What do the main parties' 2017 manifestos have to say about race?

Written by:
Omar Khan
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From employment to extremism, equality and austerity, Runnymede's director Dr Omar Khan assesses what Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens have to say about race.

With the black and minority ethnic (BME) population at 14 percent, the question of what answers political parties have on unequal racial outcomes in the UK matters more than ever.

In the past, racial inequality has barely been mentioned during election campaigning, but increasingly political parties have been including BME-focused policies in their manifesto offerings. We have even seen parties issue ‘BME manifestos’, which have evolved into separate pieces of work containing policies that are not in their main manifestos.


Summary: Some positive promises on employment data and strengthening equalities law, undermined somewhat by further election registration barriers and populist rhetoric on integration and immigration.

This is the first time that the Conservatives have included specific race equality policies in their manifesto. There’s even an entire section called ‘the race gap’.

Theresa May’s predecessor, David Cameron, was the first Tory leader to act on race inequality, ordering reviews into BME employment, boardroom racial diversity and criminal justice, but such conceptsnevermade it into his manifestos.

Mrs May, on the other hand, is putting the issues in black and white. Her manifesto acknowledges “longstanding, entrenched injustices that affect people of different ethnicities.”

The manifesto highlights the racial disparity audit already underway and pledge that “a Conservative government will not hesitate to act on its findings, however uncomfortable they may be”: a vague but important commitment.

The manifesto goes on to pledge that the Tories will “strengthen the enforcement of equalities law….so that private landlords and businesses who deny people a service on the basis of ethnicity, religion or genderare properly investigated and prosecuted.” This protection is already enshrined in equalities law, which bans discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Will the Tories go further? One idea would be to amend the Immigration Act to stop turning landlords into quasi-immigration officers, but it is not clear what they are committing to here.

The manifesto pledges that the Conservatives “will continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union”, which contributes to the generally hostile environment and rhetoric experienced by non-white migrants in the UK. It also risks sending negative signals to non-EU countries, such as India, which on the other hand we are hoping to make lucrative trade deals with.

The Tory manifesto also makes mention of a wish to raise the earnings threshold (currently set at £18,600) for British nationals wanting to sponsor their foreign spouse to come to the UK. Depending on what the new limit is set at, this will negatively impact large numbers of people in mixed-nationality marriages.

On the pay gap, the Conservative manifesto promises to “ask” large employers to publish information on the ethnic minority pay gap. This could amount to a watering down of the policy to ‘require’ all firms with more than 250 employees to publish the data. The government’s own review, by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, called for the measure to apply to all firms with 50 or more staff, and for this to run alongside workforce monitoring by ethnicity.

On democracy, the Tories are calling for the introduction of photo ID before citizens can vote. Electoral registration rates are already significantly lower for BME people, and any further barriers are likely to worsen racial disparity in voter registration. Runnymede highlighted these concerns when individual voter registration was introduced in 2011.

The Conservative manifesto repeats Mrs May’s comments when she was Home Secretary that the government will consider the possibility of legislation against police to end ‘stop and search’ being disproportionately used against BME young people. It appears the jury is still out on whether police are making progress or not. Home Secretary Mrs May also raised concerns about BME deaths in custody and the disproportionate use of force. This too makes an appearance in the 2017 manifesto, suggesting the threat of legislation remains if progress is not made.

The manifesto promises a “new” integration strategy “to help people in more isolated communities to engage with the wider world, help women in particular into the workplace, and teach more people to speak English.” It is difficult to see from this what is different from the existing integration strategy, beyond a renewed focus on racial and religious mixed intakes in schools. International evidence suggests that reducing inequalities and barriers, particularly in the labour market, is the best way to ensure integration. This represents an opportunity to link up Conservative integration and race equality policy.

On extremism, the manifesto says, “to defeat extremism, we need to learn from how civil society and the state took on racism in the twentieth century” before flagging the possibility of new “aggravated offences” which tends to imply that non-terrorist crimes might be labelled ‘motivated by extremist beliefs,’ attracting stronger sentences. This is a problematic area on human rights and underlines why Brexit negotiations need to be race equality-proofed to ensure that minorities don’t lose their rights in the process of pulling out of EU laws.

