• Sunday, February 05, 2023

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Tories likely to add three Asian MPs, making ‘gradual’ progress in diversity

Rupa Huq (left), Paul Uppal and Tulip Siddiq will be fighting for seats in the upcoming election

By: DrewMcLachlan

By Drew McLachlan and Rithika Siddhartha

The Conservatives look set to add three new Asian MPs to Westminster on June 9, while Labour will likely lose two of their own, according to new research by think tank British Future.

Tory candidates Paul Uppal in Wolverhampton South-West, Resham Kotecha in Coventry North-West and Kashif Ali in Oldham East and Saddleworth are likely to win in the general election on June 8.

Uppal lost his seat in the 2015 election to Labour’s Rob Marris, who won by just over 800 votes, but looks set to come back Coventry North-West went to Labour’s Geoffrey Robinson, who defeated Tory candidate Parvez Akhtar by 4,509 votes in 2015. Labour’s Debbie Abrahams won in Oldham East and Saddleworth, beating Tory Sajjad Hussain by 6,002 votes.

Currently Labour has 23 ethnic minority MPs, compared to the Conservatives’ 17.

It will be a tough fight for Labour in some marginal seats, especially those held by Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton, majority of 274) and Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn, majority of 1,138) both of whom face an “uphill struggle” to defend their small majorities against Conservative challengers, the research indicated.

Sunder Katwala, director for British Future, also predicted that Labour may lose two seats represented by first-time Asian candidates – Preet Gill in Birmingham Edgbaston and Tan Dhesi in Slough – who are thought to have a 25 per cent and 50 per cent chance of winning respectively.

With the Conservatives expected to increase their share of seats, Katwala said that any progress made in the election next month will largely depend on the party’s approach.

He said the four or five BAME MPs that the party is expected to add was a “modest contribution” to diversity, describing their progress as “gradual rather than spectacular”.

“The Conservative progress in 2017 is primarily a reflection of the party’s overall political dominance,” Katwala said. “Labour would still have almost as many ethnic minority MPs even if the Tories had double the number of MPs overall.

“But the 2017 election shows just how important it was for ethnic diversity to break out across the party spectrum over the last decade to insulate progress on diversity in parliament from the swing of the political pendulum.”

If recent opinion polls prove to be accurate, next month’s election could see the Conservatives overtake Labour as the party with the most black and minority ethnic (BAME) MPs.

Given those projections, the Commons will have 22 minority Tory MPs, Labour will have 21, and there could be one British Asian Scottish National Party (SNP) MP.

The final total of minority MPs, said Katwala, depends on the scale of the government’s majority, which could reach three digits depending on the outcome of tight races taking place in several constituencies.

While the last two general elections each saw substantial increases in the number of BAME MPs – from 15 to 27 in 2010 and from 27 to 41 in 2015 – the upcoming election will likely see at most a minuscule increase in ethnic diversity in Westminster.

BME MPs graph

British Future’s best pre-campaign estimate is a total of between 40 to 45 minority MPs. Katwala pins the halt in progress on the shorter length of the current parliament, which due to being only two years long, has seen fewer standing MPs retire.

“On average, 60 to 80 MPs choose not to stand again at the end of a full parliament, but the rate has been halved this time,” he said.

“Just 12 Conservative and 14 Labour MPs are standing down. The parties have chosen five ethnic minority candidates between them in those 26 seats, while all of the retirees are white. So there would almost certainly be more ethnic minority candidates defending safe seats had there been the usual number of retirements.”

Katwala also pointed out that, for the first time in 30 years, Labour will not likely be contributing to an advance in diversity within parliament.

“The party has again selected a strong share of ethnic minority candidates,” he said. “The simple political problem for Labour is that none of its general election target seats look winnable this time.

“If Labour could stand still by keeping its current seats, its tally of non-white MPs would rise from 23 to 26, after selections of minority candidates in three of the 14 Labour retirement seats.

“Labour are the underdogs in Birmingham Edgbaston and Wolverhampton South-West. Tan Dhesi, defending a 7,336 majority in Slough, has the best chance of making it to the commons.”

Despite parliament becoming increasingly diverse, Katwala noted that perfect demographic representation is not the raison d’etre of ethnic diversity in politics, adding that the “meritocratic principle of fair chances and no unfair barriers” should lead to institutions such as parliament attracting talent from across society.

He added: “The May administration should offer its own account of how a One Nation politics of meritocracy should animate a centre-right push to promote equal opportunity, tackle racial discrimination and promote integration.

“This new parliament has the task of shaping post-Brexit Britain – how our society will show that it rewards effort and talent from every class, colour and creed should be high up on that agenda.”

This Thursday (11) is the final day for selection of candidates.

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