Operation Black Vote turns 18






Blog by Sandra Kerr OBE, Director, Race for Opportunity 

On 16th July 1996, Operation Black Vote was born. The campaign, which works to encourage people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to vote in general and local elections, and to engage politicians with their BAME constituents, has achieved an enormous amount in its eighteen years, and I would like to congratulate them on all their success and wish them a very happy birthday.

However, the need for BAME people to vote is now increasingly pressing.  A 2013 report by Operation Black Vote found that the BAME population was bigger than the sitting MP’s majority in 168 marginal seats, and more than 40% of voters come from BAME backgrounds in 26 constituencies. Yet the British Election Study Ethnic Minority Survey found that in 2010, BAME voters were three times less likely to register to vote than their white counterparts. Therefore it’s vital that politicians engage people from BAME backgrounds now by ensuring that their policies work for these potential voters.

Last month Race for Opportunity published our Race at the Top report, which found that the gap between BAME representation in management and senior management positions and in the general population had widened between 2007 and 2012. The report also found that there are just 27 BAME MPs, but there should be 117 to proportionately represent and reflect the BAME population of the UK. Similarly, only seven Government Ministers and one Cabinet Minister and 44 peers come from BAME backgrounds.

We called on politicians of all parties to demonstrate their commitment to the importance of BAME leadership in the UK. In particular we called for the words ‘and race’ to be added to the UK Corporate Governance Code and for the government to commission a wide-ranging review of race equality in the workplace. The Lord Davies review into gender diversity showed that this type of approach gets results, and I hope that if a similar strategy was adopted on BAME representation it would have a significant impact on the number of BAME people at management and senior management levels.

At the general election in May 2015 almost one in five potential new voters will come from a BAME background, representing a level of influence that politicians can no longer afford to ignore. I hope to see evidence of genuine political will and commitment to ensure transparency, fairness and effective economic participation, contribution and inclusion for Black Asian and Ethnic Minority Britons in every political party manifesto.