There is a promise in the manifesto to establish a Commission for Countering Extremism, which goes on to suggest a new public sector duty to identify extremists and promote “pluralistic, British values.”Here too we expect to see race equality as a core value.

Other explicitly race-related pledges include somepotentialeasy wins such as a pledge to make the civil service more diverse, which should be straightforward to implement and would clearly improve outcomes.


Summary: Some ambitious aims and a strong overall commitment to addressing race inequality, but without many specifics about what Labour will actually do in power.

Labour remains proud of being the party to first introduce race equality legislation into UK law, but as others have outlined they cannot afford to be complacent about receiving the majority of the BME vote in 2017. In their manifesto they outline policiesincluding a general commitment to tackling racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in society. This is framed as a sentiment they support rather than a commitment to make this a key goal of a Labour government.

Their manifesto notes that black and Asian workers are suffering a“massivepay gap”. Labour proposes to introduce an equal pay audit for “large employers”.They go on to say thatthey will “close this gap”, which appears to be a pledge to commit the government to changing outcomes for BME workers. Labour also notes thatBME workers will benefit from their plan to make the Minimum Wage a real Living Wage, which is true because BME citizens are disproportionately trapped in low-wage jobs.

Labour highlights the way that cuts to public services and benefits have disproportionately landed on women and ethnic minorities. This resonates with research from Runnymede and the Women’s Budget Group which found that budgets since 2010 will leave black and Asian women up to £2,000 a year worse off by 2020. But their manifesto stops short of an explicit pledge to reverse this.

There is a commitment to increase ethnic diversity in Britain’s boardrooms, and there is an acknowledgement of the part that black and Asian-owned businesses play in our economy and society. On the armed forces, Labour says they will publish new equality objectives to make the army and navy more diverse. This appears to be aimed at the top brass rather than the rank and file.

Labour’s manifesto highlights the rise in post-Brexit hate crime as “deeply troubling” and they explicitly raise anti-Semitism as a problem. “We seek to build a society free from all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”The manifesto also commits to ‘ending discrimination’ against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, including by protecting their way of life.

In policing, there isa pledge to “work to eliminate institutional biases against BAME communities”.

One area where the manifesto is specific is on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which Labour will provide with further resources and power to tackle discrimination in a watchdog role. They explicitly mention strengthening the public-sector equality duty and extending it to the private sector.

Liberal Democrats

Summary: The only party to explicitly commit to a government-wide plan to tackle racial inequalities across the board, with a fair bit of detail on how.

Like Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have pledged to tackle the ethnic pay gap. However, their commitment is firmer than the Tories and uniquely extends to firms monitoring their workforce as well. It will focus minds of top management to ask why unfair outcomes are happening, identifying issues they might not have even been aware of, and finding solutions to deal with those disparities.

As with Labour, they focus on the Equality and Human Rights Commission,pledging to review the effectiveness and funding of the equalities watchdog.A government-wide plan, as promised in the Lib Dem’s manifesto, is a key demand of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recent race report.

Tim Farron’s party wants to increase the number of apprenticeships from BME backgrounds. A focus on ethnic representation in apprenticeships is welcomeas data suggested thatjust 9.5% of two million apprenticeswere BME even though they represented 26% of applicants.

They also propose to have the “presumption” of one BME candidate on every public appointment shortlist. We already know that BME jobseekers with foreign-sounding names have to send twice as many CVs to get an interview compared to equally-qualified people with ‘English’ names. The same problem applies to public appointments.

Disparities in the criminal justice system also make an appearance in the Lib Dem manifesto, with a commitment to seriously consider recommendations from the forthcoming coming David Lammy review.


Summary: No policies yet addressing issues for BME communities from a party with a strong history of speaking out on issues of racial inequality.

In 2015, the Greens produced a progressive BME manifesto with some policies included in their main manifesto. This time around there has not been a BME manifesto released yet, and there is nothing specifically race-related in their slimmed down 2017 offering.

Current Green policy would apparently include anonymous CVs to address racial disparities in hiring, though this is not written into their manifesto.

At the snap election manifesto launch the Greens issued mini-manifestos on the environment, LGBTIQA+, women and youth. We are assuming that a BME one is coming but was not ready in time for the launch. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that there is so little as yet from a party that is normally willing speak out on race.


Click here to read the 2017 race equality manifesto devised by Runnymede and partners

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