Dr Alan Maddison, April 2018
There is a saying “If you don’t know where you’re going – any road will take you there”. As a strategist I find this helpful as people often lose sight of their objectives when discussing strategic options or plans.
Of course the phrase can be applied to many situations, including those involving political choices.
For instance, many of us want to “go” to a fairer society where equal rights and opportunities are respected whatever our sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or class.
Sadly we still have a long way to go to reduce related prejudices in society, so we may be asking which political party is most likely to move us furthest down this road to equality in the future.
Before starting any journey it is good to know where you are now. So let’s look at one important aspect, namely, how each political major party stands on the racial prejudice of its voters.
1. Conservative voters have led the way on racial prejudice for over 30 years
An indication of this is provided by the British Social Attitudes & NatCen surveys (1). Published since 1983, these studies have shown racial prejudice to be consistently higher in those voting Conservative rather than LibDem or Labour, as illustrated below.
It has to be said that these figures will underestimate true racial prejudice as some people are unprepared to admit their prejudice before others (social desirability bias), and some will not even be aware they are prejudiced (unconscious racial prejudice). So such findings are of concern across the political spectrum, but especially on the right where racial prejudice is more prevalent.
Other studies have shown a variation in relative prejudice for different ethnic minorities (2). For instance, in one study (3) negative views about Muslims (28%) were four times more prevalent than those about Jewish people (7%). However, for all ethnic minority groups we find greater prejudice on the right than left of politics (2, 4).
Looking at this, we may question whether some prejudiced voters may be attracted to the Conservative Party because its policies correspond best to their own values on race, or do Conservative Governments select their policies to satisfy the more prevalent racial prejudice in their voters?
To help answer that question, and also discover which political party members we can best trust to reduce prejudice in society, it is important to know the views of the thousands of members of each political party. These party members, including MPs, can help in the selection of their party policies and the priorities determined.
In January 2018, Tim Bale et al. published an article entitled “Britain’s party members: who they are, what they think, and what they do “(5). This was a survey of over 4000 ordinary members of the four main political parties, undertaken in June, 2017. It provides an interesting insight into their views which are pertinent to their preferences about future policies on prejudice and equality in our society.
2. Conservative Party members had more negative views on Immigration
In Tim Bale’s study (5), one thousand members of each political party (Conservative, Labour, LibDem and SNP) were asked to score the effect they felt immigration had on the British economy, and then on British cultural life. The average scores for these two questions are given below, as illustrated in the original publication.
The views of Conservative Party members were visibly more negative on the impact of immigration on the economy than members from all other parties.
The differences in views on the impact of immigration on British cultural life were even more marked, with the average score of Conservative Party members alone shifting further away from those of other parties and into negative territory.
What is noticeable is how isolated Conservative party members were in their views. A correlation between such negative scores on immigration and racial prejudice, has been reported in the previously mentioned BSA NatCen surveys (1).
These distinctive results for Conservative Party members are especially worrying when we consider that 78% of hate crimes are motivated by racial prejudice, and the role of Government and their Party is essential in fighting such abuse that cause millions of ethnic minorities to live in fear and anxiety. In contrast, views on immigration for all other party members, including Labour, are reassuring, and correlate with their having far less racial prejudice, as found with voters earlier.
3. Conservative Party members were far less inclined to want more MPs from already under-represented groups
In another part of this survey, the 4000 party members were asked about what sort of people they would like to see as their party MPs in the future.
It might be helpful to give context to this question by examining the groups that are already under-represented in Parliament today. The current composition of the Labour and Conservative Parties, as measured against the population itself, is illustrated below (6).
We see that the Labour Party is far closer to having MPs representative of our wider UK population (shown in green) than the Conservative Party.
The main groups significantly under-represented as Conservative MPs include women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and Muslims. In all of these groups, the Conservative party trails the Labour Party significantly.
I could find no data about working class composition of each parliamentary party, but it is likely that with 45% of their MPs privately educated, compared with only 7% in the general population, the Conservatives have by far the most corrective work to do!
Despite this more marked under-representation of MPs across many groups, the Conservative Party members were the most reluctant to take remedial action, as shown below in an illustration from the Tim Bale study (5).
