With just over a week to go before the leader of the Labour party is announced in Liverpool, we wrote to both candidates asking them questions that were of particular importance to the BAME community. Due to the length of both the candidates answers (which is greatly appreciated!), we’ve split the questions and answers into two parts. You can read part two here.
Don’t forget that the deadline to vote for the Labour leadership is noon on Wednesday 21st September.
Owen Smith [OS]: As a party we didn’t do enough to show voters that we could be trusted to run the country. People lost faith in us, we were not strong enough in opposition and we lacked credibility. Meanwhile the Tories have worked hard in the last few years to remove their negative image with BAME voters. For example, we saw David Cameron as Prime Minister visit India three times before the general election last year.
Voting patterns of BAME individuals have also changed over time, especially amongst second and third generations. I recently held a roundtable discussion to hear from BAME activists and community leaders about their concerns. They told me Labour has been too complacent, taking votes for granted in certain communities, and overlooking the fact that, people are moving away from us. We failed to show that the Labour party is ambitious for everyone, and is in tune with people’s ambitions for themselves and for their families.
We have to change the dialogue we have with BAME voters and that includes the party being more active in our engagement and recognising the individual needs and ambitions of voters from diverse communities.
Jeremy Corbyn [JC]: According to the most authoritative studies of the 2016 General Election just over 65% of the BME electorate voted for Labour compared to just over 20% for the Tories. Whilst this was a small percentage decline for us from the 2010 election, as a party we mustn’t be complacent and take one of the most loyal Labour communities for granted.
Like many voters at the last election I think many from the BME community were looking for a radical alternative to the austerity mantra of the Tory party – for Labour to set out how they would be different and offer more. Simply we didn’t convince enough voters across the country, irrespective of their race that we had the programme to make their lives better.
Since 2015 when I was elected we have focused on the economic and social issues that sets out a clear alternative to the failed Conservative plan of cuts – cuts to education, cuts to the NHS, and cuts to social housing. These are the issues that face everyone, every community every day.
So when we fight the Tories on their plans to introduce segregations and selection a the age of 11 we are fighting for each and every child. When we expose the Tories for their complete failure to support and fund the NHS that has resulted in your local hospital being in debt we do that for you and everyone who may need to use the NHS one day.
[JC]: There’s a very simple answer to this – We are the party of the many not the few. If you want to live in a fair country – be treated fairly and know future generations will be judged by the strength of their character not the colour of their skin, then you will vote Labour.
Delivering a just and equal society will be central to our policies. We know that those from BAME communities have disproportionately lower income levels. The Tory cuts have hurt the poor and BAME communities. Report after report has shown that when it comes to the criminal justice system BAME people get longer sentences and are more likely to be stopped and searched.
We have got to stop knowing these things to be true and start doing something about them. A Labour government is committed to delivering equality across all our public services. Our economic strategy will have fairness at it’s heart.
That’s what everyone under a future Labour government will get.
[OS]: I am offering radical, credible leadership so that Labour can offer strong opposition to Theresa May’s Tories, and a serious chance of getting into Government again so that we can make real change for the people we all joined the Labour Party to represent that that includes BAME individuals.
This country is more divided and more unequal than we have been for generations. A recent report released by EHRC shows there is a long way still to go. BAME groups still suffer disproportionately from educational underachievement, higher levels of unemployment, poverty and poor housing. Inequalities in health outcomes and educational attainment are still stark. We need a Government that takes these inequalities seriously, and also takes robust action to tackle them – only a Labour government can achieve that. My policies will tackle austerity and change the country for the better: a £200bn British New Deal to rebuild our public services and infrastructure; a real living wage; a 4% increase in NHS spending, funded by new taxes on the wealthiest; building 300,000 homes a year, half of them social homes and making the minimum wage a genuine living wage for all voters aged over 18.
Since the EU referendum, we have seen how racism has shot through the roof, and politicians have to take some responsibility. We mustn’t forget the Islamophobic dog-whistle Tory campaign against Sadiq Khan, Theresa May’s vans urging people to report on immigrants, or the vile UKIP ‘Breaking Point’ poster which demonised desperate refugees. As Leader of the Labour Party, I would take on those that spread hatred and seek to divide our communities. We need tougher enforcement of penalties for racially motivated crime. We also need to recognise the concerns the community has about Prevent, and redevelop an approach that is rooted in the community and community-led.
[OS]: Labour is the part of equality. However, there is more we must do to increase BAME representation in our party, so we look more like the country we seek to represent.
Currently there are 23 BAME LAbour MPs, so far more needs to be done and the picture is even worse in local government where just 4% of local councillors across all the political parties are from an ethnic minority background.
As Labour Leader, I would work the BAME community, and with our MPs and CLPs to make sure more is done to support BAME members at all levels of the party. This means providing the encouragement, advice and training needed to build up experience and confidence within the Party. We need also to look outside of our Party, working with community groups and trade unions to identify campaigners and activists who could be future Labour members and representatives. We need much greater BAME representation to ensure our party reflects the diversity of the country Labour seeks to serve.
We also need to ensure diversity in our staff team. As leader, I will carry out an audit to see how many BAME staff are employed directly by the Party. We should appoint a national BAME officer to work for the party.
[JC]: Last week we launched a major consultation into how the party engages with it’s membership, including how we can get greater involvement from BAME members. The findings and recommendations will be taken to the NEC and I hope will be fully implemented.
With over 600,000 members, we have the largest membership of any political party in Europe. Our job as a party is to get every one of those members to play a full and active part.
Part two will be available tomorrow.