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Chuka Umunna warns Labour is "shedding" ethnic minority votes to the Tories

Former shadow business secretary says his party has "not a hope in hell" of winning if it continues to lose BME voters. 

Ethnic minority voters have long been one of Labour's greatest electoral assets. In 2010, 68 per cent voted for the party, compared to just 16 per cent for the Conservatives. But in 2015 this pattern went into reverse. Labour's share declined to 52 per cent, while the Tories' more than doubled to 33 per cent (according to a British Future/Survation poll): the best result in their history. 

This dramatic shift has attracted surprisingly little comment since the election but in a speech today Chuka Umunna will aim to change that. Addressing Unison’s 2016 National Black Members’ Conference, the former shadow business secretary will warn that Labour is "shedding votes from different ethnic minority communities to the Tories" and that it has "not a hope in hell of retaining all our current seats, let alone make any enough gains and winning the next general election if we continue to lose ethnic minority votes at this rate." 

Umunna, who will launch an independent inquiry into the issue with Keith Vaz (one of the four ethnic minority MPs first elected in 1987 and Britain's first Asian minister), will reveal new House of Commons library research showing that in 253 constituencies – more than one in three - the ethnic minority population exceeds the majority of the sitting MP. 

On Labour's performance among BME voters in 2015, he will say: "Since 2005 the Conservative Party has been assiduously courting support across our different communities and it is yielding results. Conservative support amongst ethnic minority voters at the 2015 general Eeection jumped to 33 per cent - 1 million ethnic minority voters helped put David Cameron in Downing Street, the best result in that party’s history. Meanwhile our support dropped to 52 per cent. So an extraordinary jump for the Tories - a doubling of support - and a big drop in support for us. The alarm bells should be ringing."

The Tories have long argued that many ethnic minority voters are small-c conservatives open to voting for a Conservative Party free of the toxic associations of the past (Powell's "Rivers of Blood" and Tebbit's "cricket test"). Umunna will cite evidence from the Runnymede Trust showing that "more ethnic minority middle class voters agreed that a Conservative led government would lead to better economic policy." He will add: "In 2015 we extended our ethnic minority vote in heartland seats which already had large majorities but in marginal areas like Watford, Swindon and Milton Keynes - which we need to gain to win a majority - the Conservatives successfully extended their appeal to aspirational ethnic minority voters."

David Cameron made race equality one of the defining themes of his conference speech last year, denouncing the finding that "even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names". The government has since pledged to introduce name-blind CVs for the civil service and for university applications. 

In his speech, Cameron said of the Tories' childcare policy: "It was introduced by the black British son of a single parent, Sam Gyimah. He was backed up by the daughter of Gujarati immigrants who arrived in our country from East Africa with nothing except the clothes they stood up in, Priti Patel, and the first speaker was Sajid Javid, whose father came here from Pakistan to drive the buses."

Umunna will warn of the Tories' ambition to overtake Labour's ethnic minority representation. "In this Parliament, there are now 41 ethnic minority MPs: 23 Labour; 17 Tories. But, whilst there are 10 more ethnic minority Labour MPs, there are 15 more Tory ones compared to the last Parliament. Make no mistake: the Tories aim to ensure there are more Tory ethnic minority members of the 2020 Parliament than Labour ones."

Finally, he will defend Labour's record in office, arguing that "it was not and never has been just another shade of Tory". 

"The overwhelming majority of what we did delivered far greater social justice in Britain.  That is our legacy and we should all be proud of it. Read all the equality impact assessments of our policies in government to see what I’m talking about.

"Now I can understand why, if you have never had need to use a children’s centre, or if every generation of your family has habitually gone on to university, if you have never been on the minimum wage or indeed your family has never suffered the racism of the police, why Labour’s achievements in office - and I could list many more - might not mean so much to you.  But they made a fundamental difference to the lives of the people I represent.

"There is no glory in opposition - we can force the odd u-turn as we did on tax credits but the Tories are in the driving seat.   That is why we must kick these Tories out in 2020, and - make no mistake - we will kick them out with a purpose:  to fashion a politics of hope that brings together all communities around justice, peace and prosperity, for all Britons not just the top 1 per cent."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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A Fox among the chickens: why chlorinated poultry is about more than what's on your plate

The trade minister thinks we're obsessed with chicken, but it's emblematic of bigger Brexit challenges.

