Black communities hold keys to Downing Street

10_downing_street1Black communities hold the keys to Downing Street and are king-makers at the next general election, according to new research carried out by The Voice.

African and Caribbean voters can make the difference in over 40 Conservative-held seats Labour hope to win.

Labour’s chances of being the next government hang in the balance and every seat counts amid predictions of a tight race in 2015.

Campaigners are now challenging political parties to deliver ‘more than crumbs’ if they want crosses on ballot papers.

The new research suggests African and Caribbean voters can carry Ed Miliband almost half way to victory, but he will first have to come up with promises of real change to tackle racism, activists insist.

Operation Black Vote have launched a new voter registration campaign in partnership with the black churches to “full awake the sleeping giant” of black Britain.

With Labour needing at least 90 seats to form a coalition, and 110 to govern outright, African and Caribbean voters could be the major factor in many battles between Tories and Labour.

The outcome of these contests could well decide the result of the next general election.

Several sitting Lib Dem MPs are particularly vulnerable to the black vote in many constituencies.

A Voice study shows 24 Conservative-held marginals where the African and Caribbean population is larger than the MP’s majority and a further 17 seats where they could make a real difference.

The figures shatter the myth that black populations are only concentrated in strong Labour-held inner city seats and cannot influence the outcomes of key battlegrounds.

The findings that African’s and Caribbean’s can influence so many marginals stands in contrast to the fact that the communities make up just 3.6 percent of the total population.

Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote, has launched a voter registration drive much earlier than in the past in partnership with evangelical church leaders even though Britain is two and a half years away from the next general election.

And a coalition of anti-racist groups have begun work on a new Black Manifesto. The churches plan to produce their own version.

Woolley said: “It’s an exciting project and the task is daunting. Political parties will see black communities flex political muscles and won’t be offered crumbs.

We want to see issues addressed like disproportionate unemployment and inequality.”

Labour’s rising star Chuka Umunna said: “I’m not at all surprised by the research findings. It is absolutely imperative that African and Caribbean people get registered [to vote] and get to shape the national debate and public policy.

Nobody has the right to support from any part of the community but while we’re proud of our past introducing equalities laws we do not take support for granted.”

Only 72 percent of Caribbean’s and 59 percent of Africans are registered to vote at a current address compared to 90 percent for white people.

Hackney councillor Patrick Vernon commented: “The black churches have witnessed a massive expansion. There are 56 churches in Hackney alone.

Whatever our religious beliefs we need to vote. Politics does affect lives; what school your child goes to, what services you receive, crime and community safety.

If we don’t get involved future generations will not see the benefits of campaigns that have been fought in the past and disillusionment will grow.”

Six Lib Dem MPs appear especially vulnerable to the Black vote at the next election as they represent seats with African and Caribbean voters larger in number than their majorities.

Former education minister Sarah Teather is most at the mercy of Black voters in the newly-configured Brent Central seat.

She is defending a slim 1,345 notional majority however 2001 census data shows a black population stands at 29,652.

It is likely that population increases over the past decade, particularly amongst African-born voters, will have increased the power of the Black vote further.

Lib Dem campaigner Pauline Pearce, known as the Hackney Heroine after being filmed cussing rioters last year, commented: “When I turned 18 I was excited that I could vote, it was a big deal. 18-year-old’s today are not interested.

I tell them ‘your vote could be so crucial to decide who wins’. We should stop being so scared of politics.”

There are many historical reasons why Black communities have been less likely to register to vote and cast ballots.

The experience of enslavement and colonialism, of being invited to rebuild the Mother Country only to face generations of racism and social exclusion, have sapped faith in the political system.

It is hardly surprising that rates of black voter registration and voting are at an all-time low with many believing all politicians are the same.

But while disillusionment and apathy are understandable in this context, opting out is not an option.

Issues like hugely disproportionate rates of Black unemployment and criminal justice require policies to tackle them.

In order to put race back on the agenda we must force parties to bid for our vote, not give it cheaply without demands.

Each hard-won campaign victory for equality in the past has to be consolidated and build upon.

This can only be achieved by sitting around the table of power and using our collective muscle to bargain for more progress.

There are at least two million of us in the UK according to the last census. We have considerable political power.

As research carried out by this newspaper proves African and Caribbean communities are not confined to safe Labour seats.

We also hold the balance of power in enough marginals, enough to have a potentially decisive impact on the outcome of the next general election.

24 Conservative-held constituencies on Labour’s target list have Black populations larger than the MP’s majority, and we can have a significant influence on 17 other swing seats.

In addition, Labour rely on the Black vote in over 30 inner city seats. In total that’s over 70 constituencies where the Black vote matters.

The notion that we are a small community in Britain unable to lever change could not be further from the truth. We are powerful beyond measure.

Yet democracy is more than putting an ‘x’ in a box every few years. It is a never-ending process of making demands.

We support the publication of Black Manifestos from anti-racist groups and the Black churches.

Change will come not by the colour of the MP’s rosette but the content of his or her policies.

Power concedes nothing without demand, and with unity and self-organisation we are in a position to demand the change we so desperately need to improve our lives and life-chances.

