In New Zealand, Maori parties have been able to change the political landscape. Could British constituents follow suit?by Kieran O’Halloran / November 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Can minority politicians succeed within mainstream parties? Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad’s regrettable comments about Shaun Bailey, the black one-time PPC for Hammersmith, have sparked a debate about tokenism in the Conservative Party, and about the Labour Party’s alleged belief in their God-given right to the votes of ethnic minority Britons. That assumption has, historically, been a safe one for Labour to make. But can it continue to do so? Or might ethnic minority Britons begin to look elsewhere—perhaps, even, to seek out a party explicitly for them?
One Gallic version of the latter scenario provides the context for Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel Submission, which opens with an Islamist party campaigning in the 2022 French presidential election. The novel raises interesting questions, not least about what exactly “representation” means.
Political science is equivocal, for instance, on the substantive impact of minority MPs. Professor Karen Bird, Chair of Political Science at McMaster University, Canada, tells me the composition of the electorate which chooses them is more important. On the other hand, Professor Jessica Lavariega Monforti—who is a specialist on how public policy affects different races and genders differently—argues that “the race of a legislator influences his or her substantive policy-interests and choices, beyond the effects of constituency characteristics.” A third academic, Professor Andra Gillespie of Emory College, suggests that minority voters are also more likely to report being satisfied by co-ethnic representatives.
This is not insignificant. For the most part, Western centre-left parties’ elected officials are unrepresentative of their increasingly diverse vote. 12 per cent of the British Labour Party’s MPs are BME, versus about 20 per cent of their 2017 voters. In America, almost half of Hillary Clinton’s 2017 voters were minorities (including Hispanics); just over a third of the Democrats in congress are.
In New Zealand, however, 21 of the governing Labour Party’s 46 MPs are members of minorities—it is likely a lower proportion of their vote comes from minorities. 13 of the 21 are Maori, and one might guess it is their native status which has led to their abundant representation. But other settler colonies, like the USA (which has no native American Democrat in congress) and Australia (which has no aboriginal Labor representative in the lower house) prove indigeneity does not suffice.…