MUM'S THE WORD: A victorious Kate Osamor, right, with her mother Martha last Friday morning [Pic: Simon O’Connor]
It was hailed as an extraordinary political event, one that claimed the scalps of three party leaders in the space of less than an hour, as well as raising thorny issues such as the future of the United Kingdom and continued membership of the European Union.
But the 2015 general election was a historic milestone for diversity in British politics.
The number of black and minority ethnic (BAME) MPs now stands at 42, up by 15 from the previous record high of 27.
Last week’s elections saw seven new BAME MPs enter the House of Commons from Labour, seven from the Conservatives and one from the SNP. Among these numbers are 10 women.
Of the total number of BAME MPs, 13 are from an African Caribbean background.
The results were welcomed by campaign group Operation Black Vote (OBV), which has in recent years run a number of schemes to increase the numbers of BAME MPs and local councillors.
OBV founder and director Simon Woolley said: “Congratulations to all these new BAME MPs. Election after election we are seeing parliament become more representative from both political parties. The challenge now in the months and years to come will be to build upon that, so that by 2020 we see this figure nearly double.”
Directly addressing the new MPs, he said: “Our nation is strengthened by greater diversity. And whilst we know that you’ll face each other on opposing sides of the House, sometimes fiercely, we hope that you come together to ensure our Government tackles persistent race inequality right across Government departments.”
According to Sunder Katwala of the think tank British Future, there are three key reasons behind the increase in numbers of BAME MPs.
He said: “Firstly, both the Conservatives and the Labour party now regularly select non-white candidates in winnable seats, breaking the pattern of a near-one-party monopoly between 1987 and 2005. Secondly, the outdated assumption that ethnic minority candidates would only get a fair chance in highly diverse seats, because of voter prejudice, has been consistently disproven: voters in seats with a predominantly white electorate have not had any problem with non-white candidates representing them in parliament. Thirdly, broader social changes, with increased ethnic minority success in education and the professions, have seen an increasingly confident group of younger ethnic minority politicians come through, expecting to be able to succeed on their merits.”
Among the incoming Labour MPs is Kate Osamor who won in Edmonton with a 15,419 majority, beating Gönül Daniels of the Conservatives.
TRIUMPHANT RETURN: Labour’s Dawn Butler is returning to parliament as MP for Brent Central
Osamor is the daughter of community activist Martha Osamor, a former Haringey Labour councillor who was selected to stand as an MP in 1989 before being unceremoniously removed by then party leader Neil Kinnock.
In her victory speech, Osamor vowed to fight for the NHS.
She said: “Tonight the people of Edmonton have given a clear message to David Cameron: keep your hands off our NHS.”
The party’s Dawn Butler enjoyed a triumphant return to parliament winning Brent Central with a 19,649 majority and a 62.1 share of the vote, trouncing the Conservative party’s Alan Mendoza who came second.
Another Labour newcomer is Clive Lewis who won the Norwich South seat with a majority of 7,654, beating Liberal Democrat Simon Wright who previously held the seat.
Lewis joins a clutch of MPs who took part in an OBV shadowing scheme before being elected.
In a number of areas, the link between long-serving BAME MPs and constituencies with high numbers of minority ethnic voters remained strong.
As expected, Diane Abbott in Hackney North and Stoke Newington and David Lammy in Tottenham both won their seats with large majorities, increasing their share of the vote.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna was also returned as the Labour MP for Streatham with a 13,934 majority and a 53 per cent share of the vote, beating the Conservatives’ Kim Caddy into second place.
Despite Umunna being touted as a possible leader of the party following Ed Miliband’s decision to step down from the position after a disastrous showing for Labour across the country, Umunna said he was “really proud” of Miliband’s campaign.
He also spoke out against the capital’s “two Londons”, adding: “We have one London in which lots of people are doing very well, and we have another London in which far too many people are not really seeing the fruits that our economy can bring. We want to build a fairer, more equal Streatham constituency, and also a fairer, more equal Britain.”
Chi Onwurah held onto Newcastle upon Tyne Central for Labour with a majority of 12,673. And Mark Hendrick retained his Preston seat with a majority of just over 12,000, beating the Conservatives’ Richard Holden who came second with 6,688 votes.
