The results of the 2017 General Election suggest that Black and minority ethnic voters still strongly back the Labour party. Based on the results in the top 75 seats, where half the BME population lives, Labour is if anything increasing its BME vote share, with around two-thirds (over 65%) supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s party.
As a result of this vote share, the Conservatives lost three of the top 10 most diverse seats they held before the election: Croydon Central, and Enfield Southgate. This follows losses in 2015 in Ealing Central and Acton, Ilford North and Brentford & Isleworth, seats that the Conservatives targeted in 2017 but drifted further in Labour’s direction and may plausibly be viewed as safe unless the Conservatives increase their BME vote share.
Runnymede Trust director Dr Omar Khan said:
"Our initial analysis of the election results show that Labour have further increased their share of the ethnic minority vote in the most diverse seats, suggesting at least two-thirds of BME voters support Labour.
"It would appear that there is a Jeremy Corbyn effect, but also possibly a negative effect due to the Conservative Party’s campaign. All previous predictions about how the BME vote is heading to the Conservatives needs to be reassessed in light of this election. Whether it will last is another question."
In 2015 we had already seen a significant swing to Labour vote in Britain’s most diverse seats, with their vote going up by 8.4% while the Conservative vote went down by -0.2%. On top of this swing in 2015, the further swing to Labour in 2017 saw them gain an additional 11.5% vote share, with the Conservative share slumping another -0.3%.
Given this rise of nearly 20% for Labour in the most diverse seats between 2010 and 2017, there’s no evidence of a Conservative breakthrough with BME voters. If anything the Conservatives are going backward, and if these trends continue they will lose their most diverse seats in the next election: Harrow East, Hendon and Finchley & Golders Green. Even Boris Johnson, who saw his Labour opponent increase their vote by 13.6%, may be vulnerable in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, especially given his historic weakness among BME voters in London.
Historically, once a seat reaches a 30% BME population it becomes very difficult for the Conservatives to hold on to (with the notable exception of Harrow East). There were probably no seats with a 30% BME population until 1987, 23 by 1992, 39 in 2001, and 75 by 2010. By the time of the next election in 2022, there could be 120 such seats, and it’s hard to see how the Conservatives could simply concede these to Labour due to their low support among BME voters. Furthermore, even the median British seat now has a significant number of ethnic minorities, over 10%, meaning that BME voters will influence outcomes in seats as diverse as Thurrock, Swansea West, Cambridge, St Albans, Sheffield South East, Stoke-on-Trent Central, Gloucester, Wokingham and Bromley and Chislehurst.
For Labour the 2017 results show that they remain the clear first choice among BME voters, with no sign of a drop in support since their 68% vote share in 2010, the last time there was a representative sample of ethnic minorities. For the Conservatives, as they consider their strategy for the future, they will need to reflect on how first during the 2016 London mayoral election and again in in the 2017 General Election they failed to convince BME voters to switch their support. Unless the party becomes more attentive to racial and class inequalities and drops its anti-immigrant rhetoric, the rising share of BME voters will make the electoral path to a majority even harder for the Conservatives.