Tue | Jun 19, 2018

Black voters can decide who becomes Britain's prime minister

Published:Monday | January 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Neil Edwards, vice-chair of Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC), speaks about executing change through visionary leadership inside the Shangri-La Banquet and Convention Centre.
A reception hosted in downtown Toronto by Operation Black Vote Canada in honour of Senator Don Meredith was attended by a cross section of the community recently. Among those present were (from left), Dr Alok Mukherjee, chair, Toronto Police Services Board; Audrey Walters, former president of the Black Business and Professional Association; Senator Don Oliver; and Mary Ann Chambers, former Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities. - photo by Eddie Grant

Britain's black voters can decide the 2015 election if they vote strategically and more of them cast their ballots, an analysis of constituencies by The Voice shows.

And campaigners are busy alerting the community to this potential and warning the parties, including Labour, the historic beneficiary of the black vote, that this time there will be a price for black people's support.

"Political parties will see black communities flex political muscles and won't be offered crumbs," said Simon Woolley, chief executive of Operation Black Vote (OBV), an organisation that promotes the registration of black voters. "We want to see issues addressed, like disproportionate unemployment and inequality."


In Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, voters choose 650 representatives to sit in parliament, meaning that for a party to claim a clear victory in an election in it has to win at least 326 seats.

At the 2010 general election, the Labour Party, which had held office for the previous dozen years, gained 258 seats, 68 short of a majority. While voters sent 307 Conservatives to Westminster, that was still 19 short of a majority.

In the end, the Liberal Democrats, who won 57 seats, spurned their seeming natural ally, Labour, to enter Britain's first coalition government in 36 years with the Tories.

The results of 2010 have been concentrating political minds, including those of black activists, on the permutations of the election, and to the conclusion that black people can decide who is Britain's next prime minister. As things now stand in the Commons after a number of by-election losses by Conservatives, they will need 23 additional seats in the next election to govern alone. Labour requires 71 additional seats if they are to form the next government.

A significant fact is that there are 18 constituencies in England where black voters account for between 16 per cent and 35 per cent of the electorate, including a dozen where they are a fifth or more of the voters. Notably, the Labour Party won all these seats.

Further, there are 24 constituencies with Conservatives majorities that the potential black vote is greater, in some instances by many multiples, that the winning candidates' margins of victory. That by itself may not, on the face of it, be significant given the built-in voting bias by blacks for Labour. In other words, the Labour Party's candidates might be assumed to have already received the black vote.

Last election

In fact, at the last election the Tories and the Lib-Dems each received 18 per cent of the black vote, indicating that 64 per cent voted Labour. Among all black voters, 87 per cent of black Africans and 78 per cent black Caribbeans cast their ballots for the Labour Party. On the other hand, only 31 per cent of white voters did so.

Clearly, the black vote is an important constituency for Labour - or any one that can prise it away.

But there was a time when the Labour Party could have counted on upwards of 90 per cent of the black vote. So, while there has been no stampede away from Labour, it is clear that the monopoly on the black vote by the party which three decades ago sent the first cohort of black MPs - Paul Boateng, Dianne Abbott, Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz - to Westminster has eased.

But analysts say that there are factors for black voters to address if they are to assert the political power that is close to their grasp. Not least of these is that they have to register to vote, then case their ballots.

A study of ethnic minority voting patterns in 2010 by the think tank, Runnymede Trust, found that of the 79 per cent of black Africans registered to vote, only 60 percent actually did, making them the ethnic group least likely to vote. Among black Caribbeans, 89 per cent registered. Only 66 per cent voted.

It is issues such as these that the latest voter initiative by OBV, in conjunction with Britain's black churches, is attempting to address.

"If we don't get involved, future generations will not see the benefits of campaigns that have been fought in the past, and disillusionment will set in," said Hackney Councillor Patrick Vernon.

Indeed, Vernon believes that churches are appropriate vehicles from which to broadcast the message of political involvement. "Politics," he said, "affects lives: what school your child goes to, what services you receive, as well as crime and community safety."

The question for black voters, if they cast votes essentially en bloc, is for whom they should vote and at what price.

There is a perception among many that despite its vaunted inclusiveness and its spear-heading of legislation that improved opportunities for minorities, the black support for Labour has been disproportionate to what they have received.

The black Labour MP Chuka Umunna - who supports efforts to get black people registered and voting and for them to become fully engaged in the national political debate - feels that while his party has to monopoly right to the black vote, it has reason to be proud of many of its programmes that impacted the black community positively.

He said: "Nobody has the (monopoly) right to support from any part of the community. While Labour is proud of our past (of) introducing equalities laws, we do not take support for granted."

