We must target the more diverse areas in London and win

“There are low hanging fruit in London for the taking”

What my good friend Cllr Kuldev Sehra means by this is that there are many areas that are looking for an alternative, when they think their vote is taken for granted. Kuldev is part of the team helping the Chiswick LibDems in a by-election in Hounslow. This has never been an area that the Lib Dems have targeted but from early conversations there is some interesting potential here. Cllr Sehra is our first turban wearing Sikh LibDem London councillor elected in Richmond, Whitton ward, last May, he is a great local campaigner and keen to see Lib Dems grow in support in the City. He mentioned the potential in Hounslow when I invited him to speak at the diversity panel discussion we held in December which was organised jointly by London Region and Lib Dem Local Government Authority.

At the meeting we discussed how our local parties were reaching out to diverse communities and what we needed to do next to increase diverse membership and candidates especially in London. We need to focus on this because London is increasingly diverse. The 2021 Census data for England and Wales shows that London is the most ethnically diverse region. 46.2% of residents identified with Asian, black, mixed or ‘other’ ethnic groups. 8 out of the 10 most ethnically diverse local authorities are in London. Newham is the most ethnically diverse, with people from the Asian, black, mixed and ‘other’ ethnic groups making up 69.2% of the population.

Representation in London is better than other areas. Out of the 25 Members of the London Assembly eight (32%) are from minority ethnic backgrounds in September 2022, compared with about 40.6% of London’s population. Personally proud that 50% of the Lib Dem all female group is from an ethnic minority (well it has to be said!).

To ignore these statistics in the way we campaign in London would be foolish. Many would argue that Labour would be the natural vote for diverse communities but that presumption can be challenged. When my father arrived in London in the early 70s he was told that he should vote Labour because they were the only party that helped immigrants. Back then there was a clear divide on racial politics. But now things are very different. The most ethnically diverse cabinet ever was not a Labour one but under Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. This throws away any presumption that brown and black people are all left wing. They certainly are not. My dad actually never told me how he voted he always told his children to vote according to the facts presented to us, and who will represent your values most. My values were not in line with the Labour Party under Tony Blair when I first voted. My values were more in line the with anti Iraq war stance of the Liberal Democrats – my first vote went with Kennedy and remained that way.

I believe that values of the Liberal Democrat party does reflect many from diverse communities. But also our approach to local activism and our grassroot campaigning. It made a difference so much so that Liberal Democrats have run councils in some of the most diverse parts of London, like Islington and Southwark for example. We were incredibly close to taking control of councils in Haringey and Waltham Forest and led councils with no over control in Camden and Brent.

But perhaps our message can appeal again to these parts in London. Now with both major parties shifting its national narrative away from the positive economic impacts of immigration, the Lib Dems have an opportunity to be the main party speaking up for these vulnerable groups. We can also be seen as the party that make every voice heard through electoral reform, something that I have noticed being brought up more and more at the doors. But it’s up to us to speak to every diverse part of London to make sure we are giving voters that choice and telling them what we stand for.

So this is why by-elections are so important to the Liberal Democrats. We won the last three major national by-elections against the Conservatives. We had never won these seats before but we gave the voters a choice because in a by-election we have the advantage of getting our message out, with lots of support and extra activists we can give voters an alternative. We should do the same in seats that are Labour strongholds too.

When a political party holds a seat for a long time complacency can set it. Decisions start to take place with little community involvement and votes start to be taken for granted. This is the time when we need to be ready to campaign. If the electorate have felt ignored by their representatives they will seek other parties to raise their voice or just not vote. We need to be there to give them that choice to vote for us.

We have seen great examples of by-elections making a difference, like the Alperton by-election three years ago. Now thanks to some fantastic campaigning from a lone councillor, the Lib Dem group has increased to 3. We saw the impact the recent by-election win in Camden had too and again we have seen their number grow in the locals. By-elections can also be useful in boosting a local candidate as it did in Ealing when the candidate who sadly lost in the by-election was later elected in the local elections in May. I’ve been to many London by-elections such as Merton, Kingston, Sutton, Croydon, Enfield, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and others, some were more useful than others but lessons were always learnt.

In Heston West we could be learning, but also winning. The ward has a population with 58.8% Asian and 9.3% Black residents. It is a ward that reflects many parts of London we need to work more in. Granted there’s been no significant LibDem presence here before but now is the time to test our impact. Chaitan Shah is a great local candidate who is already known in the area for his local campaigning and is already working hard.

There are so many exciting reasons to be campaigning in Hounslow. Let’s not forget that increasing the vote share in London overall is vital if we are to win more Lib Dems in City Hall and Hounslow is a key area in the South West GLA constituency along with Richmond and Kingston. I really hope we see lots of local activists paying the Chiswick team a visit and let’s make something special happen and maybe our first Lib Dem councillor in Hounslow.

To join the team in Hounslow and get the latest on their campaign please email [email protected]

There is a meeting for London Diversity officers at LD HQ on 16th February for networking and next step planning, please let [email protected] know if you would like to attend and have not had an invitation.

* Hina Bokhari is a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly.

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This entry was posted in Council by-elections and Op-eds.
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3 Comments

  • Peter Davies 7th Feb '23 - 8:26pm

    “Let’s not forget that increasing the vote share in London overall is vital if we are to win more Lib Dems in City Hall” This is a key point and a reason why our London strategy needs to be different.

    Minorities communicate internally across ward, constituency and borough boundaries, often more than with their geographical neighbours. In those conversations, Liberal Democrats are almost non-existant. Bye-elections give us a route in but we need a sustained effort to raise our profile with individuals tasked with ensuring that we are visible in every community.

  • Peter Davies 8th Feb '23 - 6:37am

    Among those minorities are EU citizens with local voting rights. Getting them registered and voting for us for the assembly should be one of those “low hanging fruits”

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