Opinion: Shedding Light on Community Outreach

A recent British Election Survey commissioned by the Runnymede Trust asked if the Government should make the effort to improve equal opportunities.

The results of those in agreement were roughly as follows: Indians 65%, Pakistani 71%, Black Caribbean 74% and Black African 75% — but in the case of the white majority, only 19% agreed.

This was a huge eye-opener for me. I had previously assumed that most educated and fair-minded members of the public would support an equalities agenda to address the democratic deficit. However, that was clearly not the majority point of view.

The survey also found that the Lib Dems were particularly poor at attracting the black and minority ethnic (or BME) vote: only 14% as opposed to the average of 22% of white British people voted for our party at the 2010 general election. This was despite the fact that our constitution is more sympathetic compared to the other two major parties’ in supporting equal opportunities. Clearly we have not yet succeeded in communicating this to the wider public.

For purely tactical purposes, we need to ask ourselves how we can attract more BME voters to support us. The department of elections and skills at Lib Dem HQ have produced a handy booklet entitled ‘Whose vote are you missing?’ (email [email protected] for details) which shares some helpful hints.

The starting point would be to conduct a ‘community audit’ to find out the profile of the electorate living in our constituencies. We should then make contact, whether at community centres, places of worship, or simply from knocking on doors to recruit new members and supporters as well as to encourage some to stand as candidates. In addition to the production of target letters and appropriate literature, we could be on the look out for local festivals, cultural events and specialist media channels.

Where I live, in Richmond and Twickenham (not a particularly diverse borough), 11.5% of a population of 187,200 are of BME background, but another 12 per cent have been recorded as non-British white. Pupils in local schools speak up to 130 different languages. There are of course other boroughs where the BME population are even larger than the indigenous white, such as in Newham, Brent and Harrow — and projections show other boroughs following suit.

We must also bear in mind Commonwealth voters who can vote in all elections, and European voters who can easily be identified via the electoral rolls (eligible to vote in local and London elections but not in the general elections). We will soon have new CONNECT software which I understand will, like EARS, have ethnic names search facility. Based on Obama’s successful election (using the US version of CONNECT), there will be useful customised scripts and ‘turf cutting’ techniques that we can employ for future campaigns.

Finally, just to say that as a Party we are slowly getting better at community outreach and London Region is even organising a Diwali (Festival of Lights) dinner on Wednesday, 9th November. There are still tickets available and you can find more information on the EMLD website here. Hope to see you there!

* Merlene Emerson is a Lib Dem list candidate for the Greater London Assembly.

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2 Comments

  • Equal opportunities is necessary in order to maintain good relations in a community and also to have a constant positive growth. Raising the awareness of the people on this matter is important, hence, with more education on the subject, by pointing out the long term benefits, more people will come to the understanding that equal opportunities is the best option for all.

  • Jonathan Hunt 9th Nov '11 - 10:18pm

    THE FIRST thing we need to establish is an audit of how many party members actually want to see more black and ethnic minority people joining the party and standing for election.

    Or perhaps not. The results might shock us more than the 19 per cent of white voters shocks the lovely and hard-working Merlene.

    Certainly we should wait until the census figures on diversity and BME proportions of the population are released next year. And make sure the ward and constituency figures are sent to every local local party — including the Midsomer ones, where blacks are supposed not to reside.

    Or maybe we should set up a Campaign for Ethnic Balance, party as a tribute to the excellent work and achievements by the Gender Balance body. When many of helped to get that underway, we believed it would pave the way for other under-represented groups.

    So far, that has failed to occur. So perhaps we who care about black and ethnic minorities must practice a degree of self-help. If you care about racial justice, help start a Campaign for Ethnic Balance today.

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