There are just four black Conservative councillors in the whole of Londonby Mercy Muroki and Philip Cowley / April 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
After every general election, there is a slew of commentary on the make-up of parliament—what age are MPs, how many are women, how many from ethnic minority backgrounds? All the main political parties claim to take this seriously and all have developed mechanisms to bolster candidate diversity. Yet about local government—both an important tier of government in its own right, and one which often acts as a gateway into national politics—very little is known.
Take a look at London, for example, as we did for an article just out in Political Quarterly. On the face of it, we find something very familiar, and hardly unexpected. The level of representation of London’s black and Asian communities has increased—in both absolute and relative terms—over the last 20 years, yet council chambers remain disproportionately white. And while the number of female councillors has also improved in recent years, to around 41 per cent in 2018, men similarly remain over-represented. We called the article “getting better, slowly,” but we might equally have gone for “still some way to go.”
This is all pretty much par for the course. What else would you expect? But things become more interesting once you start to dig into the data a little.
First, disaggregate “black and Asian” into its two separate categories. (For reasons we explain in the article, we don’t look in detail at other ethnic groups, not least because some of them—such as London’s Chinese population—are almost entirely absent from the local political scene).
Black Londoners certainly are under-represented. They make up 13.4 per cent of London’s population, yet only 7.8 per cent of councillors. In real terms, this means that London would need to see around 100 more black councillors to be representative of the wider population. Yet Asian Londoners are now proportionately represented, making up around 18.3 per cent of councillors and 18.5 per cent of the population. The use of broad categories, like BAME or “non-white,” can therefore hide as much as it illuminates.
Then look across London, spatially. There are massive differences between the levels of representation in each borough. The good news is that, for the most part, these differences are a result of the variations in the demographic make-up of London’s councils. The size of the black and Asian population in a borough correlates with the number of councillors at 0.88…