Meantime, while the Tories and the Lib Dems and the Tories are criticised for their lack of substantial black representation - for instance, there are no blacks in the current Cabinet - and for the absence of a coherent message that appeals to the community, there are signs that the coalition, with an eye on the electoral arithmetic, may have begun to fashion strategies to counter this perception.

In 2010, the Tories elected their first black female MP in Helen Grant, who has since been appointed junior equalities minister. The Lib Dems have no ethnic minority MPs.

Further, last September, David Cameron, the Tory leader and prime minister, appointed Reading West MP Alok Sharma the Conservative Party's vice-chairman. Sharma is to focus on black and other minority ethnic voters.

Two months later, Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, in his role as deputy prime minister, ordered a review into alleged racist banking practices in light of statistics that show people of African heritage are four times more likely to be turned down for a bank loan.

Such developments cause black activists to take notice. But it is early to say whether they reach the bar to win the kind of support that will affect Britain's electoral map.


Birmingham Yardley (LibDem)
Ilford North (Con)
Bristol North West (Con)
Reading West (Con)
Northampton South (Con)
Stevenage (Con)
Milton Keynes South (Con)
Peterborough (Con)
Reading East (Con)
Enfield Southgate (Con)
Ipswich (Con)
Cardiff Central (LibDem)
Brighton Pavilion (Green)
Lancaster and Fleetwood (Con)
Cambridge (LibDem)
Stockton South (Con)
Brighton Kemptown (Con)


Brent Central (LibDem)

Majority: 1,345 Black voters: 29,652

Ealing Central and Acton (Con)

Majority: 3,716 Black voters: 13,878

Hendon (Con)

Majority: 106 Black voters: 9,743

Enfield North (Con)

Majority: 1,692 Black voters: 7,493

Croydon Central (Con)

Majority: 2,969 Black voters: 11,889

Thurrock (Con)

Majority: 92 Black voters: 1,521

Brentford and Isleworth (Con)

Majority: 1958 Black voters: 5,156

Wolverhampton South West (Con)

Majority: 691 Black voters: 4030

Bradford East (LibDem)

Majority: 365 Black voters: 1,498

Bermondsey and Old Southwark (LibDem)

Majority: 8,530 Black voters: 22,217

Bedford (Con)

Majority: 1,353 Black voters: 3,503

Hornsey and Wood Green (LibDem)

Majority: 6,875 Black voters: 12,052

Manchester Withington (LibDem)

Majority: 1,894 Black voters: 2,175

Harrow East (Con)

Majority: 3,403 Black voters: 6,890

Cardiff North (Con)

Majority: 194 Black voters: 360

Northampton North (Con)

Majority: 1,936 Black voters: 2,563

Watford (Con)

Majority: 1,425 Black voters: 2,346

Battersea (Con)

Majority: 5,977 Black voters: 10,984

Broxtowe (Con)

Majority: 389 Black voters: 584

Norwich South (LibDem)

Majority: 310 Black voters: 363

Sherwood (Con)

Majority: 214 Black voters: 320

Warwickshire North (Con)

Majority: 54 Black voters: 174

Gloucester (Con)

Majority: 2,420 Black voters: 2,527

Finchley and Golders Green (Con)

Majority: 5,809 Black voters: 6,032

Sources: Notional majorities - UK Polling Report, Black vote - Commons Library 04/01 Statistics for Parliamentary Constituencies.


Camberwell and Peckham (Lab) 35%
Lewisham Deptford (Lab) 30%
Tottenham (Lab) 28%
Vauxhall (Lab) 28%
Hackney South and Shoreditch (Lab) 27%
Brent Central (LibDem) 26%
West Ham (Lab) 25%
Croydon North (Lab) 24%
Dulwich and West Norwood (Lab) 23%
Streatham (Lab) 22%
Hackney North and Stoke
Newington (Lab) 22%
Bermondsey and Old
Southwark (LibDem) 21%
Edmonton (Lab) 19%
Birmingham Ladywood (Lab) 19%
East Ham (Lab) 18%
Lewisham East (Lab) 18%
Leyton and Wanstead (Lab) 17%
Walthamstow (Lab) 17%
Lewisham West and Penge (Lab) 17%
Greenwich and Woolwich (Lab) 16%


 Full Caption: A reception hosted in downtown Toronto by Operation Black Vote Canada in honour of Senator Don Meredith was attended by a cross section of the community recently. Among those present were (from left), Dr Alok Mukherjee, chair, Toronto Police Services Board; Audrey Walters, former president of the Black Business and Professional Association; Senator Don Oliver; and Mary Ann Chambers, former Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities. - photo by Eddie Grant