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Are Labour falling behind the Tories on Black representation?

Selection of Nadhim Zahawi could mean more BME Tories MPs than Labour

The selection today of Nadhim Zahawi for the Conservatives to fight the true-blue seat of Stratford-Upon-Avon raises the very real prospect that David Cameron’s party will have more BME MPs at the next election than Labour.

Our congratulations to Zahawi, who defends a whopping 12,000 majority left by the retiring Tory MP John Maples. The 41-year-old YouGov polling founder (pictured above) becomes the 12th black or Asian candidate to be picked by the Tories in a safe or winnable seat at the coming election.

With the Conservatives guaranteed to hold onto their current pair of Adam Afriye and Shailesh Vara, that means they could quite probably end up with 14 BME MPs… and be in the previously unthinkable position of having more MPs of colour than Labour, which for so long was the seen as the traditional ‘home’ of the Black vote.

Labour currently has 13 BME MPs, but five of them have a battle on their hands to retain their seats.

And although Labour have ten new candidates fighting winnable seats, only two are assured progress to Westminster – Susan ‘Chi’ Onwurah in Newcastle Central, and Anas Sarwar in Glasgow Central, who is replacing his father, the sitting MP Mohammed Sarwar.

Although Labour will hope to see all ten new BME candidates elected, and hold onto all their current BME MPs, that outcome depends largely upon the success of their general election campaign.

A bad performance at the polls could see Labour stand still in terms of the numbers BME MPs, while the Tories – tainted for so long in the past as the ‘nasty party’ – overtake them.

It’s an extraordinary situation for Labour to be in, but over the past few months Cameron’s party have continued to select black and Asian hopefuls apace, approving four new candidates in safe seats since the turn of the year: Sam Gyimah, Kwasi Kwarteng, and Sajid Javid. Meanwhile Labour have chosen just one, Victor Agarwal, this year.

A safe Labour vacancy which many activists were look at to select a talented Black candidate, Leyton and Wanstead, now hangs in the balance as the left-wing former MP John Cryer moves into poll position.

Cryer faces a tough challenge from Terry Paul, the local former chair of Labour’s party in West Ham, and from Ahmed Shahzad, chair of BAME Labour group.

But if Cryer were to win the contest – which is decided next weekend – questions will be asked about whether Labour has missed another golden opportunity to stay ahead of the Tories when it comes maintaining their position as the party with the most BME MPs.

By Lester Holloway

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3 Responses

  1. Dear OBV,

    I have long known that it is The Conservatives who are the true party of meritocracy. I am a councillor in Surrey – a county with two black candidates chosen by local Conservatives to be our next MPs. I have always found local people want to talk to me about local issues, and support me – because I am a Conservative.

    I’m not in any way surprised at the selection of black candidates in Surrey. This is what local people here are like. Give people an opportunity to vote for the best candidate and they will.

    I think people can see through all-women shortlists by the way. Its also not politically coherent to argue for an all-womens’ shortlist, but not for an all black shortlist. My point is that true meritocracy is politically coherent and seems to work better in practice.

    Cllr Imran Khan, Horley West (Reigate and Banstead Council)

  2. “And although Labour have ten new candidates fighting winnable seats, only two are assured progress to Westminster”

    I’d be interested to know your basis for this claim. If Newcastle Central is a safe Labour seat, then surely Bolton South East and Wigan are the same? And Streatham is only slightly more marginal.

  3. John Cryer deserves to win in Leyton and Wanstead because he is the most talented candidate in the race. People in Leyton and Wanstead want a successor worthy of Harry Cohen and Cryer’s the only credible one. If Labour were serious about a BME candidate winning in Leyton and Wanstead they wouldn’t have left Patrick Vernon and Kingsley Abrams off the long list. Labour HQ want Tristram Hunt and so they put BME candidates on the shortlist they knew would have little appeal in L & W. In the circumstances, therefore, it’s got to be Cryer. A Black candidate does not always mean that that person will actually care about Black people, Sharon Grant would have done more for Black people in Tottenham than Lammy every has.

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