In 2016 I decided to take a global look at all BME MPs as they stood at that time. The findings reported in my website article “UK political party differences in selecting BME Parliamentary candidates” were illuminating.
The article looked at the House of Commons as it stood after the 2015 general election. The BME MPs were taken as those who self-identify as BME in a booklet about the composition of the House of Commons published by Parliament. The ethnic composition of every constituency in England and Wales I took from the National Census 2011.
The Labour Party has the reputation of being far more “BME friendly” than the Conservative Party. However, the facts showed that Conservatives were willing to select BME candidates in safe, “very White”, Conservative seats in a way that the Labour Party was not in its “very White” safe seats. Instead, BME Labour MPs tended to represent seats that were noticeably more diverse than the average Labour held seat.
I repeated the exercise after the 2017 general election, and published the results in my website article “UK black and minority ethnic MPs after the 2017 general election.” While the number of BME MPs in both major parties had increased significantly, the pattern identified above remained.
I have now updated my analysis for the 2019 general election. Sadly, the demographic information still has to rely upon the National Census 2011. While having more up to date census statistics would change most of the numbers, I have no reason to believe that they would change the overall patterns.
How do the parties stand?
The Conservative Party holds 359 constituencies in England & Wales. (Scotland and Northern Ireland are ignored because their census websites do not have data in the format that I require, as far as I can tell.)
In terms of diversity, they range from Harrow East, 60.8% BME, to Workington, 1.0% BME. The raw arithmetical average of the 359 seats is 7.13%, showing that the average Conservative held constituency is not very diverse.
Below I have listed all 22 Conservative MPs who self-identify as BME, with the constituencies ranked in order of diversity.
|Conservative Party BME MPs|
|Alok Sharma||Reading West||19.11%|
|Rehman Chishti||Gillingham and Rainham||10.39%|
|Gagan Mohindra||South West Hertfordshire||10.38%|
|Bim Afolami||Hitchin and Harpenden||9.60%|
|Helen Grant||Maidstone & The Weald||6.86%|
|Claire Coutinho||East Surrey||6.50%|
|Shailesh Vara||North West Cambridgeshire||6.28%|
|Ranil Jayawardena||North East Hampshire||4.52%|
|Kemi Badenoch||Saffron Walden||3.61%|
|Rishi Sunak||Richmond (Yorks)||3.14%|
The arithmetical average of all 22 constituencies is 6.97% BME, which is slightly “Whiter” by 0.16% than the average Conservative held constituency. This is not a very big difference, but the direction is the same as in 2015 and 2017.
The key message is that when selecting BME candidates for winnable, and often very safe, seats, the Conservative Party does not restrict them to seats with a high BME%. Indeed the trend is very slightly the opposite, by 0.16%.
The Labour Party holds 201 constituencies in England & Wales.
In terms of diversity, they range from East Ham, 76.9% BME, to Easington, 1.3% BME. The raw arithmetical average of the 201 seats is 23.14%, showing that the average Labour held constituency is much more diverse than the average Conservative held constituency. That is consistent with Labour being much better represented in inner cities, rather than in rural areas.
Below I have listed all 41 Labour MPs who self-identify as BME, with the constituencies ranked in order of diversity.
