Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Labour’s key to winning over the new electorate

Today is exactly one year until the general election. I’m sure much ink will be spilled across the press today attempting to pinpoint the decisive factor that will swing the result.

Except they are all too late because Policy Exchange beat them to the punch yesterday, not only uncovering the key to the next election but also every other one for about the next 40 years. The reason? It’s the electorate, stupid! And it is changing.

According to the Policy Exchange report, A Portrait of Modern Britain, the electorate is becoming more diverse. Black and minority ethnic voters already make up 14 per cent of voters but by 2051 that figure could be as high as 30 per cent.

On the face of it this is good news for Labour and very bad news for the Conservatives. Why? Because Labour currently has a huge lead amongst BME voters. At the last general election 68 per cent of this group voted Labour, compared with only 16 per cent who voted Tory. If this trend remains over the coming decades then the Conservatives will be consigned to permanent opposition.

The left, however, cannot afford to be complacent – after all, past success is no indicator of a future victory. If there is one thing that history has shown about the Conservative party, it is that it has a ruthless instinct for self-preservation. Only in the past 20 years has this instinct gone awry and we cannot unfortunately rely on it to remain that way forever.

Labour may have an advantage at the moment with the BME vote, but as the report’s co-author Rishi Sunak warns the party also ‘has it all to lose’.

This is because, as Rachel Sylvester explains, while ‘wealthier white voters are more likely to support the Conservatives, there is no similar gap between different socioeconomic groups for non-white voters.’ Astonishingly Labour draws its support from across minority voters almost regardless of their wealth, or how closely their values seem to align with the Conservatives. There has surely never been more evidence of the success of New Labour’s ‘big tent’ than this.

There are no guarantees however, that these voters will follow Labour if it embarks on a prolonged march leftward. Many BME voters are voting for Labour because they think the party cares about them more than any other, not because they are instinctively leftwing people. To keep these voters Labour must ensure that it remains where it has always found electoral success: the radical centre ground of British politics.

We must also never stop growing our movement. The electorate is changing and so to must our party. We need to do better at reaching out to and engaging with BME communities – recognising that there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for doing so.

And we must also be much better at recruiting BME members and candidates. It is one of the least talked about scandals of British politics that almost 15 per cent of voters are BME, yet only 4.2 per cent of parliament is.

All of these things are doable and if Labour can succeed at the task then it will not only win the next election but also have a credible shot at being something it has never been before – the natural party of government. 365 days to go …


Rich Durber is a member of Progress and blogs here


Photo: Policy Exchange

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Rich Durber

is a member of Progress

1 comment

  • I get confused with definitions – BME for instance. Shown as a percent% ethnic minorities in Britain account for (?) 15% – who can say with any amount of accuracy since no-one, including the BA[BorderAgency UK] has any accurate figures, given that they don’t know, on a day-to-day basis, how many people are to-ing and fro-ing from these Isles. The case for a swipe-type card at Border points is a good on if BA requires any degree of factual numbers.
    As a % figure, we Brits [as a Nation in toto, BMEs included] are a minority on the Chinese and Indian Govts data sheets.
    What does it actually matter what ‘box’ the Govt puts us in to?
    Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi [to mention only two down the millenia] were universal souls whose thinking changed the World for the betterment of Mankind and were good, clean-living, simple folk – I bet if you asked either of them [and many other Prophets] what their Racial/Ethnic background was, they would’ve replied, quite positively: EARTHLING.
    No-one likes to be labelled as such&such just for forms’ sake, and no-one likes to be thought of as poor white trailer-trash and worse.
    Get a grip guys, this is the 21st century we left the Middle Ages a long time ago.

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