44.28%
Diane AbbottHackney North and Stoke Newington42.26%
Abena Oppong-AsareErith and Thamesmead42.21%
Bell Ribeiro-AddyStreatham41.81%
Florence EshalomiVauxhall41.57%
Valerie VazWalsall South39.29%
Rupa HuqEaling Central and Acton36.69%
Nadia WhittomeNottingham East35.17%
Tulip SiddiqHampstead and Kilburn34.48%
Rosena Allin-KhanTooting34.10%
Feryal ClarkEnfield North32.49%
Preet GillBirmingham Edgbaston31.33%
Bambos CharalambousEnfield, Southgate30.04%
Yasmin QureshiBolton South East27.01%
Zarah SultanaCoventry South26.60%
Marsha de CordovaBattersea26.52%
Chi OnwurahNewcastle upon Tyne Central25.78%
Mohammad YasinBedford25.57%
Thangam DebbonaireBristol West25.48%
Mark HendrickPreston23.73%
Kim JohnsonLiverpool Riverside20.35%
Taiwo OwatemiCoventry North West18.27%
Clive LewisNorwich South9.99%
Navendu MishraStockport9.27%
Lisa NandyWigan2.94%

The arithmetical average of all 41 constituencies is 40.61% BME, which is 17.47% more BME than the average Labour held seat. As stated above, the average Labour held seat is 23.14% BME.

Comparing Conservative and Labour candidate choices

The 2019 data confirms the pattern first seen in 2015. To summarise the findings of the three general elections in two tables:

GE 2015GE 2017GE 2019
Average Conservative held seat7.62%7.07%7.13%
Average BME held Conservative seat6.35%6.38%6.97%
Difference (less BME)1.27%0.69%0.16%

For all three general elections, there is a clear pattern. By a small percentage, the average Conservative held seat is less diverse (“more White”) than the average Conservative held seat.

GE 2015GE 2017GE 2019
Average Labour held seat20.47%21.89%23.14%
Average BME held Labour seat26.73%40.35%40.61%
Difference (more BME)6.26%18.46%17.47%

For all three general elections, the Labour Party also shows a clear pattern. Seats held by BME Labour MPs are significantly more diverse than the average Labour held seat. This shows that Labour is reluctant to pick BME candidates for winnable or safe Labour held seats, unless the seat is very diverse.

Liberal Democrat Party

The Liberal Democrats hold only 7 constituencies in England & Wales.

In terms of diversity, they range from Kingston and Surbiton, 25.1% BME, to Westmoreland and Lonsdale, 1.7% BME. The raw arithmetical average of the 7 seats is 13.12%, putting the party in an intermediate position between Conservative and Labour. (As in so many things!)

Below I have listed both Liberal Democrat MPs who self-identify as BME, with the constituencies ranked in order of diversity.

Liberal Democrat Party BME MPs
NameConstituencyBME %
Munira WilsonTwickenham14.33%
Layla MoranOxford West and Abingdon10.01%

The arithmetical average of the 2 constituencies is 12.17% BME, slightly less BME than the average Liberal Democrat held seat which is 13.12% BME.

I did not do the same exercise in 2017 for the Liberal Democrats, although Layla Moran was a Liberal Democrat MP at that time as well.

Conclusion

When it comes to selecting BME candidates for winnable or safe seats, the Conservative Party has an excellent story to tell. Sadly this is not widely realised, and the Conservative Party itself seems surprisingly reluctant to promote the message.

Conversely the Labour Party, while picking many BME candidates for winnable or safe seats, tends to only do so for very diverse seats, apart from a very few exceptions. I think the Labour Party needs to reflect on whether this pattern of candidate selection is consistent with the message of diversity that the Labour Party seeks to promote.

Mohammed Amin is a former Conservative Party member and is now a Liberal Democrat. He writes in a personal capacity.

 

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