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UK political party differences in selecting BME Parliamentary candidates

Using data from the 2011 census about Parliamentary constituencies shows that the Conservative Party selects BME candidates on merit, often for very "white" seats. Conversely the Labour Party appears to select BME candidates preferentially for seats with a high BME population ratio.


12 March 2016

I joined the Conservative Party in 1983 because I had been convinced of the merits of free market capitalism, and because I saw the government led by Margaret Thatcher transforming Britain for the better.

However no political party is perfect. Although I personally received a very friendly welcome as a new member, the Conservative Party of 1983, particularly at grass roots level, was significantly less friendly to ethnic minorities than the Labour or Liberal Parties of that era. One of the gratifying things about Britain is the way this has changed over time, particularly since David Cameron became Conservative Party leader in 2005.

Due to my active involvement in politics, I have been aware on a case-by-case basis of Conservative associations in very "white" areas selecting BME (black and minority ethnic) candidates. However I only looked at this systematically a week ago.

That led me to write a piece for Conservative Home which is reproduced below. I have continued the research and publish some subsequent findings lower down on this page.

Mohammed Amin: BME MPs – A tale of two parties

Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.

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

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%
Afriyie, Adam Windsor 13.15%
Kwarteng, Kwasi Spelthorne 12.70%
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%
Javid, Sajid Bromsgrove 4.21%
Fernandes, Suella Fareham 3.41%
Cleverly, James Spencer Braintree 3.32%
Sunak, Rishi Richmond (Yorks) 3.14%
Patel, Priti Sushil Witham 3.01%
Mak, Alan Havant 2.94%
Zahawi, Nadhim Stratford-on-Avon 2.88%
Kennedy, Seema Louise Ghiassi South Ribble 2.80%
Ghani, Nusrat Wealden 2.70%
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%
Osamor, Kate Edmonton 52.74%
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!

Subsequent research

Since writing the above piece, I have tracked down the Election Resources on the Internet page. This contains a downloadable Excel spreadsheet which contains the full General Election 2015 results.

Using that and the England & Wales 2011 census tables, I have compiled an Excel spreadsheet England-and-Wales-Constituencies-BME-Ratio.xlsx which lists the BME percentage for each Conservative and Labour held constituency in England and Wales. Scotland, and also Northern Ireland, have been ignored for the reason given in the above Conservative Home article. The Excel spreadsheet can be manipulated and sorted by readers. For those who do not use spreadsheets, I have also produced a PDF file England-and-Wales-Constituencies-BME-Ratio.pdf with the same information.

There are some key messages.

Conservative Party

Conservative held seats are, on average, much "whiter" than Labour held seats. The ratios are:

The above ratios reflect the Labour Party's strength in inner city constituencies where BME individuals tend to live. (The BME concentration in inner cities is declining over time as people become more affluent and move out into the suburbs.)

The Conservative held seats' BME percentage above, 7.62%, is actually higher than the 6.35% BME ratio in seats that are held by Conservative BME MPs. In other words, BME Conservative MPs, on average, represent seats that are slightly "whiter" than the average Conservative held seat.

This confirms my point above that the Conservative Party does not hesitate to pick high quality BME candidates for very "white" seats.

The 7.62% BME ratio for Conservative held seats shows how much work the Conservative Party still needs to do to persuade BME voters that they should vote Conservative.

Labour Party

The average Labour held seat has a BME percentage of 20.47%. This is noticeably lower than the 26.73% BME ratio for seats that are held by Labour BME MPs.

This supports my finding that the Labour Party tends to select BME MPs primarily in seats which have a high BME population ratio.


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