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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
'Election setback for black candidates'

Ethnic minorities are under-represented in parliament
By BBC News Online's community affairs reporter Cindi John

A group set up to campaign for greater black political representation has expressed disappointment at the number of new black MPs.

"We're extremely disappointed that the ranks of Westminster are only swelled by two more black candidates," said Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote (OBV).

"But I think it's symptomatic of all the political parties' unwillingness to have programmes to ensure that the talent can come through," he added.

The two new MPs - Parmjit Dhanda and Khalid Mahmood - were among 66 minority ethnic candidates standing for the three main parties.

Parmjit Dhanda
Parmjit Dhanda won Gloucester for Labour

They join 10 returning black and Asian MPs at Westminster, all of whom represent Labour.

Professor Muhammad Anwar, of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at Warwick University, believed the failure of more candidates to get in stemmed from the fact that few black or Asian candidates were ever selected for safe seats.

He said that was especially the case for Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates but admitted Uganda-born Asian Shailesh Vara had come close to winning for the Tories in Northampton South.

At the moment it's more luck than judgement that any black MPs come through

Simon Woolley, Operation Black Vote

Labour's Parmjit Dhanda and Khalid Mahmood were the only minority ethnic candidates selected to replace sitting MPs - in Gloucester and Birmingham Perry Barr respectively.

Professor Anwar said: "At this rate of increase it will take many years to really reflect the multi-ethnic nature of our society.

"There should be more minority ethnic MPs than members of the Welsh assembly because the ethnic minority origin population is more than the Welsh population."

He said that proportionally there should be at least 44 black and Asian MPs.

'Not rocket science'

Simon Woolley of OBV called on party leaders to ensure a better result for ethnic minority candidates at the next election.

Simon Woolley
Simon Woolley: Programme of action needed
"It's not rocket science. We've asked leaders of all the political parties to have a programme to recruit, retain and promote black talent.

"All we're talking about is a willingness from the parties to ensure this programme exists.

"At the moment it's more luck than judgement that any black MPs come through," he said.

Professor Anwar agreed that the main parties needed to take action.

"I keep saying that what I think needs to be done is what the Labour party did in 1997 for women. They tried the all-women shortlist. That was illegal but there are other means of positive action.

"They need to get that message to their local parties coming from the centre," he said.


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