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26 February 2019

Labour selects just six BME candidates across 99 target seats

Anger as ethnic minority candidates who contested seats for Labour in 2017 are replaced with white candidates.

By Eleni Courea

Just six per cent of the candidates selected so far to contest marginal seats for Labour at the next general election are from ethnic minorities.

Of 99 candidates selected in seats where Labour needs to gain fewer than 10,000 votes to win, just six were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Nine ethnic minority candidates who contested marginal seats for the party in 2017 have been replaced with white candidates.

Currently, eight per cent of MPs are from an ethnic minority background, compared with around 13.6 per cent of the UK population.

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham who campaigns against racial inequality, said that “in the year of rising hate crime, anti-immigration rhetoric and the Windrush scandal, it’s depressing that the natural party of ethnic minorities has failed once again. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have more ethnic minority MPs rising to senior posts and cabinet roles.”

In 2017, a total of 52 ethnic minority MPs were elected, up from 41 in 2015. Of these, 32 were Labour although two – Chuka Umunna and Fiona Onasanya – have since left the party, having quit and been expelled respectively.

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In South Thanet, 2017 Labour candidate Raushan Ara increased her party’s vote share by 14 per cent, but lost the subsequent selection to Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt. In Loughborough, Jewel Miah, who slashed Nicky Morgan’s majority by nearly 5,000, lost the subsequent selection contest to Stuart Brady.

In Redditch, British Chinese candidate Rebecca Blake was replaced with Rebecca Jenkins. In the Cities of London and Westminster, Turkish candidate İbrahim Dogus was replaced with Steve Saxby.

Jewel Miah said he was “very disappointed” with his local party’s decision. “They looked at the demographics of Loughborough and made their decision accordingly, choosing a barrister from Nottinghamshire despite the fact I was the homegrown candidate,” he said. “The party should be concerned about the lack of diversity of their candidates, yet they’re not doing anything to improve it nationally.”

In five marginal seats – Welwyn Hatfield, Putney, Harrow East, Wimbledon and Telfor – the ethnic minority candidates who contested in 2017 were excluded by the use of all-women shortlists, and have been replaced by white women. Three of these constituencies are in diverse areas of London.

Anawar Miah, who stood in Welwyn Hatfield, and Kuldip Singh Sahota, who contested in Telford, both sought reselection and said they were disappointed when they were made ineligible.  

Around two-thirds of the candidates who have been selected are women. If Labour won all 99 seats on top of those it took in 2017, it would be the first party in history to have a majority of women MPs, but its proportion of ethnic minority MPs would fall from 12 to 10.5 per cent.  

Among the six ethnic minority candidates selected to contest the next election are Faiza Shaheen, director of Class think tank, in Ian Duncan’s constituency Chingford & Wood Green, and 24-year-old Ali Milani in Boris Johnson’s constituency, Uxbridge and Ruislip South.

The remainder are Azhar Ali in Pendle, Khalil Ahmed in Wycombe, Faten Hameed in Glasgow Central and Mark McDonald in Stoke South.

Shaheen and Hameed are the only two ethnic minority women selected. Although an all-women shortlist was used in Chingford & Wood Green, the candidates shortlisted were all from ethnic minority backgrounds. Labour officials had hoped that this would happen in selection contests for other marginals.

In November, Shaheen tweeted that the low proportion of ethnic minority candidates selected in marginals was “outrageous”. “Currently need increase of 70 per cent in BAME MPs in parliament to get proportion in line with population. This means that large proportion of safe seats will need to go to people of colour if (sic) to get parity,” she said.

Lammy said that “all-women shortlists were a sustained response to an endemic problem. Labour hasn’t come up with an equivalent for ethnic minorities. We need a more concrete and permanent approach.”

Diane Abbott called for the introduction of all-black shortlists in 2017, arguing that all-women shortlists have not worked for black and ethnic minority women. However, all-BME shortlists are not permissible under existing equalities legislation.

A Labour spokeswoman said: “The Labour Party has more BAME MPs than all other political parties combined and we are committed to further increasing the representation of BAME candidates at all levels of the party.”

The party is in the process of creating a Bernie Grant Leadership Programme to train up members from ethnic minority backgrounds to become MPs, emulating its Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, which launched in 2016.

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