David Cameron inspects the kitchen and meets the chefs at the British curry awards at Battersea Evolution in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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As ethnic minorities grow, politicians need a less crude approach to attracting them

All parties should take a step back and appreciate the significant differences between these communities.

People from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds are already a major part of Britain’s fabric, and are likely to make up almost a third of the population by 2050. But in spite of repeated references, the mythical "ethnic minority community" simply does not exist. As Henry Kissinger once remarked of Europe – there is nobody to call if you want to speak to "ethnic minorities". 

It is clearly not the case that Britain’s ethnic minorities hold similar views or live similar lives. Yet political parties and others often assume they can appeal to all minorities in similar fashion. Whether in formulating policy or attracting votes, it is important to understand the diversity between, and often within, these increasingly significant communities.

This is no small task. Today, there are at least five major BME groups in the UK: Indian, Pakistani, black African, black Caribbean and Bangladeshi. The Chinese community is smaller but growing fast.  Added to this are communities that might self-identify together and share aspirations, for example Jews or Sikhs. Cutting across these distinct groups is the UK’s fastest-growing minority community, the mixed population, which is already the second largest group of all.  It was fitting, then, that a mixed race family starred in the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, and that Jessica Ennis became the face of our sporting success.

On almost any dimension, these ethnic groups are different: in their origins, geography, mobility, economic activity, health outcomes, educational attainment, household composition and political activity.  Even when it comes to religion – the area where minorities are most often assumed to be similar – there are notable variations between communities. Indians and black Africans are two to three times more likely to say religion makes little or no difference to their lives compared with other groups. And it is black Caribbeans who attend religious services the most often.

These differences are important for politicians to bear in mind. Policies affecting children will disproportionately impact Pakistani communities, where almost 70 per cent of all households contain dependent children. In contrast, policies affecting retirees will most affect the black Caribbean community, who have been in the UK longest. The black community will be acutely sensitive to policies affecting  social housing or lone parents; the Indian community most impacted by policy affecting home owners.

The tendency of minorities to cluster together in a particular industry means small changes in just one sector of the economy can be felt across an entire ethnic population. Large numbers (24 per cent) of Pakistani men work as taxi-drivers, and almost half of Bangladeshi men work in restaurants. Furthermore, Pakistanis are often self-employed and almost half of all employed Bangladeshis work part-time. So changes in specific tax policy or particular employment laws can have a large impact on these communities.          

With very young populations, minorities account for almost a third of all primary school pupils. Indians are a success story at almost every level, from Key Stage 1 to university admission.  However, the improvements amongst Bangladeshi students are less well known. Over the past few years, the percentage of Bangladeshi students obtaining five A*-C grades at GCSE (including Maths and English) has risen by half to 62 per cent. Therefore, from a poor start, Bangladeshis are now the second best performing ethnic group (and notably ahead of their white peers). 

Policymakers would do well to study this success story to see what lessons can be applied more broadly. Improvement was possible in spite of many Bangladeshi students receiving free school meals; and, with a quarter of the UK’s Bangladeshi population living in just two London boroughs, it is likely a small number of identifiable schools made the difference.

Perhaps fittingly, one of the few common traits amongst minorities is their shared sense of "British-ness".  Almost all ethnic minorities have a much stronger commitment to the notion of "British-ness" than their white peers and feel it is an important part of their identity. In contrast, the white population prefers to identify itself with the individual home countries and "being British" appears to be much less important to them.  

Ethnic minorities are already having an impact on UK elections and their influence will become more significant as time passes. Old voting habits may become more fluid and BME populations are young with lots of new voters. Similarly, as the many BME groups come to represent a larger proportion of the UK population, attracting voters from diverse ethnic backgrounds will soon become as fundamental to winning elections as attracting both male and female voters. But as politicians scramble to win the votes of ethnic minority individuals, they should first take a step back and appreciate the significant differences between these communities. The first political party to develop this more sophisticated understanding will be better placed to engage minorities, address their needs and ultimately be rewarded with their votes.

Rishi Sunak is head of Policy Exchange’s new Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Research Unit and the co-author of Policy Exchange’s report A Portrait of Modern Britain

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.