Liberal Democrats must engage with ethnic minority communities

Why are Liberal Democrats, despite having the ultimate political ideology, unable to achieve targeted success in the General Elections?

Of course, there are many factors why we did not achieve desirable results – as we have seen recently in our 2019 Election Review.

But here I am going to pinpoint only one issue which, as a party, we have ignored repeatedly. And I learned this from successful candidates from the two big parties at the last three general elections in 2015, 2017 and 2019, when this was a strategy to reach ethnic minorities. As I am a multilingual person and can speak, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Urdu, it was easy for me to interact with the voters, from ethnic minority backgrounds. And what I noticed was that in a few places, when I was trying to campaign and introduce myself to the BAME voters, so many times I was told that they would have loved to vote for me, but that their votes were already committed to another party’s candidate, because the candidate had been a regular visitor to their community events. And sometimes, though this was not during election campaign, I myself noticed the presence of Conservative or Labour party candidates or well-known party members.

This means, as a party we are not doing everything we can to get BAME votes, despite the fact that the population of ethnic minorities has increased and will be doubled by 2050, (according to a leading London think tank). Liberal Democrats have failed to target the votes of ethnic minority communities, as compared to Labour and Conservative party. Liberal Democrats, 2019 Election Review Report, revealed, that we achieved 12% of the National BAME vote only in 2019 elections, which is far less compared to Labour and Conservatives who won 64% and 29 % respectively. In the 2010 General election, 68% of BAME votes went to the Labour party, whereas, only 16% to the Conservatives with 14% voting for Liberal Democrats.

If we observe closely, Conservatives have increased their BAME votes in the 2019 general election compared to 2010. It shows they have recognized the importance of BAME votes, and somehow, have been able to plan and put in place a strategy to win these ethnic minority votes. I am sure this must be a matter of concern to senior Labour figures who cannot take the support of ethnic minorities for granted.

And this is quite a big issue for us to concentrate on. We need to get this right. I am sure many of the MPs who have been successful were aware of this fact and have realized that without the vote of the BAME communities it is difficult to achieve success in the current scenario. The ethnic minority population is growing and leading parties will suffer if they ignore this fact.

We clearly, need some policies in place to attract the ethnic minorities vote. That is only possible if we have regular interactions with the communities and their local organisations, for example, at the Temples, Gurudwaras, Mosques and relevant community centres. Every ethnic minority has some issues which are of greater concern, though these may be not so different from other voters across society, they may simply be more concerned about those issues. It could be anything, like schools, education, jobs, or housing problems, or it may be about the future of their children. We need to recognise this and give them reassurances, trying to resolve these issues by adding a micro policy in our manifesto and that is only possible when we engage intelligently with our ethnic minority communities.

Conservative and Labour senior members are regularly involved in attending BAME community events – either big events, like the Asian Business awards, the curry awards , or festival events in their local community centres, so they can be observed in attendance by community people. We need to learn from them. We should line up micro policies in our manifesto to attract each different minority group.

The real point is, that even though, traditionally, Liberal Democrats have fared well with BAME communities, without tapping into ever-increasing ethnic minority votes, the Liberal Democrats will struggle to increase our seats, even though our Lib Dem ‘Golden Heart’ continues to beat as strongly as ever.

* Anita Prabhakar is a solicitor. She has been a Lib Dem PPC three times and is the diversity officer for Liberal Democrats for the Heart of England. She is a member of the Vice-President's Advisory Group, Diversity Champion of the East Midlands Regional Executive and Vice-Chair of Newark Liberal Democrats.

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  • Michael Bukola 26th May '20 - 4:18pm

    Very useful article with good suggestions of how we can attract votes from different communities around the United Kingdom. In the aftermath of the military invasion in Iraq, the Party enjoyed support and success from many minority communities. Grassroots community politics will be a starting point but also we must recruit, retain and progress members and supporters into roles of influence throughout the Party.

  • Bang on. I cannot agree more. To leave a large proportion of voters to other parties is ridiculous. If we are going to be a successful party we have to go for more than just Middle Class voters. We have a long way to go .We must start NOW.

  • Richard Underhill 26th May '20 - 5:12pm

    I would like to put in a word for Sikhs. It might not be enough to be nice to them once a year, or to listen to what they say on Thought for the Day.
    They suffered badly in the massacres at Partition.
    If they come from Afghanistan and claim asylum in the UK they may succeed at Tribunal if they are refused at initial decision.
    In the UK they have values which lib dems are likely to find similar to ours
    Travelling in Kenya several years ago they were as hospitable as a mediaeval monastery would have been here.

  • James Belchamber 27th May '20 - 2:56pm

    Entirely agreed – we cannot, as a party, target our traditional support base over and over, then expect people outside that support base to vote for us. This is not to say that targeting does not have it’s place, but in the years between elections we need to be expanding that pool – and yes, that means taking an active interest in all the communities we seek to serve.

    Ironically, because as a party we are generally averse to inauthenticity, we could be much better than other parties on this – insisting on representative actually taking the time to understand about (and care about) the differences between their constituents, and extolling what unites us – from a place of interest and understanding and experience.

    This should be a key issue on training, at selection time and at hustings events: “What communities exist in your target ward/constituency, how are you going to authentically engage with every one of them, and what’s your plan for developing that into a diverse and safe support base”.

    And in the process we might make all of us more free, and more equally free. A nice side effect.

  • I do actually agree with everything said above, we need to work hard to win BAME support and Anita’s approach seems eminently practical.
    However……. can’t help but pointing out that last December we won 11.5% of the national vote, so if we won 12% of the BAME vote I would conclude that we don’t have a particular problem with BAME voters, it’s just the electorate as a whole who aren’t too keen on us !

  • Vivian Achwal 28th May '20 - 9:33pm

    I totally agree with your comments. We must engage with BAME communities, they are extremely interested in politics it’s part of their DNA and 9 times out of 10 will vote in elections. As a party we need to more to interact with these groups.

  • Isabelle Parasram 29th May '20 - 7:42pm

    Thanks for writing this article Anita. I’ve emailed you and hope to speak to you soon about some of your very practical ideas and how they might inform my work.

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