What do EU nationals and chlorinated chickens have in common? Both have involuntarily been co-opted as bargaining chips in Britain’s exit from the European Union. And while their chances of being welcomed across our borders rely on vastly different factors, both are currently being dangled over the heads of those charged with negotiating a Brexit deal.

So how is it that hundreds of thousands of pimpled, plucked carcasses are the more attractive option? More so than a Polish national looking to work hard, pay their taxes and enjoy a life in Britain while contributing to the domestic economy?

Put simply, let the chickens cross the Atlantic, and get a better trade deal with the US – a country currently "led" by a protectionist president who has pledged huge tariffs on numerous imports including steel and cars, both of which are key exports from Britain to the States. However, alongside chickens the US could include the tempting carrot of passporting rights, so at least bankers will be safe. Thank. Goodness. 

British farmers won’t be, however, and that is one of the greatest risks from a flood of "Frankenfoods" washing across the Atlantic. 

For many individuals, the idea of chlorinated chicken is hard to stomach. Why is it done? To help prevent the spread of bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Does it work? From 2006-2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 15.2 cases of salmonella per 100,000 people in the US (0.015 per cent) – earlier figures showed 0.006 per cent of cases resulted in hospitalisation. In 2013, the EU reported the level at 20.4 cases per 100,000, but figures from the Food Standards Agency showed only 0.003 per cent of UK cases resulted in hospitalisation, half of the US proportion.

Opponents of the practice also argue that washing chickens in chlorine is a safety net for lower hygiene standards and poorer animal welfare earlier along the line, a catch-all cover-up to ensure cheaper production costs. This is strongly denied by governing bodies and farmers alike (and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who reignited the debate) but all in all, it paints an unpalatable picture for those unaccustomed to America’s "big ag" ways.

But for the British farmer, imports of chicken roughly one fifth cheaper than domestic products (coupled with potential tariffs on exports to the EU) will put further pressure on an industry already working to tight margins, in which many participants make more money from soon-to-be-extinct EU subsidies than from agricultural income.

So how can British farmers compete? While technically soon free of EU "red tape" when it comes to welfare, environmental and hygiene regulations, if British farmers want to continue exporting to the EU, they will likely have to continue to comply with its stringent codes of practice. Up to 90 per cent of British beef and lamb exports reportedly go to the EU, while the figure is 70 per cent for pork. 

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths says that the UK poultry meat industry "stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated", adding that it is a "matter of our reputation on the global stage.”

Brexiteer and former environment minister Andrea Leadsom has previously promised she would not lower animal welfare standards to secure new trade deals, but the present situation isn’t yet about moving forward, simply protecting what we already have.

One glimmer of hope may be the frozen food industry that, if exporting to the EU, would be unable to use imported US chicken in its products. This would ensure at least one market for British poultry farmers that wouldn't be at the mercy of depressed prices, resulting from a rushed trade deal cobbled together as an example of how well Britain can thrive outside the EU. 

An indication of quite how far outside the bloc some Brexiteers are aiming comes from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's current "charm" offensive in Australasia. While simultaneously managing to offend Glaswegians, BoJo reaffirmed trading links with the region. Exports to New Zealand are currently worth approximately £1.25bn, with motor vehicles topping the list. Making the return trip, lamb and wine are the biggest imports, so it’s unlikely a robust trade deal in the South Pacific is going to radically improve British farmers’ lives. The same is true of their neighbours – Australia’s imports from Britain are topped by machinery and transport equipment (59 per cent of the total) and manufactured goods (26 per cent). 

Clearly keeping those trade corridors open is important, but it is hard to believe Brexit will provide a much-needed boon for British agriculture through the creation of thus far blocked export channels. Australia and New Zealand don’t need our beef, dairy or poultry. We need theirs.

Long haul exports and imports themselves also pose a bigger, longer term threat to food security through their impact on the environment. While beef and dairy farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, good stock management can also help remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Jet engines cannot, and Britain’s skies are already close to maximum occupancy, with careful planning required to ensure appropriate growth.

Read more: Stephen Bush on why the chlorine chicken row is only the beginning

The global food production genie is out of the bottle, it won’t go back in – nor should it. Global food security relies on diversity, and countries working and trading together. But this needs to be balanced with sustainability – both in terms of supply and the environment. We will never return to the days of all local produce and allotments, but there is a happy medium between freeganism and shipping food produce halfway around the world to prove a point to Michel Barnier. 

If shoppers want a dragon fruit, it will have to be flown in. If they want a chicken, it can be produced down the road. If they want a chlorinated chicken – well, who does?