This is the third part of Runnymede's analysis of the 2015 General Election through the lens of race. Our Director Dr Omar Khan turns to black and minority ethnic (BME) MPs, looking at what their representation means for British democracy today.
Click here to read Part 1: Black and minority ethnic (BME) voters
Click here to read Part 2: Voting patterns by ethnicity
One of the clear positive outcomes of the 2015 General Election was the increase in the diversity of parliament, at least in terms of gender and ethnicity (though perhaps not in terms of education or social class background). In 2015, there were 40 BME MPs elected, up from 27 in 2010, and continuing a significant rise from what had been a relatively slow increase from 1987, when the first postwar BME MPs were elected, onwards. As Table 5 indicates, a clear reason for this increase is the Conservative Party’s commitment from 2010.
Table 5. Black and minority ethnic MPs, 1987-2015
Total BME MPs
*1 SNP MP was elected in 2015. There were three BME MPs before the 1930s, but none again until 1987.
An interesting difference between Conservative and Labour BME MPs is the kind of constituency they tend to represent. In part, this is due to the kinds of constituencies that each party tends to win, with the most diverse urban seats being among the safest Labour seats, while the safest Conservative seats tend to be much less diverse. For each party, the best way to ensure BME candidates are elected as MPs is to stand them in such safe seats, with the Conservative party’s recognition of this reality driving their large increase in BME MPs.
As Table 6 indicates, most (20 of 22) Labour BME MPs are elected in seats where more than a quarter of the electorate are Black and minority ethnic voters. By contrast, Alok Sharma in Reading West is the BME Conservative MP with the largest number of BME constituents at 19.1%, while the majority (13 of 17) hold seats below the England median seat of 6.9% BME population, and far below the England BME average of 14%. If anything, this tendency is somewhat increasing, with all 6 of the 2015 class of Conservative BME MPs winning in seats with 4.5% BME populations or less. The only other BME MP won Ochil for the Scottish National Party in 2015, a seat where only 1.5% of the constituents are Black and minority ethnic.
Table 6. Black and minority ethnic MPs, by share of BME population in their constituency
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham Ladywood)
Alok Sharma (Reading West)
Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall)
Adam Afriyie (Windsor)
Keith Vaz (Leicester East)
Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne)
|Naz Shah* (Bradford West)|
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham)
|Dawn Butler* (Brent Central)|
Helen Grant (Maidstone)
Khalid Mahmood (Birgmingham Perry Barr),
Sam Gyimah, (East Surrey)
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow)
Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire)
|Kate Osamor* (Edmonton)|
|Ranil Jayawardene* (Hampshire North-East)|
David Lammy (Tottenham)
Sajid Javid, (Bromsgrove)
|Imran Hussain* (Bradford East)|
|Suella Fernandes* (Fareham)|
Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington)
|James Cleverly* (Braintree)|
Chuka Umunna (Streatham)
Priti Patel (Witham)
Valerie Vaz (Walsall South)
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon)
|Rupa Huq* (Ealing Central and Acton)|
|Alan Mak* (Havant)|
|Tulip Siddiq* (Hampstead & Kilburn)|
|Rishi Sunak* (Richmond)|
Sadiq Khan (Tooting)
|Seema Kennedy* (South Ribble)|
Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East)
|Nusrat Ghani* (Wealden)|
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central)
|Thangam Debbonair* (Bristol West)|
Mark Hendrick (Preston)
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh* (Ochil)
Clive Lewis* (Norwich South)
Lisa Nandy (Wigan)
* = newly elected, 2015
Why this focus on the ethnic population of the seats held by Britain’s Black and minority ethnic MPs? One reason is that in a constituency-based Parliamentary system, MPs are expected to respond to their voters’ particular interests, whether those are farming interests in a rural constituency, defence interests in a seat with RAF installations, or interests around racial discrimination or unemployment in the labour market. While it is sometimes argued (including by BME MPs) that they don’t wish to be ‘ghettoised’ by only speaking about BME interests, the reality is that BME people in Britain have specific concerns around racial inequalities, particularly in the labour market and the criminal justice system.
In fact, there is evidence that MPs in seats with high BME populations do raise these issues more in Parliament. Here the ethnicity of the MP matters somewhat less that the ethnic makeup of the constituency. So White British MPs - Labour and Conservative - are more likely to raise issues about race and racial discrimination where they hold ‘diverse’ seats. Interestingly, there are up to 20 Conservative held-seats with a greater population than Alok Sharma in Reading West, all held by white MPs. We might then expect such MPs - Bob Blackman in Harrow East, Gavin Barwell in Croydon Central, Mike Freer in Finchley and Golders Green - to speak more about race equality than Conservative BME MPs holding seats where the BME population is under 3%.
[Watch this space for our fourth and concluding piece on the election, focusing on what the 2015 outcome means for 2020 and beyond]