The Unrepresentative House – Parliament is badly failing to reflect the UK’s ethnic diversity

1st August, 2014 8:16 am

I recently asked Insight Public Affairs to work with me to compile some data about political parties, their MPs and the racial make-up of the constituencies they represent.

The research has just been published by the Guardian and I can only assume, and hope, that the main political parties are as worried about it as I am. It does make for breath-taking reading. You can read it here.


There are 650 MPs that represent us. All but 27 of them are white. If the 14% of the nation’s BME communities were replicated in Parliament there would be 91 BME MPs. My research goes further. It examines the communities represented by each party in its own constituencies.

The Tories hold 305 seats which contain over 2.5 million BME voters. The Conservatives have a 5% gap between the diversity of their parliamentary party and the constituents they represent. Just 3.6% of their MPs are non-white compared to 8.6% of their constituents.

On the plus side for the Conservatives, the figures are much worse for the Lib Dems who have 56 MPs, all of whom are white and yet 11.4% of their voters are not white.

The picture is even worse for Labour where nearly a fifth of their voters in the 257 Labour held seats are from BME backgrounds, yet the parliamentary party 93.8% white. Nearly 5 million BME voters are represented by Labour’s 257 MPs.

Of the 27 ethnic minority MPs 16 are Labour and 11 are Conservative. The Conservatives went from just 2 non-white MPs to 11 at the last election, which helped boost the overall figure from 15 to 27.

And finally, if the parties looked like the constituents they represent in Parliament, the 11 Tory BME MPs would be 26 in number, the Lib Dems would have 6 instead of zero and Labour would have 50, not 16.

Unfortunately, Insight’s analysis which looks at the background of new candidates in seats where MPs are retiring suggests that the 2015 election will make only a little bit of difference to Parliament’s racial profile. Akin to chipping away at Mount Everest with a toothpick I fear.

Parmjit Dhanda is a former Labour Minister for Race and Faith Communities 

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  • David Battley

    A fair analysis, and I abhor “unconscious racism” whereby a system can introduce built-in bias through it’s selection process… and it is clear that much can be done to bring the parliamentary process into even the 20th Century, let alone the 21st… but it is also fair to point out that this analysis is flawed in applying a form of Proportional Representation to a FPTP system where constituents are, ultimately, voting for a single person – and typically do not take well to centralised/parachuted/”quota imposed” assistance in choosing their candidate.

  • swatnan

    Parmajit makes an excellent case for ABAMES.
    The danger for Labour is that the Tories rapid increase in BAME MPs may well outstrip Labours at the next GE and will embarrass Labour as the Party of inclusion!
    Tories have always been known to exploit any opportunity going and point the finger.
    The very name of our Party may well have to change as ‘Labour’ is not really representative of the ‘hard working’.
    And Bercow should step down and the next Speaker of the House should be a BAME member.

    • Steve Stubbs

      “And Bercow should step down and the next Speaker of the House should be a BAME member.”

      Not acceptable. Using your own logic if 14% of the population as stated in the article are BAME, then 100% of the speaker being BAME is also disproportionate. Not more than 14% of him should be BAME, otherwise the UK nationals comprising the other 86% are being disadvantaged. 🙂

      The whole thing is total [email protected] of course. As is the Speaker.

  • jay

    How many BME MP’s are not black or South Asian? How many British Chinese are in the Commons? How many British Chinese are prominent in BME? How many British Chinese are prominent in the Labour Party?

    And also:
    Not registered to vote:
    Whites 6%
    All ethnic minorities 17%
    Black Africans 37%.

    Higher representation would be a likely outcome if more non-whites bothered to register to vote. Yes, I say ‘bothered.’ No one is stopping them but themselves.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    Before you look at the ethnic make-up of MPs, you need to look at the ethnic make-up of the parties’ memberships. If 94% of the pool from which you draw MPs is white, 94% of MPs being white is to be expected.

    It’s the same problem you have when it comes to a government selecting a cabinet and it holds true for BME MPs, female MPs or left-handed MPs.

  • ManchesterMaddy

    An excellent article. The solution is obviously that BME voters should leave the UK, as they clearly feel unwelcome here. Once the UK is all white, then Parliament will correctly reflect the ethnic make-up of the population.


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