The future of the left since 1884

Ideas to improve BAME representation in the Labour party

People who are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic background (BAME) are underrepresented in British politics. BAME people make up just 6 per cent of MPs, despite the fact they are 13 per cent of the population – a...


People who are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic background (BAME) are underrepresented in British politics. BAME people make up just 6 per cent of MPs, despite the fact they are 13 per cent of the population – a figure set to rise to more than 25 per cent by 2051. Levels of representation are even worse in local government, with the most recent census of councillors revealing that just 4 per cent of councillors are not white.

This lack of representation in public life echoes the discrimination and disadvantage that black, Asian and minority ethnic people face in wider society. Racial abuse is the most commonly recorded hate crime in the UK, with evidence suggesting a recent surge in incidents. Black people are significantly more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, with just over 3 per cent of senior officers in the police from a BAME background. Research has also shown that people from ethnic minorities were more than twice as likely as white British people to lose out as a result of recent budget cuts, and there has been a 49 per cent surge since 2010 in BAME youth unemployment.

The Labour party has led the way on race equality. Labour politicians forged the Race Relations Act, the Equalities Act and commenced the inquiry into institutional police racism following the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But relying on its history as the party of equality is no longer sufficient. Evidence suggests that black, Asian and minority ethnic voters are moving away from Labour, and the Conservatives are beginning to take BAME representation seriously. In fact, the Conservative party has done more to improve BAME representation in the last two electoral cycles than Labour has done in more than two decades. As Diane Abbott argues in her foreword to the Labour Black Network’s submission to the Collins Review:

“If you had told me that, twenty six years later, the numbers of African and Afro-Caribbean Labour Members of Parliament would scarcely be any greater, I would have been shocked. We thought that we were opening a door, through which many others would flood through.”

Despite recent positive steps, such as the creation of a shadow minister for diverse communities and record BAME representation in the shadow cabinet, black, Asian and minority ethnic people are still facing disadvantage in the Labour party. Their experience also varies widely, between geographic locations and between different cultural identities. Labour’s recent problems with antisemitism, and the figures revealed in this report, underline that Labour’s problems with discrimination go beyond the “bitter incivility of discourse” outlined by Baroness Chakrabati in her recent report. It should be a matter of great concern for the Labour party that half of the people from BAME backgrounds that we surveyed who are thinking about standing for elected office, are worried about facing discrimination in the process.

As part of the research for Outsiders, we surveyed over 3,000 Labour party members, with 236 of those members defining as black, Asian or from a minority ethnic background and 2,570 defining as white British, white Irish or white other. 601 respondents told us they have stood for a council selection, with 538 defining as white and 48 defining as BAME. 228 respondents have stood for a national or regional selection, with 205 defining as white and 17 defining as BAME. Notable findings from the survey include:

  • Two thirds (12 of 17) of BAME candidates for national or regional office said their selection was not very or not at all fair, compared to just 1 in 5 (45 of 205) white candidates.
  • BAME Labour party members are 15 percentage points less likely white members to agree that there are “people like me” in their CLP, and 10 points less likely to agree people are “treated fairly” by their local party.
  • 1 in 3 of the BAME council candidates we surveyed said the process of their selection was not easy to understand, compared to 1 in 7 white council candidates.
  • 1 in 4 BAME council candidates said that they weren’t supported or encouraged, compared to 1 in 7 white council candidates. This problem is replicated in national selections, with just 1 in 4 BAME candidates for national, regional or devolved office saying they felt supported or encouraged.
  • 1 in 5 of the BAME members we surveyed who have stood for council said they faced unwelcome scrutiny of their private lives. This is compared to 1 in 10 of the white candidates.
  • Half of the 44 BAME people who indicated they want to stand for national or regional office in the future said they are worried about facing discrimination.

Outsiders won the Jenny Jeger prize for young writers 2017


Olivia Bailey

Olivia Bailey is director of social policy at Public First and former head of domestic policy for Keir Starmer. She was previously deputy general secretary at the Fabian Society


Adebusuyi Adeyemi

Adebusuyi Adeyemi is Chair of the Young Fabians Health Network.


Fabian membership

Join the Fabian Society today and help shape the future of the left

You’ll receive the quarterly Fabian Review and at least four reports or pamphlets each year sent to your door

Be a part of the debate at Fabian conferences and events and join one of our network of local Fabian societies

Join the Fabian Society
Fabian Society

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.