Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) communities currently make up around 15 to 20 per cent of England’s population, and that number is expected to grow. London is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities – 50 non-indigenous groups have populations over 10,000. The capital also has the largest number of community languages spoken in Europe. Over 300 languages are spoken in London schools, with Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin the most common.
Even though there is such a diverse range of communities, each with their own unique set of cultural, religious, social and political nuances, very little research has been carried out to understand why individuals within these communities choose to engage or not in British politics and public life.
There is a tendency amongst many in the media and Westminster to assume that Britain’s ethnic minority communities can be treated as a single political entity – as if all of them held similar views and had similar lives. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the issue knows that this is not the case. There are very significant differences between BME communities – both in terms of religious beliefs, and in terms of such issues as educational attainment and life experience.
Yet it is interesting to note that electoral choice is a unifying factor amongst very different groups of people. When ethnic minority communities vote, they overwhelmingly choose parties that are broadly of the left. As Lord Ashcroft pointed out in his 2012 publication on ethnic minorities and the Conservative Party – Degrees of Separation – at the 2010 election, just 16 per cent of BME voters voted Conservative, while more than two thirds voted Labour.
That is one of the reasons why Policy Exchange has decided to launch a brand new research unit – the Black and Ethnic Minority Unit. Led by Rishi Sunak, the unit’s inaugural project will look at the political attitudes of today’s BME communities. It will investigate how these attitudes are formed, how they are applied during elections and how they are likely to shift over time, looking in detail at issues such as the life experience of BME voters and how they different from the rest of the population, including within their own communities. The project will try to understand the basic life experiences of these different communities, examining whether there is a mismatch between overall attitudes to politics and policies and how these people actually vote in elections and why.
The changing face of Britain presents huge challenges for all policymakers. It is only by truly understanding the specific issues facing different individuals within a diverse range of communities, can politicians begin to understand who Britain’s BME voters really are, what they actually think, why they hold existing views, and whether and how attitudes could be changed.