Does Labour take the BAME vote for granted?

30th March, 2012 6:12 pm

I woke up this morning hoping that last night’s election result was nothing but a bad dream. Unfortunately, the first image that greeted me was one of George Galloway grinning like a Cheshire cat on my television.

Why did Labour lose in Bradford? We didn’t just lose, we lost disgracefully. Why have young Muslim voters lost confidence in Labour to the point where they would rather have someone like Galloway represent them in Parliament? Someone who mercilessly manipulates Islam to suit his own needs. Someone who unashamedly neglected his former constituents in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. Someone whose voting record in Parliament is virtually nonexistent.

It is wholly inaccurate to say that the Muslim voters in Bradford are extremists. They are not terrorists. They are predominately ordinary law abiding citizens who happen to be of a Muslim background.

Additionally, it is just too simplistic to say that the Muslim youth were solely sucked in by Galloway’s sprinkling of Arabic, his commitment to not drinking and his declarations of being an honorary Muslim. We cannot fall into the trap of underestimating these young people. These are intelligent people whose families traditionally voted Labour but who have decided that Labour (or any of the other mainstream parties) has failed them.

Our defeat in this election is more symbolic of a wider problem. The fact is, for years, we have exploited the Asian block voting mentality when it served us. However, the danger with that approach is when the block vote turns against us, our candidate loses disastrously.

Is the criticism that Labour has started taking the BAME vote for granted justified? Do we consult BAME members before making decisions that affect their livelihoods? I know we rely on the fact that their parents voted Labour so they’ll vote Labour. We are happy for them to vote for us without taking the time to communicate our values of social justice and equality to them.

Well, the Bradford voters decided to take matters into their own hands and indulged in what is now fashionably known as ‘community organising’, except they did it against the Labour Party.

If we want to avoid such disastrous defeats, Labour needs to respond to BAME communities with a more sophisticated approach; one that recognises these differences and engages with each community at an appropriate level to enable real dialogue to take place. It’s time we actually listened to their grievances and acknowledged their changing aspirations (and, as a result, their changing voting patterns).

No one is denying that there are common characteristics shared by these groups. These include being concentrated in cities, having strong community structures, often higher levels of deprivation, social exclusion and lack of political participation. However, even though the problems are similar, the solutions needed to be different for respective communities.

Simply put, the idea of a collective BAME community is flawed.  Until we realise that ethnicity is diverse and cannot be put under one umbrella, we will never get the correct policy to deal with these communities. To treat the BAME community as a homogeneous block is, at best lazy, at worst iniquitous.

It may seem that this is an argument for segregating political engagement, it’s not. It is simply a request that we put as much effort into understanding these sub groups within society as we do with political analysis of the non-BAME electorate. For example, working mothers, the conservative working class – politics is always looking for ways to cut society into understandable groups that can be engaged with coherently. Why don’t we do this with the BAME electorate?

Let’s face it – our modus operandi for BAME is outdated. We need to develop a deeper understanding of the diverse society we live in and, simultaneously, recognise that the youth wing of traditional communities are in transition as identity is changing.

Finally, I am fully aware that this article could be perceived as a form of attack on the Labour Party. The truth is that I sleep, breathe and eat Labour (and go campaigning for the Party with a torn ligament) which is why I would only bring these issues to the forefront in a place like the Labour Party.

We are the only Party that actually has the ability to implement these changes and respect the communities we want to engage with.  It is down to us to win back the trust of the various BAME communities that have supported us year after year. Engaging meaningfully will not only improve our policies and our ability to represent them, it will also prevent corners of extremism and corruption emerging in parts of Britain.

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