Changing demographics redefining power dynamics, foreign policy
David Jessop, Contributor
Consider this: In 2001, one in 10 voters in the United Kingdom were members of an ethnic minority; by 2050 the number will have risen to one in five. Put another way, demographic change is set to permanently change the nature of political power in Britain, as it is already doing in the United States.
Although the implications of this are scarcely understood in the Caribbean, analysis of the detail behind these figures suggests, potentially that this could have profound implications for the region.
If it were to find ways to implement its much-vaunted desire to mobilise the Caribbean's overseas community, it now has the opportunity to better address issues such as the UK's discriminatory air passenger duty, where the region's and the diaspora's interests coincide.
The potential of changing demographics to permanently alter the balance of political power is already evident in the US where the Republican candidate for the White House, Mitt Romney, lost because his party had little appeal to burgeoning numbers of voters from minority communities. Now, thoughtful Republicans, concerned about their future of their party, are beginning to recognise that they may never win a presidential race again if they do not develop policies that appeal to Hispanic voters, Asian Americans and those under 40.
As in the US, so in the UK; the demographic make-up of the country and its electorate is changing rapidly.
Until recently the implications of this had not been widely understood, but over the last year a plethora of reports have indicated the political importance of minorities.
What has dramatically increased awareness have been recent comments to political colleagues in the Conservative Party by David Cameron, the British prime minister, that the outcome of Britain's next general election (due by May 2015) could well depend on the voting intentions of minorities in marginal constituencies.
In 2010, the Conservatives managed to obtain only 16 per cent of the minority community vote compared to the opposition Labour Party's 68 per cent. The likelihood is that the Conservative's share will fall even lower in the next election.
The party has therefore recognised that unless it can bridge this gap, between 10 and 15 of its parliamentary seats are at risk as are their hopes of capturing 10 to 15 other marginals held by Labour.
They also face a new threat. Upwardly mobile black and Asian voters are moving away from Labour's urban heartlands to the marginal suburban seats that the Conservative Party needs to win to remain in power.
One consequence, of what may over time become an existential challenge, is that Conservative MPs and candidates are being given advice on how to engage minority communities in a strategy that builds reportedly on the experience of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The UK's Labour Party, which has to a significant extent taken the votes of the Caribbean and Asian communities for granted, is also gearing up to improve their outreach, is starting to identify the issues that matter to the UK's Caribbean community, and is considering how best to restore once close links with the Caribbean and its political support
groups resident in the UK.
For the Caribbean,
demographic change in North America and in Europe offers an opportunity
to modify political positions, if in a well-considered position the
region encourages its community overseas to engage actively with all
political parties and legislators.
This is already an
approach taken in Washington by countries like the Dominican Republic
and the nations of Latin America, but has so far been conspicuously
absent when it comes to the countries of Caricom in both North America
This is particularly shocking in the
United Kingdom where a high proportion of the population has links to
the region and where so many issues of importance are left to occasional
visits by ministers.
Surprisingly, it is still the
case that a significant number of Caribbean governments still think they
should not be seen to be encouraging their community overseas to
They regard this, in some
old-fashioned way, as being seen to interfere in the domestic affairs of
another country, irrespective of the fact that it is widely accepted
that most nations actively encourage their communities to act in this
In suggesting this, the Caribbean has not
recognised that this, is now not only the way of the world, but could
for a region that has fallen off most nations' political map, bolster
the position of friends in government and politics in Europe and North
America, who despair about how hard it is to achieve progress on
In the UK, the situation is almost
derisory. Not only are there some 0.5 to 1 million people who can claim
some sort of familial tie to the Caribbean, but there are many more
hundreds of thousands of visitors and businesses who feel positively
about the region and are only too willing to be supportive if
Developing a strategy is hardly rocket
First, the Anglophone part of the region
needs to better understand that appealing to intellect and morality has
little utility 50 years or so after Independence.
relationships have changed, new generations are in power and it is
lobbying, voting intentions, photo opportunities, constituency visits,
social media, celebrity, and leverage that are the ways in which one
engineers sympathy and change.
Second, to develop a
voice through the diaspora requires the mobilisation of financial
resources. Governments may talk in high terms about the role of the
community overseas, but the reality is they have not been willing to
fund and sustain networks either directly or with the private
Third, the anglophone Caribbean community
remains hopelessly divided by country of allegiance, and with the
exception of Jamaica, which has a high cultural profile across all ages
and affinities, has not yet worked out how to realise the progress that
would come from a concerted communitywide
And fourth, there is a pressing need to
recognise the role of new networks such as the black churches, the new
elites of achievers from the community in ever-more senior positions who
want to be asked to help, and the unions and other associations that
group large numbers of workers of Caribbean
The changing nature of British and North
American demographics and the effect it is having on politics offers the
region a new opportunity. It requires a well-considered
David Jessop is director of the Caribbean