|Labour Party BME MPs|
|Shabana Mahmood||Birmingham, Ladywood||72.67%|
|Virendra Sharma||Ealing, Southall||69.55%|
|Claudia Webbe||Leicester East||68.56%|
|Tahir Ali||Birmingham, Hall Green||64.47%|
|Imran Hussain||Bradford East||62.92%|
|Naz Shah||Bradford West||62.92%|
|Dawn Butler||Brent Central||61.25%|
|Khalid Mahmood||Birmingham, Perry Barr||60.33%|
|Apsana Begum||Poplar and Limehouse||56.52%|
|Seema Malhotra||Feltham and Heston||55.13%|
|Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi||Slough||54.92%|
|Rushanara Ali||Bethnal Green and Bow||53.06%|
|Afzal Khan||Manchester, Gorton||47.57%|
|Sarah Owen||Luton North||45.12%|
|Janet Daby||Lewisham East||44.28%|
|Diane Abbott||Hackney North and Stoke Newington||42.26%|
|Abena Oppong-Asare||Erith and Thamesmead||42.21%|
|Valerie Vaz||Walsall South||39.29%|
|Rupa Huq||Ealing Central and Acton||36.69%|
|Nadia Whittome||Nottingham East||35.17%|
|Tulip Siddiq||Hampstead and Kilburn||34.48%|
|Feryal Clark||Enfield North||32.49%|
|Preet Gill||Birmingham Edgbaston||31.33%|
|Bambos Charalambous||Enfield, Southgate||30.04%|
|Yasmin Qureshi||Bolton South East||27.01%|
|Zarah Sultana||Coventry South||26.60%|
|Marsha de Cordova||Battersea||26.52%|
|Chi Onwurah||Newcastle upon Tyne Central||25.78%|
|Thangam Debbonaire||Bristol West||25.48%|
|Kim Johnson||Liverpool Riverside||20.35%|
|Taiwo Owatemi||Coventry North West||18.27%|
|Clive Lewis||Norwich South||9.99%|
The arithmetical average of all 41 constituencies is 40.61% BME, which is 17.47% more BME than the average Labour held seat. As stated above, the average Labour held seat is 23.14% BME.
Comparing Conservative and Labour candidate choices
The 2019 data confirms the pattern first seen in 2015. To summarise the findings of the three general elections in two tables:
|GE 2015||GE 2017||GE 2019|
|Average Conservative held seat||7.62%||7.07%||7.13%|
|Average BME held Conservative seat||6.35%||6.38%||6.97%|
|Difference (less BME)||1.27%||0.69%||0.16%|
For all three general elections, there is a clear pattern. By a small percentage, the average Conservative held seat is less diverse (“more white”) than the average Conservative held seat.
|GE 2015||GE 2017||GE 2019|
|Average Labour held seat||20.47%||21.89%||23.14%|
|Average BME held Labour seat||26.73%||40.35%||40.61%|
|Difference (more BME)||6.26%||18.46%||17.47%|
For all three general elections, the Labour Party also shows a clear pattern. Seats held by BME Labour MPs are significantly more diverse than the average Labour held seat. This shows that Labour is reluctant to pick BME candidates for winnable or safe Labour held seats, unless the seat is very diverse.
Liberal Democrat Party
The Liberal Democrats hold only 7 constituencies in England & Wales.
In terms of diversity, they range from Kingston and Surbiton, 25.1% BME, to Westmoreland and Lonsdale, 1.7% BME. The raw arithmetical average of the 7 seats is 13.12%, putting the party in an intermediate position between Conservative and Labour. (As in so many things!)
Below I have listed both Liberal Democrat MPs who self-identify as BME, with the constituencies ranked in order of diversity.
|Liberal Democrat Party BME MPs|
|Layla Moran||Oxford West and Abingdon||10.01%|
The arithmetical average of the 2 constituencies is 12.17% BME, slightly less BME than the average Liberal Democrat held seat which is 13.12% BME.
I did not do the same exercise in 2017 for the Liberal Democrats, although Layla Moran was a Liberal Democrat MP at that time as well.
When it comes to selecting BME candidates for winnable or safe seats, the Conservative Party has an excellent story to tell. Sadly this is not widely realised, and the Conservative Party itself seems surprisingly reluctant to promote the message.
Conversely the Labour Party, while picking many BME candidates for winnable or safe seats, tends to only do so for very diverse seats, apart from a very few exceptions. I think the Labour Party needs to reflect on whether this pattern of candidate selection is consistent with the message of diversity that the Labour Party seeks to promote.
Mohammed Amin is a former Conservative Party member and is now a Liberal Democrat. He writes in a personal capacity.