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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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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.