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Last Updated : Nov 13, 2019 08:08 PM IST | Source: PTI

Ethnic diversity of UK Parliament likely to slow down in December polls

In the June 2017 general election, Britain got its first female Sikh MP in Preet Kaur Gill and the first turban-wearing MP in Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, both from the Opposition Labour Party.

As political parties in the UK finalise their candidate lists for the December 12 snap general election for the Thursday deadline for nominations, the ethnic diversity of the new Parliament seems set to show a slight slowdown over the last polls.

In the June 2017 general election, Britain got its first female Sikh MP in Preet Kaur Gill and the first turban-wearing MP in Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, both from the Opposition Labour Party. Boris Johnson has hailed the Conservative Party's credentials by appointing an ethnically diverse Cabinet when he took charge as British Prime Minister in July, including Priti Patel as UK home secretary and Rishi Sunak as Treasury minister from its Indian-origin group.

"There have been dramatic increases in the ethnic diversity of the House of Commons over the last 10 years but that progress looks likely to slow down this time,” said Sunder Katwala, Director of the integration think tank British Future, which had conducted research on the issue last month.

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"Both major parties have been less likely to select ethnic minority candidates in their target seats than five or 10 years ago, so this could be the first time that the next intake of MPs to the House of Commons would be less ethnically diverse than the Parliament they are joining. The unusually large number of late selections to replace retiring MPs in safe seats may yet address this deficit,” he noted.

It comes as the Labour Party finalised its candidate to replace Keith Vaz, the longest-serving Indian-origin MP in the House of Commons who announced his retirement recently. A fellow Indian-origin prospective candidate, Sundip Meghani, has attacked the party's selection process after being snubbed in favour of Claudia Webbe for the Leicester East constituency – held by Vaz for 32 years.

"I cannot stay silent on the obvious dodgy practices and nepotism involved in this process, where Labour's ruling Executive chose a member of the Labour's ruling Executive, as the candidate,” says Meghani, a solicitor who believes it is a "slap in the face of the Indian community" to impose a non-Indian heritage candidate in a seat with one of the highest Indian demographics in the country.

"It shows just how little the Labour Party values and respects the Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs,” he said.

It comes in the wake of the Labour Party's efforts to try and counter some of the anger from sections of the Indian diaspora over its alleged anti-India stance on the Kashmir issue, with party chairman Ian Lavery issuing a statement earlier this week to stress that the party remains neutral over the matter.

The 2017 General Election had marked a hike in the Labour Party's number of Indian-origin MPs from five to seven, with the Tories retaining their five Indian-origin MPs taking the total up to 12 Indian-origin MPs. On the wider black and minority ethnic (BAME) representation, the previous Parliament had been hailed as the most ethnically diverse with 52 BAME Commons intake.

However, in the latest selections, the Tories have selected three BAME candidates for so-called safe seats, or somewhat guaranteed strongholds for the party, compared with 11 by Labour. If all go on to be elected, the new Parliament elected by December 13 would have around 64 BAME MPs, up from the current 52. While this would mark an increase of almost 25 per cent over the current number, it would still not be reflective of the UK's overall population.

A number of BAME candidates have also been selected for non-safe seats, which would need to be won from other parties, which in turn could increase the final numbers elected to the House of Commons next month.

"Ethnic diversity has become a 'new normal' at the top of British politics but the 2019 selections show that sustained efforts will be needed to maintain recent progress,” adds Katwala.

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First Published on Nov 13, 2019 06:27 pm
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