by LAUREN CODLING
BAME voters could influence the outcome in at least 100 marginal seats in the upcoming
general election, research by think tank Operation Black Vote (OBV) has shown.
Among key constituencies where the ethnic minority population is more than the margin of victory include seats in Kensington, Keighley, Reading West and Hendon.
Following the launch of a social media campaign last week in which OBV encouraged ethnic minorities to vote, the pressure group said the December 12 election is “broadly seen as one of the most important political events in generations”.
OBV director Lord Simon Woolley said it was “critical” that marginalised communities have a voice in the upcoming election.
“The marginality of so many seats – at least 100 – simply means the BAME vote could decide who has the keys to Downing Street,” the peer said. “The most radical political act you
can do is to register to vote.”
Ashok Viswanathan, OBV co-founder and deputy director, also urged ethnic communities to cast their ballots if they wanted to see change.
“If we want our politics to look like us, talk like us and come from where we come from, we need to use our voice and our vote,” he said.
Earlier this month, statistics provided by the Electoral Commission claimed that one in four ethnic minorities in the UK were not registered to vote.
Meanwhile, a number of candidates acknowledged the significance of BAME voters. David Pinto-Duschinsky, the Labour candidate for Hendon, in northwest London, told Eastern Eye that the election was “incredibly close”, with the margin of victory being just under 1,100 votes in his constituency.
“BAME votes could decide the election in Hendon,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity to get
an MP who will take the concerns of BAME voters seriously.”
Although he admitted people’s frustration with the current political climate, Pinto-Duschinsky warned that issues such as discrimination and Islamophobia would not be addressed if BAME communities did not vote.
“With your vote, you can exercise real power,” he said. “But if you don’t vote, someone else will decide for you. If you want change, you’ve got to vote for it.”
Fellow Labour candidate Rachel Eden, who is running against incumbent international development secretary Alok Sharma for Reading West, concurred. Calling the election “one of the defining moments in our country’s history,” Eden claimed she had spoken to many of BAME constituents who acknowledged there were many issues in the upcoming election which could particularly affect the community.
“Talking to people on the doorstep I think more and more people are realising that they need to have their say,” she said.
The Labour candidate for Harrow East (held by Conservative Bob Blackman), Pamela Fitzpatrick, admitted she felt a “deep sadness” when she became aware of the electoral commission statistics on registration. Democracy was a wonderful thing, she said, but it was essential everyone felt able to take part.
“Some people have caring responsibilities or other personal commitments that sometimes
stops them from feeling like they have time to engage in the political process,” she said. “We always carry postal votes to make it easier for people to vote. We also check to see if people are not registered and encourage them to do so.”
Claiming that she met people from Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faiths during her campaign, Fitzpatrick said she was eager to engage with as many people as possible to “communicate our vision of hope and equality to everyone in Harrow East”.
John Grogan, Labour candidate for Keighley, said local mosques and community leaders were encouraging ethnic minorities to vote.
“I think we are seeing higher rates of registration this time around among the local Kashmiri and Bangladeshi community,” he claimed. “Jeremy Corbyn himself is also popular among many young people from British Asian backgrounds and that is encouraging some to register.”
Eastern Eye approached a number of Conservative candidates, but they were unavailable for comment.
A number of organisations have launched campaigns to encourage registration and high turnouts from minority groups. Equality think tank The Runnymede Trust have been particularly vocal in encouraging communities to check that they are eligible to vote and register, as well as analysing local authorities across the country to see what they are doing
to increase voter registration.
Runnymede’s deputy director Dr Zubaida Haque told Eastern Eye many are not even aware they have the right to vote in the general election.
“Some don’t know they are entitled to vote, and that includes Commonwealth voters too,” she explained, noting an estimated one out of three Commonwealth citizens are not registered despite being eligible to vote. She also claimed the lack of registration is down to an underestimation of people knowing how to register. Dr Haque’s mother did not know how to register, for instance, and relied on her father to assist her in the process.
There are structural issues too.
Electoral commission research has shown there is a relationship between moving homes and registration. The more insecure the person’s housing situation, the less likely they are to be on the electoral register. According to a House of Commons briefing paper published in 2017, fewer than a third of black households are headed by owner occupiers – either owning their
home outright or with a mortgage.
“Age matters too,” Dr Haque said, adding that statistics show only 66 per cent of 18-19-year olds are registered to vote correctly.
The academic voiced her own concern relating to the lack of registration across the country.
“For this election, it makes a big difference as it will matter much more,” she said. “It could make the difference between whether this government get a minority or a majority.”
Ahead of the December 12 election, OBV have also produced a Race Equality Manifesto including research highlighting where the BAME vote could be the difference. This features points on education, employment, criminal justice, knife crime and racial hatred.