Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for diverse communities, has said Labour could do more to halt falling support among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters, as a Fabian Society report reveals they are more likely to feel excluded and disadvantaged as party members.
The report, based on a survey of 3,000 Labour members, found those from BAME backgrounds were significantly more likely to report feeling unfairly treated in the party at all levels.
It found two-thirds of responding BAME candidates in parliamentary or devolved assembly selection contests said their selection process was not fair, compared with just one in five of the white candidates.
They were also 15 percentage points less likely than white members to agree that there are “people like me” in their constituency Labour party, and 10 points less likely to agree people are “treated fairly” by their local party.
Butler, a former Cabinet Office minister, wrote in the report’s foreword that Labour holds itself to a higher standard than other parties when it comes to equality but more action needed to be taken within the party to address the disadvantage felt by BAME members.
“As an African-Caribbean woman there is a lot in this report that I recognise and have in fact suffered from,” she said. “So even if we acknowledge that aspects of this report do not apply everywhere, and recognise that some parts of the Labour party have made real progress, there is no doubt it is a report we must take seriously and act on with determination.”
She also warned that Labour was at risk of losing more support among BAME voters, despite being seen as the natural political home for many people from such backgrounds.
“Although I am very sceptical about whether Theresa May and her government will deliver meaningful change in this area I understand that she is reaching out to communities whose natural home is in the Labour party,” she wrote.
“We have lost support in recent elections among BAME communities and unless we see and act on the warning signs we may continue to do so.”
The report, by Adebusuyi Adeyemi and Olivia Bailey, calls on Labour to wipe out any disadvantage to BAME members by reforming candidate selection procedures and setting public targets for the number of BAME Labour MPs at the next election.
“The Labour party has led the way on race equality but the Conservative party has done more to improve BAME representation in the last two electoral cycles than Labour has done in more than two decades. Labour must take urgent action to eradicate any discrimination in its ranks, and work with BAME members to improve support structures and networks, reform the selection process and set public targets for BAME representation,” its authors said.
Butler was the UK’s first black female minister to speak at the despatch box in the House of Commons and only the third black female MP to be elected after Diane Abbott and Oona King. She lost her seat in 2010 after boundary changes but was re-elected in Brent Central in 2015, and became Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow minister for diverse communities in October.