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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Blair's appeal to black churches
Tony Blair
Mr Blair says voting is an expression of faith
Black and minority communities should keep the faith with politics, Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged.

He told a group of black Christians they had a "crucial" role to play in helping to get more ethnic minorities to return to the polling booth.

Research during the 2005 general election suggested a fall in the number of voters from minority backgrounds.

Urging faith groups to get involved in public life Mr Blair said: "Don't be a bystander in democracy be a player."

Concern

He made the appeal, ahead of 4 May's local elections in England, at a conference on politics and society organised by the major churches within the UK's Caribbean and African communities.

He said that more had to be done to encourage people to engage in politics and public life.

The more representative your institutions, the more government will dance to the tune of the people
Tony Blair

"Turnout has fallen across all groups, but particularly so amongst black communities," he said.

"Research carried out during the General Election last year suggested that voter turnout amongst black and minority ethnic communities could have been as low as 47%.

"This is of concern because, in the end, we make choices about the future of the country, together, in our local and general elections."

Battling indifference

Mr Blair said that after a historic struggle to establish the universal franchise, the modern struggle was against indifference to voting.

"The vote is precious. Because to exercise it is to say something important about the type of society we are. Because to be able to transfer power calmly, collectively, peacefully through the decision of the people is a great, historical achievement.

"Voting is not just an instrument of people power, though it is certainly that. It is also an expression of our continued faith in the way we govern ourselves."

Speaking at the Ruach Ministries, a predominantly-black church in Brixton, south London, Mr Blair said faith had a crucial campaigning role in British society.

"People talk a great deal about the decline of religion and churches in our national life," he said.

'Important values'

"Many people are unaware that almost half a million people from Britain's African and Caribbean communities walk through the doors of a British church every week," he said.

"Churches such as yours have long been the bedrock of our local communities. This can be seen in your work in schools, your contribution to welfare, your support for the vulnerable and the most needy.

"You promote important values: respect, tolerance, family, trying to bring up children properly, caring for the less well off and ensuring that we all make the most of the talents we've got."

But Mr Blair said that while black churches were playing significant roles in their local communities, this was not translating through to representation of different ethnic groups in national public life.

Conservative leader David Cameron has also expressed concern over the representation of minorities, saying he will review how his party selects candidates in an attempt to better involve communities.

"Political parties need to do more to encourage people to get involved and become members," said Mr Blair.

"The more representative your institutions, the more government will dance to the tune of the people. And also because, these days, government is not something that is done to people; it must be a partnership with the people."


SEE ALSO:
Lib Dems launch election campaign
03 Apr 06 |  UK Politics
Leaders face crunch local polls
30 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Guide to England's 2006 elections
28 Mar 06 |  UK Politics


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