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Is Labour losing the ethnic minority vote?

Labour should not ignore the electoral gains that a higher ethnic minority turnout could bring.

When Labour was eviscerated in 2010, Gordon Brown’s party still received 68 per cent of the ethnic minority vote. Much Labour optimism is founded upon this statistic: the ethnic minority vote has risen since, making it a powerful obstacle to a second term for David Cameron.

But the problem for Labour is that, while many ethnic minorities still loathe the Conservative party, they are increasingly lukewarm to Labour. Since 1997, the percentage of ethnic minority voters identifying with the party has collapsed, as findings from the University of Manchester’s Maria Sobolewska bluntly spell out.

In 1997, 77 per cent of Indian voters identified with the Labour Party. Today the figure is just 45 per cent.* With other ethnic minorities the trend is the same, even if it is less dramatic: the percentage of Pakistani voters identifying with Labour has fallen from 79 to 54 per cent; and the percentage of African voters identifying with Labour has fallen from 79 to 59.

(Click on graph to enlarge)

All of this presents an opportunity for the Conservatives. There are modest signs that the party has made progress with the Indian vote: 18 per cent of Indian voters today identify with the Tories. But, when it comes to other ethnic minorities, the Conservative position is uniformly bleak: four per cent of Pakistani and black Caribbean voters identify with the party, and nine per cent of black Africans do so.

These statistics will comfort Labour, showing that the Tories’ 50-year race problem remains a drag on the party. But, even if it is not clear that any other parties are making an attractive pitch to ethnic minorities, Labour should still beware. The gains that Ukip has made in Labour’s northern heartlands shows how rapidly core voters can desert a party if they feel like they are being ignored. “The only thing now keeping minorities on side with Labour is the lack of alternatives,” says Maria Sobolewska.

Just 5.8 per cent of Labour MPs are from ethnic minorities, compared with 13 per cent of the population in the 2011 census. Labour is showing no great urgency to address this under-representation. Of the 34 Labour candidates selected in seats in which Labour MPs are stepping down, just one is from an ethnic minority, prompting David Lammy to warn that Labour was, “in danger of looking incredibly complacent” in taking ethnic minority votes for granted.

A paucity of ethnic minority MPs is not the only evidence of this. In 2010, an ethnic minority voter was half as likely to be canvassed by Labour as a white British one. By neglecting to woo ethnic minorities, Labour is missing out on thousands of votes. While the party is trying to increase turnout among young people, it seems to have given less attention to ethnic minorities – even though 19 per cent were not registered to vote in 2010, compared with seven per cent of the white British population.

But electoral history suggests that ethnic minorities are far more likely to vote for Labour than under-25s are. A higher ethnic minority turnout could provide Labour with a big electoral bounty: in 2015, there will be 50 Conservative seats where Labour is second and the BME vote is larger than the Conservative majority. But Labour cannot expect anti-Tory feeling to be motivation enough for ethnic minorities to go to the ballot box.

*The figure is different to the 18 per cent cited in the British Election Studies presentation due to an error I found.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.