In the fourth and final part of Runnymede’s analysis of the 2015 General Election through the lens of race, Director Dr Omar Khan looks to the future.
Click here to read Part 1: Black and minority ethnic (BME) voters
Click here to read Part 2: Voting patterns by ethnicity
Click here to read Part 3: Black and Minority Ethnic MPs
2020 and beyond
By way of conclusion, we can forecast what these current trends from 2015 mean about the future. First is that we can expect the major parties to increase their black and minority ethnic (BME) representation in terms of elected MPs. Over time, as more of these MPs gain experience, we should also expect more BME ministers and cabinet members and eventually Britain’s first BME Prime Minister.
For the main political parties, there are signs of optimism as well as concern. For the Conservatives, they have clearly increased their vote share across the board, but particularly among certain communities. Better off groups, whether in outer London or the suburbs, and especially Hindu Indians (see their increased vote share in Harrow East, Harrow West and Hendon) appear increasingly willing to vote Conservative. A recent Survation poll for British Future suggested the Conservatives may have won more votes among Indians, and definitely among Hindus. If they can respond to racial inequalities over the next five years while in government (something they didn’t do from 2010-15), this will not only allow for greater opportunities for BME people, but also extend their vote share to their performance nationally.
For Labour it’s clear that they still have strong support among BME voters, evidenced by increased majorities in the most diverse seats, and in many of their safest seats. In many of these seats the Labour vote share is more than 50%, rising to over 70% in a few such constituencies. Of Labour’s 22 seat gains, 11 came in Britain’s 80 most diverse seats, but there are now relatively few more gains to be made given the level of their support. And where a Conservative MP is able to represent a seat with a large BME population, it appears Labour finds it more difficult to dislodge them, suggesting both that such MPs better respond to these voters’ needs and preferences, but also that Labour cannot forever rely on an anti-Conservative sentiment among BME voters, just as they can no longer rely on such sentiment in Scotland or among the white working class population. For the Liberal Democrats, their vote share of below 5% and the loss of all of their diverse urban seats suggests they have a long-term local rebuilding effort, and one that will arguably need to engage BME communities more directly.
In 2020 and beyond, the BME vote will continue to increase in the Top 100 or so very diverse seats, but arguably more relevant is the rise among the next 100 seats, now all over 11% BME, and including such areas as Warwick, Gloucester, Hemel Hempstead, Cheadle and Windsor. By 2020 these seats will all top 15%, and in many the BME population will surpass 20%. The ‘typical’ English seat will have a BME population of around 10%. This will mean that MPs across the country will need to respond many more BME constituents, and should result in this being a national rather than solely urban phenomenon. By 2021, even Tunbridge Wells and Thanet will likely have BME populations approaching 8-10%. The question is whether the younger BME people who grew up in such areas and pass the voting age are more likely to vote Conservative than their parents, or indeed whether those moving out of urban areas into these areas keep their Labour preference or adapt to more typical middle class voting patterns. If Labour have some grounds for optimism based on their performance in the top 75 most diverse seats, the Conservatives may alternatively feel the 2015 results show that outside these areas they are now in position to outperform Labour.
Given that all parties now have the experience of successful BME MPs, as well as effective white British MPs in seats with large BME population, there are grounds for cautious optimism. This optimism should be tempered by the fact that all governments have struggled to respond to racial inequalities over the past few decades, with employment gaps not much different from the 1980s and rising BME youth employment. How far British democracy successfully fulfills the promise of equal participation and opportunity will depend not just on how well the parties do in winning votes and securing BME MPs, but in responding to ethnic inequalities in the 21st