TORY NEW BOY: Incoming Braintree MP James Cleverly
The Conservatives welcomed their newest BAME MP James Cleverly after he won the Braintree seat for the party with a majority of 17,610.
On Twitter, a delighted Cleverly - a member of the London Assembly - said: “I’ve just been elected as the MP for Braintree I could not be more proud. Thank you to everyone who helped and who voted.”
In Windsor, one of the wealthiest constituencies in the country, Adam Afriyie retained his seat with a majority of just over 25,000.
Other returning Conservative MPs include Kwasi Kwarteng who won the Spelthorne seat beating UKIP’s Redvers Cunningham with a majority of 14,152; Sam Gyimah, who held onto Surrey East for the Conservatives with a majority of 22,658; and Helen Grant who retained her Maidstone and the Weald seat with a majority of 10,709, beating Jasper Gerrard of the Liberal Democrats.
However, it was a disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats.
Indicative of a miserable night for the party, Michael Bukola finished a distant fourth in Lewisham Deptford behind Labour’s Vicky Foxcroft who won the seat.
There was also disappointment for Pauline Pearce. The Hackney resident who was dubbed by the national media as the ‘Hackney Heroine’ after fearlessly confronting vandals during the London riots in 2011, failed in her bid to become the Liberal Democrat MP for Hitchin and Harpenden. She came fourth with 4,484 votes in a contest won by Peter Lilley of the Conservatives.
While observers have highlighted the increase in the numbers of BAME MPs, other analysts have sounded a note of caution about whether this signals a positive trend.
Dr Omar Khan of the Runneymede Trust is compiling a study of voting patterns in constituencies where the BAME community is greater than 30 per cent.
He told The Voice: “The Conservatives have been hailed for the rise in their numbers of BAME MPs. But they all won in safe Conservative seats that are 97 per cent white in terms of population so the extent to which they will want to speak up for BAME interests remains to be seen.”
Khan added that his research did not suggest that diverse communities now had greater faith in the political parties.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: Conservative MP Adam Afriyie
“We know from the last election that Labour had 68 per cent support among BAME voters, the Tories had 16 per cent and the Lib Dems had 14 per cent support. From the analysis I have done so far, although there are still some more constituencies to research we can see that Labour has increased its support among BAME voters only slightly to between 70 and 75 per cent. For the Tories support has barely improved. It is now approximately 20 per cent but the Liberal Democrats have really been hammered. They now have just five per cent of the BAME vote.
“They’ve lost all of their most diverse seats including Brent Central, Bradford East, East Hornsey, and Bermondsey and they still don’t have a BAME MP.”
According to community activist and former Liberal Democrat councillor, Lester Holloway, Khan’s research is something politicians of all colours should be concerned about.
He said: “If it’s the case that Labour has only increased its share of the BAME vote by a measly two per cent that will be something else in the wider post mortem that the party will have to reflect on. They went into this election with a BAME manifesto that was much more comprehensive than anybody else, that looked at how austerity measures were affecting black communities, but were still unable to increase their share of the black vote. They’re going to have to reflect on what they can do to sell some of those policies much better.”
He continued: “If it’s the case that the Tories have increased their share by four per cent, I think that’s largely down to the collapse of the Liberal Democrats rather than because the Conservatives were more appealing. The Lib Dems took quite a large share of the BAME vote in 2010 and that vote simply disappeared during this election.”
Reflecting further on the collapse of his former party, the Lib Dems, Holloway added: “David Cameron has been credited as a key player in the rise in the numbers of black and Asian MPs being elected. He took ownership of the issue, the Lib Dems didn’t and that’s the key difference. I’ve heard from a number of sources that David Cameron as leader of the opposition was picking up the phone to constituency chair people and saying ‘I think you should go for this black or ethnic minority candidate.’ The Lib Dems have never done anything like that. We know that there are institutional barriers to selection so we’ve got to have some mechanisms to deal with this issue and we’ve got to have some direct intervention such as all BAME shortlists and quotas in safe seats. The Lib Dems have always shied away from any confrontation with grassroots members arguing that they’re a more federal, democratic party, but that’s a bit of a cop out. It really comes down to political will and how much they actually want this.”