Blacks in Britain want own party

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Indy Politics

An independent black political party would be supported by 45 per cent of the black community in Britain, research published this week will reveal.

An independent black political party would be supported by 45 per cent of the black community in Britain, research published this week will reveal.

The Black Community Report 2000, a national survey by the Peoplescience Intelligence Unit, has found that black people in the UK believe an "ethnic" party would improve their lives and their prospects.

The findings, based on interviews with more than 2,100 people over the age of 16, will be a blow to mainstream political parties, sending a clear message that black people do not believe the established parties are doing enough for them.

In a political climate where race has become a big issue, particularly after the inquiry into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, the findings will also be likely to reopen the debate about how representative British political institutions are of ethnic minority groups.

Simon Woolley, the national coordinator of Operation Black Vote, said he was not surprised so black people favoured an independent black party. "It's symptomatic of political parties not addressing the concerns of black communities. There's a sense of frustration and people are looking for alternatives. We believe the black community should be involved in mainstream politics, but there is a deep frustration with party politics."

Operation Black Vote has identified 66 marginal seats where it believes the black community could be a king-maker. These include Harrow West, Enfield Southgate, Reading, Gillingham, Kingston, and Milton Keynes.

"They can only ignore us at their peril," Mr Woolley said. These will be fiercely fought-over seats. No one can take the black vote for granted. Too many black people are disappointed by the way the democratic system lets us down."

But Labour and Conservative politicians believe the creation of a single-issue black party is not the answer.

David Lammy, the newly elected Labour MP for Tottenham, said last night: "It's important that all political parties continue to search for policies that resonate deeply in multi-ethnic Britain and that they also continue to select candidates who can speak for multi-ethnic Britain."

He added: "That said, the suggestion there's any merit in a separate black political party would effectively reduce what is a complex and diverse multi-ethnic community to a single-issue rump. I think that wouldn't serve the black or Asian community very well."

Peter Bottomley, the Conservative MP for Worthing West and treasurer of the Commons all-party group on race and community, said: "The underlying issue is a serious one. Can most people who are black or Asian feel at home in our major political parties? The answer is they should be able to, but the political parties haven't done enough at all levels to make it clear that they will never try to exploit race in an election.

"But at the same time more has been done than most people realise. It is possible and right for people from all communities to get involved with the mainstream parties.

"If anyone believes that it is right to say that people who are British and black or Asian should be represented by many single-issue parties, that is not the solution in this country. It is not right or helpful."

Richard Allan, the Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, and a member of the group, said: "I think it would be unfortunate if we saw the formation of political parties defined by ethnicity. We should be able to represent the broad cross-section of people that make up Britain today. I recognise there is a serious problem with engagement at all levels but I don't think the answer is a separate party."

The House of Commons has only four black and five Asian MPs, and they all represent Labour seats.

There have also been concerns about black representation on the Greater London Assembly. Just two members of the GLA are black and none is Asian, even though 25 per cent of the capital's population is non-white.

Yesterday, Steve Norris, the Conservative who ran for mayor of London, launched an attack on his own party's "blue-rinse brigade" accusing elderly Tory women of stopping gays, ethnic minorities and other women becoming parliamentary candidates. Mr Norris, who is now the Tories' vice chairman, responsible for attracting young and ethnic minority recruits to the party, said he detected "a polite form of racism and homophobia" among some Tory supporters. He said the time had come to consider all-women shortlists for some parliamentary seats and quotas for ethnic minority candidates.