The first thing we must do register to vote now. 41 percent of African’s are unregistered, compared to 28 percent of Caribbean’s and ten percent of white people.

If you are not sure if you are registered telephone the electoral office at your local town hall and check. Do it today!

The right to vote has been hard-fought for. South African’s queued for hours at the end of apartheid. African-Americans did likewise for Barack Obama in 2008 and again last November.

Many of our ancestors were denied the vote. Let us not take it lightly. Whoever we vote for let us exercise our democratic rights.

Labour has historically taken the lion’s share of support and once commanded up to 90 percent of the Black vote.

A study for the Runnymede Trust earlier this year found that of those who did vote, 68 percent voted Labour, 16 percent for the Conservatives and 14 percent Lib Dem.

Other estimates put Labour’s current support higher – 78 percent for Caribbean’s and 87 percent for Africans.

But of course politics is more than voting, it is also about political representation not just with more Black MP’s, but MP’s who are going to stand up and raise the issues facing Black communities.

There are nine African or Caribbean MPs when we need 25 – 16 more than at present – in order to reflect the Black population.

And that’s based on 2001 census figures. Today it’s probably around 30 MPs.

In the Lords we are also grossly under-represented. Eleven Black peers when we need at least 29.

Yet out of the twenty serving MPs and Peers only five can reasonably claim to be raising ‘Black issues’ in parliament.

The quality of our representation remains an issue, one that will only be solved when party members organise together to select the right candidates, as Labour’s Black Sections used to do in the 1980′s.

There is a lot at stake for us at the next election. Putting race back on the agenda and policies to deal with unequal outcome like disproportionate unemployment rates.

Many in our community are suffering. In such circumstances it cannot be acceptable that over one in three of us fails to vote at all.

We have the power. Now is the time to flex our political muscle.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

SEATS WHERE BLACK VOTERS ARE LARGER THAN TORY AND LIB DEM MAJORITIES

Brent Central (LibDem)

Majority: 1,345 Black voters: 29,652

Ealing Central and Acton(Con)

Majority: 3,716 Black voters: 13,878

Hendon (Con)

Majority: 106 Black voters: 9,743

Enfield North (Con)

Majority: 1,692 Black voters 7,493

Croydon Central (Con)

Majority: 2,969 Black voters: 11,889

Thurrock (Con)

Majority: 92 Black voters: 1,521

Brentford and Isleworth (Con)

Majority: 1958 Black voters: 5,156

Wolverhampton South West (Con)

Majority: 691 Black voters: 4030

Bradford East (LibDem)

Majority: 365 Black voters: 1,498

Bermondsey and Old Southwark (LibDem)

Majority: 8,530 Black voters: 22,217

Bedford (Con)

Majority: 1,353 Black voters: 3,503

Hornsey and Wood Green (LibDem)

Majority:6,875 Black voters: 12,052

Manchester Withington (LibDem)

Majority: 1,894 Black voters: 2,175

Harrow East (Con)

Majority: 3,403 Black voters: 6,890

Cardiff North (Con)

Majority: 194Black voters: 360

Northampton North (Con)

Majority: 1,936 Black voters: 2,563

Watford (Con)

Majority: 1,425 Black voters: 2,346

Battersea (Con)

Majority: 5,977 Black voters: 10,984

Broxtowe (Con)

Majority: 389 Black voters: 584

Norwich South (LibDem)

Majority: 310 Black voters: 363

Sherwood (Con)

Majority: 214 Black voters: 320

Warwickshire North (Con)

Majority: 54 Black voters: 174

Gloucester (Con)

Majority: 2,420 Black voters: 2,527

Finchley and Golders Green (Con)

Majority: 5,809 Black voters: 6,032

Sources: Notional majorities – UK Polling Report, Black vote – Commons Library 04/01 Statistics for Parliamentary Constituencies.

SEATS WHERE BLACK VOTE COULD TIP BALANCE

Birmingham Yardley (LibDem), Ilford North (Con), Bristol North West (Con), Reading West (Con), Northampton South (Con), Stevenage (Con), Milton Keynes South (Con), Peterborough (Con), Reading East (Con), Enfield Southgate (Con), Ipswich (Con), Cardiff Central (LibDem), Brighton Pavilion (Green), Lancaster and Fleetwood (Con), Cambridge (LibDem), Stockton South (Con), Brighton Kemptown (Con).

SEATS WITH THE HIGHEST BLACK POPULATIONS

Camberwell and Peckham (Lab) 35%, Lewisham Deptford (Lab) 30%, Tottenham (Lab) 28%, Vauxhall (Lab) 28%, Hackney South and Shoreditch (Lab) 27%, Brent Central (LibDem) 26%, West Ham (Lab) 25%, Croydon North (Lab) 24%, Dulwich and West Norwood (Lab) 23%, Streatham (Lab) 22%, Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Lab) 22%, Bermondsey and Old Southwark (LibDem) 21%, Edmonton (Lab) 19%, Birmingham Ladywood (Lab) 19%, East Ham (Lab) 18%, Lewisham East (Lab) 18%, Leyton and Wanstead (Lab) 17%, Walthamstow (Lab) 17%, Lewisham West and Penge (Lab) 17%, Greenwich and Woolwich (Lab) 16%.

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