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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Race and British Electoral Politics
Edited by Shamit Saggar

(London: UCL Press/Taylor & Francis Group, 1998)
290pp. Index. ISBN hb. 1-85728-829-7.
Pb.: ISBN 1-85728-830-0, 13.95.


During the 'long campaign' prior to the 1997 British General Election politicians from the major parties demonstrated their belief that a last-minute visit to a temple, or a carefully arranged photo-opportunity with a group of young black children, would prove sufficient to capture what is erroneously termed the 'ethnic vote'. For nearly twenty-five years Labour and Conservative politicians appear to have been transfixed by the notion that ethnic minority communities can be courted en bloc, and the notion has persisted that African Caribbean's are natural Labour-voters, whilst many sections of the Asian community are more inclined towards the Conservatives. Given the persistence of such common-sense assumptions this collection provides a timely review of a wide range of issues relating to the position of minority ethnic groups in British electoral politics.

The chapters gathered together by Shamit Saggar focus on three broad levels. First is the direct role that minority groups have played in electoral terms. Saggar provides an excellent analysis of key questions and assumptions which have dogged political and academic discussion in this field. Most importantly he argues that the simplistic understanding of the 'ethnic vote' needs to be reconsidered in order to afford recognition to the complexity of the various communities whose politics are not always centred around ethnicity. The second area of analysis turns to the relation of political parties to ethnic and racial issues. Paul Rich provides a timely account of developments within the Tory Party and the impact that the reactionary 'Little Englanders' are likely to have. Kalib Shukra continues by analysing the impact the repositioning of the Labour Party is likely to have on ethnic minorities who have been attracted by the parties commitment to antiracism and equal opportunities. Andrew Geddes considers the crucial factor of candidate selection, a factor sometimes described as the main obstacle to black or Asian people wishing to become councillors or MPs.

The final part of the book considers ethnic minority members, activists and candidates. Divisions within the Labour Party during the 1980s over 'Black Sections' and the 1992 controversy of the Conservative Party reaction to John Taylor's candidature in Cheltenham indicate how significant racial and ethnic issues have been to the internal development of the main parties. As several contributors to this text indicate, the repositioning of new Labour is the most obvious example of the manner of the shifting axis of party politics in Britain, changes which make the future position and role of ethnic minorities difficult to predict - this book, however, provides interesting analysis of the background against which such developments will occur.


Mike Rowe, Leicester University



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