It seems probable that this relative refusal of Conservative Party members, to have even “slightly more” MPs from under-represented groups, reflects a significant prejudice against women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, LGBT, the working classes and even the young.
Despite having more MPs from these groups, the Labour Party members had a far stronger desire to increase representation for all them. Labour gave the highest score of all parties concerning women, working class, LGBT and those with disabilities. The last group is possibly the most under-represented as Labour MPs so it was good that over 80% of Labour members wanted to correct this, compared with less than 40% of Conservative Party members.
Once more Conservative members were very isolated in their views from the views of all those members from the Labour Party, the LibDem Party or the SNP Party.
4. In order to help reduce prejudice in our society, Labour Party members seem to be far more trustworthy than members of the Conservative Party
Earlier we asked which was the best political party to choose in order to help reduce prejudice in our British society and which party members can we best trust to help move us towards a fairer society where equal rights and opportunities are respected whatever our sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or class?
According to the Bale study results (5), we can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, best trust the Conservative Party members to help reduce prejudice in society, as they have significantly more prejudice than Labour Party members and those from the LibDem and SNP Parties too. This concerns not just racial but all other forms of prejudice against women, the disabled, LGBT, the working classes and even the young.
The Conservative Government has been publicly criticised by representatives of the United Nations as having violated the human rights of disabled people (7). Right-wing politicians and media have also been criticised for relentlessly inciting hostility towards EU immigrants and Muslims (7). The worrying findings of the Bale survey help us to see that Conservative Party members themselves would probably encourage a continuation of such divisive policies.
The Labour Party, especially under Corbyn’s leadership, has strongly opposed all prejudice and discrimination directed against vulnerable or minority groups, and promoted a fairer and more equal society. In this survey we discover that Labour Party members would support and encourage these more progressive and inclusive policies.
Members of the LibDem and SNP parties also demonstrated far less prejudice than those found in Conservative members, but their parties are less likely to form a UK Government.
It was felt that this study might answer the question about whether the Conservatives were simply catering to the racial prejudice in some of their voters, or following their own views. Given these rather chilling findings it seems they are doing the latter.
There is too much prejudice in our society across the whole political spectrum, even if much higher on the right. We could start to tackle this by ensuring that political narratives and media coverage, especially on the right, were not used to scapegoat minorities for failed policies, nor to demonize them, ina divisive attempt to set one community against another.
Unfortunately, social studies indicate there are no quick fixes for debunking false stereotypes or reducing the prejudices we have developed over years. Any effective programme has to be designed and implemented for the longer term, with particular attention given to education and the social environment in which children develop. The Labour Party and its members seem better equipped for this task given views expressed in the survey, and their greater reach into our community.
But reducing prejudice is not just about improving the lives of those who are unfairly abused or discriminated against on a daily basis. Widespread discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, the disabled etc., deprives our society of access to some of the best talents available. Reducing prejudice and associated discrimination, and providing equal opportunities, will help us optimise the employment of ALL talents in society, and that will improve our economy too, so enriching us all, in more ways than one.
In the BSA survey (1) they stated that “Being male, a Conservative party supporter and a Leave voter are all associated with a higher likelihood of an individual describing themselves as racially prejudiced.” One conclusion is that the quickest way to have less prejudice and discrimination in society, more unity, harmony and economic productivity, and better representation in Parliament, is to simply have fewer Conservative MPs.
Racial prejudice in Britain today Nancy Kellet, Dr Omar Khan, Sarah Sharrock NatCen Social Research, September 2017
Prejudice in Britain: explore the data, YouGov, December 14 2015
Europeans Fear Wave of Refugees Will Mean More Terrorism, Fewer Jobs, Richard Wike, Bruce Stokes and Katie Simmons, July 11, 2016
Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain, L Daniel Staetsky, Institute for Jewish Policy Research, September 2017
Britain’s party members: who they are, what they think, and what they do. Tim Bale, Paul Webb & Monica Poletti, Grassroots, Mile End Institute, January 2018
Party politics let down the victims of hate crime and anti-Semitism, A Maddison, Politicalsift, November 1, 2016.