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Black and Asian voters make their voices heard

Minorities matter: Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote
Minorities matter: Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote

by Rithika Siddhartha and Lauren Codling

RACE equality was the biggest winner of the June 8 election, an influential commentator has said, as pundits ponder how Labour gained more seats than expected, while the Conservative majority whittled away.

Voters from minority communities “raised their voice and demanded to be listened to”, said Simon Woolley, the director of pressure group Operation Black Vote.

He added: “A new generation of Asian voters is saying, ‘Stop pushing us around. We’re British, we’re Asian, we’re Muslim. We demand to be listened to’. I think that can only be good for democracy.”

There is no detailed analysis yet on how Asians voted in this month’s election, although one academic, Paula Surridge, a political sociologist at the University of Bristol, said her analysis showed that “the narrative about turnout change in 2017 was more complex than just getting out the ‘young’ vote.

“It suggests turnout rose most where the population was ethnically diverse,” she said.

With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats, Labour had 262 seats, followed by the Scottish National Party on 35. The Liberal Democrats secured 12 seats and the DUP, 10.

Turnout was 68.7 per cent, up from 66.1 per cent in 2015.

Voter concerns: Dr Zubaida Haque of the Runnymede Trust

Dr Zubaida Haque, a research consultant from Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, told Eastern Eye that Labour captured two thirds of the BAME votes under party leader Jeremy Corbyn whereas the Conservatives attracted around a fifth of the minority vote.

“What these election results indicate at first glance – and we have to say that because we haven’t properly analysed all the results yet – is actually the Conservatives are not only failing to capture the BAME vote, but they’re also losing ground. They’ve done worse than 2015, when they captured a quarter approximately of the BAME votes,” she added.

Immigration, tighter public spending and Brexit were all on the agenda for parties in the run-up to the June 8 vote.

Austerity hit minorities the hardest, Dr Haque said, adding that Muslims living in deprived areas bore the brunt of some Tory policies.

Also, prime minister Theresa May’s remarks after the terror attack at London Bridge on June 3, alluding to self-segregation issues in relation to Muslim communities – all those subliminal messages and qualities have had a disproportional impact on Muslims – Dr Haque said.

“The Conservative party hasn’t really tried to woo Muslim voters. I think the BME voters have suffered economically and socially.

“I did a blog just before the election about the importance of BME voters and one thing I said was that a lot of their concerns are similar to the white British voter. One difference is around discrimination and unemployment and that point still remains.

“Discrimination is still a huge issue within the Muslim and BME community. The BME voters are likely to have degrees but yet they’re still more likely to struggle for employment after their graduation compared to white British.

“When you look at the two parties, Labour probably seems like it is more likely the party to get them out of austerity. They addressed issues regarding economics, employment and affordable housing. Labour had a very strong immigration policy, they were clear that they would not be running on an anti-immigration platform and that was a huge difference to what the Conservatives were saying,” she said.

Woolley shared the sentiment. “Brexit, Islamophobia and xenophobia from Brexit have made a lot of people feel uncomfortable and I guess they felt that, when you consider the Voter concerns: Dr Zubaida Haque of the Runnymede TrustBrexit vote and you consider that campaign, for the (London) mayoral election, that maybe a lot of people felt that there were some aspects of the Conservative narratives that were anti-immigrant and anti-our communities and I think that people have come back and said ‘we don’t like this, we don’t like this direction.’”

He added that the in crease in diversity in the Commons has demanded such a shift in politics.

“It is important now to build upon this success of engagement; this non-partisan engagement from the Asian community is going to be critical for the future of
this country.

“The more we have, the better. It’s a win-win for everyone.”