The first MP from an ethnic minority background was elected in 1892. Since then, however, little progress has been made toward increasing the number of Black Minority Ethnic (BME) MPs. Such little progress in fact, that no BME MP had been elected in the post-war period until 1987, when four Labour candidates were elected. There are currently 27 BME MPs in the House of Commons, some way short of the estimated 117 required for the Commons to be (descriptively) representative of the wider UK population. As candidate selections are well underway in the run up to the 2015 general elections, we take a look at BME candidates selected to date (as of 1 July).
One reason for poor BME representation in Westminster is that parties selected too few BME candidates. The 1964 and 1966 general elections saw no BME candidates put forward by the three main parties, largely because immigration and race relations were significant political issues. The first post-war BME candidate was fielded by the Liberal party in 1950 and the Conservatives followed suit in 1979. Second, although the number of BME candidates gradually increased since the 1960s, they were often fielded in unwinnable seats.
Since 1987, there has been an increase in the number of both BME candidates and MPs elected, albeit with varying degrees of progress across the three main parties. To date, the Liberal Democrats have selected the most BME candidates, however none have been elected. The Labour party has boasts the most ethnically diverse set group of MPs, largely attributable to their placement of many BME MPs in ‘safe’ seats. In 1997, the three main parties fielded 44 BME candidates, the 9 elected were all Labour candidates contesting safe seats. Similarly, in 2001, the three main parties fielded 66 BME candidates, and 12 Labour candidates seeking re-election or contesting safe seats were elected.
The 2010 general election was a measurable departure from previous elections in terms of the number and success of BME candidates. Not only did the three main parties field over 120 candidates, the number of BME MPs rose from 15 to 27. However, this increase was largely driven by Conservative candidates whose number increased from 2 to 11, marking a positive change in party diversity. Labour candidates also contributed to the increase in the number of BME MPs despite the party losing 91 seats overall.
Looking forward to the 2015 general election, of the candidates (including returning MPs) selected thus far, we have identified 57 with a BME background. The Labour party has the highest number of BME candidates (30), followed by the Liberal Democrats (14), the Conservatives (10), UKIP (2) and Plaid Cymru (1).
Promisingly, 45 of the 57 BME candidates are not sitting MPs but new candidates and, and as shown in Table 1 below, five have been selected to stand in retirement seats. Three Tory candidates, Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) and Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), have been selected in safe Conservative seats. Given the success of previous BME candidates in safe seats, it is likely that all three will represent their constituencies in Parliament in Westminster in 2015.
In addition to retirement seats, 14 BME candidates have been selected to stand in the 100 marginal constituencies, also indicating that parties are attempting to increase the number of their BME MPs. Whilst it remains to be seen whether further progress towards representation will be made in 2015, the selection of 45 BME candidates this early on, as well as the choice of seats, suggests that the positive trends established in past elections will continue.
Table 1. BME candidates selected in retirement seats
|Constituency||2010 Majority||Candidate Name||
|Hampstead & Kilburn||.08||Siddiq, Tulip||Labour|
|Brent Central||2.9||Taguri, Ibrahim||Lib Dems|
|South Ribble||10.8||Kennedy, Seema||Conservative|
|Hampshire North East||35.1||Jayawardena, Ranil||Conservative|
(Note: Sarah Yong was selected for Somerton & Frome but recently stood down).
-Sangida Kahn & Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson