BAME Local Political Representation Audit 2019

Operation Black Vote (OBV) has undertaken an historic Political Audit that examines the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) populations in England within Local Councils in the London Boroughs, Metropolitan Districts, and Unitary Authorities (collectively called Single Tier Councils).

Some time after the 2018 Local Elections, OBV began to collect data on the composition of Local Councils with respect to the representation of BAME communities. This audit has sought to see where we are right now particularly with the upcoming 2019 Local Elections, in which many of the Metropolitan Borough Councils and Unitary Authority Councils will be elected.

Fundamentally, we have been interested in whether or not local government looks like the population it seeks to represent. With all the challenges that we have in our society around education, housing, knife crime, and a community sense of belonging, we strongly believe that inclusive representative Local Government has never been more important.

Additionally, it is widely acknowledged that serving as a local political representative is often a pathway to other positions of political leadership and influence, including becoming an MP. Our data shows some local authorities are doing well in regards to overall BAME local representative democracy, but others, nearly a third, are frankly woeful. The combined figures for the 123 Local Authorities in England reveal that of the 7,306 councillors, 1,235 are from a BAME background. This represents 14% which roughly mirrors that of the 2011 census data, although present BAME estimates are likely to be more than 14%.

That overall picture though belies a greater challenge, particularly in some areas of England that our political class and communities must urgently confront. 40 local authorities with BAME populations of between 6% and 12% have either zero BAME representation or one BAME councillor. For tens of thousands of BAME individuals, these all-white or almost all white democratic institutions can feel remote and out of touch with the challenges many face. Equally important is the fact that apart from three local authorities, African/Caribbean councillors, particularly men, are very much under-represented. BAME women too are under-represented across the vast majority of councils. And despite their growing communities, there is only a handful of Chinese and Somali councillors.

Our findings raise some fundamental questions in general about belonging, having a voice, and how political parties are failing to understand their role to ensure inclusive representative democracy. Specifically both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are both in a really poor place when it comes to their BAME councillor representation. The percentage breakdown of BAME councillors presently is: Labour 84%, Tories 11%, Lib Dems 3%, and 2% other affiliations.

Our national democratic institutions are becoming desperately undermined, not least with our failure to resolve the Brexit crisis. Local democracy therefore, offers real hope to engage and give hope that politics can work, but with a third of these local democratic institutions lacking little or no representative democracy for BAME communities, the feeling that democracy doesn’t work will only get worse.

Please click here to read the full audit