Chuka Umunna will tell Labour on Saturday that it cannot afford to be complacent about its minority ethnic voters, saying “alarm bells should be ringing” about how many are switching to the Conservatives.
Although Labour still has a large lead among the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) electorate, Umunna, the former shadow business secretary, will say the Tories made considerable progress with these voters at the 2015 election and that they are trying to overtake Labour in having a greater number of BAME MPs.
Addressing the Unison national black members conference in Wales, Umunna will also announce that he and Keith Vaz, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee, are launching an inquiry to investigate what more Labour can do to retain and extend its minority ethnic support.
The inquiry, which will be independent from Labour HQ but which has the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, will publish terms of reference within the next few weeks and invite submissions from those wanting to give evidence.
Umunna will also unveil new figures from the House of Commons library showing that in more than one-third of all constituencies the number of BAME voters exceeds the size of the incumbent MP’s majority.
This shows that attracting minority ethnic support in those seats “can be decisive”, he will argue.
“Evidence from last year’s general election suggests we are shedding votes from different ethnic minority communities to the Tories. And we have not a hope in hell of retaining all our current seats, let alone make enough gains and winning the next general election if we continue to lose ethnic minority votes at this rate.”
In the past, the BAME vote overwhelmingly went to Labour. But after 1997, the Tories started to put much more effort into attracting minority ethnic support and, according to research from the British Future thinktank, by 2010 16% of minority ethnic voters were voting Tory, against 68% who were backing Labour.
But in 2015, the Tory minority ethnic vote went up to 33%, while Labour’s share fell to 52%.
“So an extraordinary jump for the Tories – a doubling of support – and a big drop in support for us. The alarm bells should be ringing,” Ummuna will say.
He will argue that the Tories are also making significant progress with BAME candidate selection. Labour still has more minority ethnic MPs – 23, compared with the Conservatives’ 17 – but at the 2015 election the Conservatives increased their BAME total by 15, while Labour increased theirs by just 10.
“Make no mistake: the Tories aim to ensure there are more Tory ethnic minority members of the 2020 parliament than Labour ones,” he will warn.
As evidence of how seriously the Conservatives are taking this, Umunna will point to David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative party conference last year in which he stressed the importance of tackling racial discrimination.
“I doubt they will make good on any of this – they rarely do,” he will say. “But the time for complacency on our side is over.”
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