Britain’s political class is unprepared for a doubling of the non-white population to around 20m – almost one in three people – by 2050, and leading parties will suffer if they fail to adapt, the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange has warned.
Both main parties are guilty of lumping together ethnic minorities when they should be recognising sizeable differences between them, according to Rishi Sunak, co-author of a “handbook for the political classes to wake them up to the differences”.
The 100-page report is titled A Portrait of Modern Britain. “This is not just for the Conservatives,” Sunak said. “Labour has everything to lose if they don’t get this right. There are a few MPs that seem to get it because otherwise they can’t be successful in their constituencies, but that thinking doesn’t seem to permeate the whole political machine, neither for Labour nor the Conservatives.”
The report suggests growth in the ethnic minority population as a result of natural population increase and a growing number of mixed race children could profoundly change the UK’s political priorities. Among the insights from survey data are that Indians and black Africans in the UK are more than twice as likely to be uninterested in religion as other ethnic minority groups, black Africans suffer from 14.8% unemployment, well over double the national average, compared with 8.1% for Indians, and while black Africans live in smaller households than white British people, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis live in significantly larger groups.
“Ethnic minorities are not one homogeneous political group,” said Sunak. “From education to employment, housing to trust in the police, politicians from all parties must understand the different issues affecting individual communities.”
Policy Exchange was founded by the current Tory ministers Michael Gove, Nick Boles and Francis Maude, and its message will be acutely felt by Conservative strategists. The Tory vote among the five largest ethnic minority groups at the 2010 general election was 16% compared with 68% for Labour. Michael Ashcroft, the Tory peer and former election mastermind, has already warned that “the Conservative Party’s problem with ethnic minority voters is costing it seats”.
Currently 8 million people (14% of the UK population) belong to an ethnic minority, with the biggest groups being Indian, Pakistani, black African, black Caribbean and Bangladeshi. The Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, has estimated that by 2051 the non-white population will be 20 million, making up 29.7% of the total. Increasing voter registration among minorities and growing election turnouts are expected to amplify the effect.
One source inside the Labour party said it was no longer good enough to adopt a superficial “let’s take our shoes off and visit the mosque” mentality.
“Long gone are the days of lumping minorities together and speaking solely to so-called ‘community leaders’,” said David Lammy, MP for Tottenham. “Political parties are going to have to work harder and increase the diversity of their candidates who understand and relate to this new complexity.”
Only 4.2% of MPs are from ethnic minorities. The Lib Dems have no non-white MPs, the Conservatives have 11 and Labour 16.
Policy Exchange’s call for parties to recognise the “clear and striking differences” between minorities comes amid renewed rows about racism in British politics after a candidate for Ukip, which is currently topping polls ahead of the 22 May European elections, said the black comedian Lenny Henry should “go and live in a black country”.
“Britishness is currently seen as able to contain multiple ethnic identities but sometimes we are too relaxed about it,” said Omar Khan, acting director of Runnymede. “Britain’s political leaders need to do more to positively affirm that we are a multi ethnic society and that there is no challenge between, for example, being British and black. The parties need to be more responsive to comments such as that from a Ukip politician last week that Lenny Henry should go home.”
A study last year by the cross-party group Operation Black Vote found the number of seats where black and Asian voters could decide the outcome had risen by 70% compared with the 2010 election. It suggested that in 168 marginal seats, the ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP.
‘For us as a family, this is home’
To some in Britain, the thought of a third of the country’s population being non-white by 2050 may be a cause for surprise. But in Manchester’s Moss Side, the forecast already sounds passé. According to a study from Manchester University, just 26% of the area’s 18,902 residents are now white British. Africans make up a further 17%, followed by Caribbean (10%) and Pakistanis (7%).
The area is changing as new populations move in, ousted from their homelands by wars, genocide or simply the desire to seek a better life. Driving down a street in Moss Side on Monday, Naeem Riaz pointed out a new Somali restaurant in a building once home to a pub blighted by the trouble for which Moss Side was once a watchword. Another couple of minutes down the road, past a store purporting to be the largest minority ethnic superstore in Manchester, you’re on Wilmslow Road, better known as the curry mile. Shisha lounges, Kurdish barbers, halal takeaways, Lebanese and Middle Eastern shops nestle next to each other.
Born in Manchester 40 years ago to Pakistani parents, Riaz is a volunteer at the British Muslim Heritage centre (BMHC) based in nearby Whalley Range. The centre is a neat symbol of south Manchester’s constant reinvention: the grade II-listed building was once home to a college for non-conformist Christian ministers. Facing a leafy, affluent road, the institution backs onto a road of smaller terraced housing interspersed with Asian corner shops and halal meat stores.
Another quarter of a mile down the road and you’re greeted by vast and pricey detached houses, big drives opening out onto the road. “Now, 25 years ago none of this would have been owned by Muslims or Asians – none of it,” said Riaz, pointing out a conspicuous Hindu temple along the road as another sign of the cultural mix of the area.
He thinks the ever growing multicultural community lives in relative harmony. “We’re probably as integrated into British society as anyone else,” he explains, careful to differentiate between his parents’ generation and his own: “[Now] it’s not really an issue unless you want to make it an issue.”
The BMHC works hard to break down barriers. Each year they invite the whole neighbourhood to come and celebrate the end of Ramadan by breaking fast with them, and to communicate openly with the whole community. Before the BMHC, you’d struggle to find someone speaking English in south Manchester’s mosques, said Riaz.
Yaseer Ahmed, 36, general manager of the centre, was born in the UK and now lives with his English wife and children in Bolton. He thinks that despite “significant changes” since his parents first moved to Britain from India, there are still a lot of challenges facing the minority ethnic community. “For us as a family, this is home. But do I feel totally accepted in society by the indigenous community and despite being born here? No, I think there are still significant challenges around equality and engagement.”
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