Saturday, 16 May 2015

Number of BME MPs up, but still no British Turks in office

L-R: Kate Osamor MP, Isabel Sigmac and Alan Mak MP

While none of the four Parliamentary candidates of Turkish heritage were successful in their bid to become a British MP in last week’s General Election, a record number of politicians from Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) backgrounds have been elected. There are now 41 BME MPs, up from 25 in 2010.

Ten of the 18 new MPs are female. Labour has eight new BME MPs, with seven from the Conservatives, and one from the Scottish National Party.  Alan Mak makes history by becoming the first MP of Chinese origin to sit in the House of Commons, having won Havant for the Conservatives. Labour’s Kate Osamor, of Nigerian heritage, won in Edmonton, North London, where there is a huge Turkish community, with her vote surging to over 25,000 – up by nearly 8% on the 2010 elections.

More BMEs voted in 2015 General Election

Although there was minimal change in voter turnout for this General Election, up one percent to 66% from five years ago, initial analysis by political lobby group Operation Black Vote (OBC) suggests there was a steeper increase in the number of BME voters in 2015, which bucked the national trend.

According to OBV, a number of ethnically diverse constituencies saw marked increases in voter turnouts: East Ham was up by five per cent; Brent North went from 62% in 2010 to 63.5%; Ealing North was up to 65.7% from 63% in 2010; and Birmingham Ladywood – where Isabel Sigmac was standing – saw turnout shoot up from 48% five years ago to 52.7% in 2015.

While coming second in a Labour stronghold, Sigmac, originally from Turkey, helped increase both the share and number of votes for her Tory Party. Similarly, Labour’s Ibby Mehmet, of Turkish Cypriot heritage, secured an increase in the number of votes in Old Sidcup and Bexley – a safe Tory seat.

Former footballer Sol Campbell ‘whites up' for OBV's 2015 General Election campaign aimed at BMEs
Earlier this year, OBV mounted a major campaign to encourage more British BMEs to vote. They undertook a nationwide tour on a bus, reaching out to diverse communities to help them to register to vote. They were supported by a bold and much publicised poster campaign created by Saatchi & Saatchi that featured black personalities such as David Harewood and Sol Campbell ‘whiting up’, pushing the message to BMEs that they need to engage in the political process if they want to have influence on issues that matter to them.

British Turks getting more politically active

Gönül Daniels (Conservative), Turhan Özen (Liberal Democrat), Isabel Sigmac, and Ibby Mehmet were all selected to fight seats where their main opponent commanded huge local support. While they were not able to overturn such large majorities, their involvement, publicised extensively in the British Turkish press, helped galvanise wider interest in these elections.

There is an ongoing trend of British Turks becoming more politically active. In May last year, a record number of candidates from Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Turkish Kurdish backgrounds stood in the Local Elections. Of the 51 candidates, 32 won, virtually doubling the number of British Turkish councillors, which had stood at 17 in 2010.

Baroness Meral Ece-Hussein OBE is currently the only British Parliamentarian of Turkish heritage in the UK Parliament. She was appointed a life peer in 2010.

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