Race Matters

Race and the 2015 General Election Part 1: Black and Minority Ethnic Voters

The 2015 General Election saw the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron returned with his party’s first overall majority since John Major's win in 1992. Before the election, Runnymede published a volume indicating the increasing important of black and minority ethnic (BME) voters. Runnymede's Director, Dr Omar Khan, reflects on the election result below.

Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Voters in 2015

Historically black and minority ethnic voters have been very strong supporters of the Labour Party, with as many as 90% of BME voters choosing Labour until the 1990s. In the 2010 General Election, 68% of BME voters supported the Labour Party, compared to 16% supporting the Conservatives, and 14% supporting the Liberal Democrats.

Contrary to some expectations before the election, we expect that the Labour party did not lose support among black and minority ethnic voters, with indications that around 7 in 10 still support Labour. This is because Labour increased its vote share significantly more (over 10%) in its most diverse seats, compared to their overall increase of just 1.5%. The Conservatives may have increased their vote share slightly, though not much over 20%, while the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to have won more than 5% of the BME vote in 2015.

To put these numbers in context, overall the Conservative vote share increased by 0.8% to 36.9%, while the Labour vote went up by 1.5% from 28.9% to 30.4%. The Liberal Democrat vote share plummeted 15.2% to 7.9%, or a two-thirds decline in their vote share.

In the top 25 most diverse seats by contrast, the Labour vote share went up by 11%, compared to a Conservative decline of -0.9% and a Liberal Democrat decline of -14.8%.This suggests an increase on the Labour BME vote share, no overall improvement (and perhaps a slight decline) for the Conservatives, and a sharp decline for the Liberal Democrats. It is significant that Labour increased their share in seats where they already have very safe majorities, with Table 1 showing the largest increases in their diverse seats (and most of their largest increases overall).

Table 1. Greatest Labour increases in most diverse seats. * = Labour gain.

Seat Labour increase %BME
Birmingham, Hall Green 26.9% 64%
Brent Central* 20.9% 61%
Poplar and Limehouse 18.6% 57%
Bethnal Green and Bow 18.3% 53%
Birmingham, Ladywood 18.0% 73%
Walthamstow 17.0% 53%
Manchester, Gorton 17.0% 48%
Birmingham, Hodge Hill 16.4% 64%
Leyton and Wanstead 15.0% 51%
Ilford South 14.6% 76%
Leicester South 14.2% 51%
Bradford East 13.8% 47%
Bermondsey and Old Southwark* 13.8% 42%
Ealing Southall 13.5% 70%
Ealing Central and Acton* 13.1% 37%


Other Labour gains included Brentford and Isleworth (10.2% increase; 42% BME population); Ilford North (9.6% increase; 47% BME); Birmingham, Yardley (9.4% increase, 34% BME); Enfield North (5.2% increase; 32% BME); and Wolverhampton South West (4.2% increase; 36% BME).

For the next 50 most diverse seats (ranked 26th to 75th in BME population), a similar pattern emerges. We have analysed these top 75 most diverse seats because their large BME populations make us more certain of the significance and direction of any BME vote change, and because together these seats represent half of the UK’s overall BME population (i.e. just over 4 million out of a total of just over 8 million). In other words, they are a good guide to BME voting behaviour in the UK overall.

Table 2. Top 75 most diverse seats: Change in Vote Share by party

  Labour change since 2010 Conservative change since 2010 Liberal Democrat change since 2010
Seats 1-25 (51-77% BME) 10.9% -0.9% -14.8%
Seats 26-50 (39-50% BME) 7.4% -0.5% -14.4%
Seats 51-75 (30-39% BME) 6.7% 0.7% -15.6%
Seats 1-75 8.4% -0.2% -14.9%

In the UK’s 75 most diverse seats (all in England), the Labour vote went up 8.4%, the Conservative vote down very slightly (-0.2%), with the Liberal Democrats declining by -14.9%. This latter figure represents a vote loss of nearly 75% of 2010 Liberal Democrat voter, and suggest that the BME vote share for the Liberal Democrats may now be below 4% (compared to the 14% share they won in 2010). If these figures were to be extended across the UK, we might expect the following vote share figures: Labour (75%+); Conservatives (16%); Liberal Democrat (4%); Other (>5%). As a result, Labour now hold 48 of the top 50 most diverse seats (all but Harrow East and Hendon).

[Click here for Part 2 of our General Election analysis: Voting patterns by geographical and ethnic group.]
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