Minorities in the United Kingdom: who votes for whom?

Minorities in the United Kingdom: who votes for whom?


The Labour Party gets the vast share of minority votes. Here we take a close look at ethnic minority participation.

Political parties use various surveys to plan their policies. They use the census for an accurate picture of the population and adapt their ideas according to the results. In 1981, for the first time, the population survey included a question about ethnic origins. It was further refined in 2001 to specify five categories: Whites, Chinese, Mixed-Race, Asians and Blacks. Out of a total population of 55 million in the UK at the time, 3.1 million came from ethnic communities that were not white. The communities were concentrated in the most highly urbanized areas of the country. Ethnic minorities thus represent a significant electorate; political parties have everything to gain by attracting their votes.

Anwar, a specialist in minorities in the UK, shows that in 1974, only 6% of the white population was not registered on the electoral lists; by comparison, 24% of ethnic minorities were not registered. Several reasons for non-registration by ethnic minorities are suggested: lack of certainty about their residential status, and even of their voting rights; the language barrier; fear of racist reprisals by far right groups who might recognise their names on the voters’ register. During the 1997 general elections, 60% of Asians and 92% of Blacks voted for the Labour Party. Anwar’s analysis establishes that one of the reasons that explains the tendency of the minorities to vote Labour is the perception that the party is more sympathetic to ethnic minorities and supports the working class. This is because of the various laws passed by the Labour Party against forms of discrimination.

It is Asians who, proportionally, have the highest rate of participation, even higher than that of whites. In 1998, 31% of the Asian minority group stated that they were certain to vote in local elections, in comparison to 28% of whites. The democratic ideal is based on the idea that political power only has legitimacy if a sovereign people makes its choice. There can be no democracy without the involvement of citizens, and that is why political citizenship stems not only from enjoying civil rights relative to nationality, voting rights and eligibility, but also from the duty to engage and participate in political life.

However, the extent to which ethnic minorities can so engage seems to be limited by constraints imposed on their participation and political representation. The explanations of inequality in elected representative institutions often reflect social inequalities based on class, sex and gender, and play a direct role in under-representation of minorities.