POLITICS
11/09/2019 17:24 BST | Updated 12/09/2019 06:40 BST

Tory MPs 'Less Likely' To Help Black People Register To Vote, Study Suggests

Exclusive: UCL finds white people are more likely to receive a response from their MP, and Conservatives are worse at replying than others.

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The Houses of Parliament. 

Black African Britons seeking to register to vote are less likely than white people to get help from their local MP - particularly Tory MPs - a newly-released academic study has suggested.

The finding, included in a new book ‘Sex, Lies And Politics’, emerged as Jeremy Corbyn called on Wednesday for a nationwide registration effort ahead of a possible snap general election.

In an extract shared with HuffPost UK ahead of publication this week, UCL’s Rebecca McKee explained how she ran an experiment in the run-up to the 2015 election to discover just how well MPs engaged with constituents.

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Amid concerns that new voter registration requirements could see millions of people left off the electoral roll, McKee sent emails to MPs from a ‘constituent’ who had recently moved to the area, wanted to register to vote and requested information on how best to do it.

Overall, the response rate was impressive, with 89% of emails generating a response, with 70% coming back within a day.

Some directed the constituent to the official websites or council registration helplines, although one MP simply suggested that they ‘Google it’.

But in an effort to test for racial bias, McKee sent two types of email, one with a typically white surname and one with a typical Nigerian surname.

She found that the black African constituent was less likely to receive a response than their white counterpart, by just over 3 percentage points (203 responses to 211 responses).

This difference rose to just over 6 percentage points for Conservative MPs. Some 46.7% of them responded to the ‘Nigerian’ constituent, compared to a 53.3% response rate to the ‘white’ one.

The black African constituent was also less likely to be directed to one of the main registration websites, by 5 percentage points. And they were twice as likely as the White British constituent receive no contact information at all.

Beyond response rates, the replies the Nigerian constituent received were only about half as likely to include an explicit ‘welcome’ to the constituency as those to the White British constituent.

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Jeremy Corbyn and shadow women and equalities secretary Dawn Butler

The emails were sent only to MPs in constituencies where ethnic minorities comprised at least 2.5% of the population. Moreover, BAME MPs were no more likely to respond to the black African constituent.

McKee said that similar experiments on politicians’ responsiveness in other countries have found evidence of racial bias. One study found that US state legislators were less responsive to African American constituents.

A study in China found that someone requesting information for welfare payments was significantly less likely to receive a reply if they had a Muslim name. In Germany, public servants receiving requests for welfare services were less responsive to ethnic minority applicants.

McKee said: “On one level, voters should be reassured by these findings. MPs will respond to them when they have an issue, and most will do so very quickly. That is more than can be said for many other public services. And in most cases the responses will be useful.

“But there is also cause for concern, because those in the population who are often the most disengaged from the political process, and who have little faith in their MP, are also the least likely to get help when they need it.”

Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities secretary, said: “The right to engage in political life and vote is a right afforded to every citizen in the UK. MPs have a duty to support all members of their community, regardless of their background.

“BAME voter registration is a priority for Labour. The Electoral Commission has estimated that 24% of black voters and 20% of Asian voters are not registered in the UK, but they have suffered sustained negative consequences of this Tory Government.

“By contrast, Labour’s radical agenda will tackle the deep racism that still exists throughout our society.”

More than a million people have registered to vote since Boris Johnson took office this summer, with more signing up every week amid speculation of a snap election.

Sir Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, said: “It’s hard enough to get Black British Africans and Caribbeans to register to vote, precisely because some feel the political system is working against them, not for them.

“And in many ways this research proves them right. In the next few weeks OBV will be launching the biggest ever voter registration campaign to politically empower BME communities.”

Speaking ahead of a visit to the Midlands, Corbyn claimed that the Tories at the last election failed to use any social media channels to encourage voter registration.

He also pointed to a recent Times story that suggested No.10 advisers spoke of an October election making it less likely students would vote because many were in new accommodation.

“Boris Johnson and his wealthy friends don’t want people to register to vote because they are scared of the people coming together to take on the born-to-rule establishment,” Corbyn said.

The Conservative party failed to respond to requests for a comment. 

Sex, Lies and Politics, edited by Philip Cowley and Rob Ford, is published by Biteback.

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