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Black and ethnic minority voters are more actively involved in British political life than has been assumed, but th...
Black and ethnic minority voters are more actively involved in British political life than has been assumed, but their involvement is largely in single-issue campaigns than formal party politics. And that has implications for their political mobilisation by the political parties.

That is a key finding of a new study into ethnic minority participation from the Centre for Urban and Community Research based at Goldsmith's College, University of London and City University, London. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through its Democracy and Participation Programme.

'The presence of increasingly multicultural communities in UK cities poses major challenges for the political parties,' says John Solomos, the report's co-author. 'It has been widely suggested that black and ethnic minority communities are not very active politically. But we found a much wider degree of political involvement. This ranged beyond electoral politics to anti-deportation campaigns, literacy circles and musical cultures, as well as churches and mosques. Any political party seeking to win the support of Britain's ethnic minorities needs to understand this diversity of political participation.'

The research team conducted interviews with political activists in eight different organisations, and with those involved in more formal politics in Birmingham and the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Lewisham for their study.

'Many black and ethnic minority communities have also developed links which differ from the traditional politics of the nation state,' adds Professor Solomos. 'They build shared links with those in other cities to stop racial attacks. There are often important links with their mother countries - with broadcasts from London often seeking to democratise or liberalise practices there. Islam also plays a growing role in mobilising people.

'But such politics is also concerned with issues that matter to them, their friends and their families. There are ca mpaigns for asylum seekers' rights, better housing or voluntary sector funding. Many people choose such campaigns over formal political involvement, because they believe they can have a more relevant impact.'

However although many campaigns see themselves as 'alternative' to mainstream politics, their values and activities meant that they operated not unlike more mainstream organisations.

'Those involved in what they see as an alternative sphere, whether it is through campaign groups or in radical architectural or legal practices, define themselves as not being a part of the institutions of contemporary politics. To an extent, this is a fictitious state, since they have to work with councils, government and state institutions all the time. But there is a fear among some of those working in such environments of becoming too close to formal political institutions.'


1. The report 'Democratic Governance and Ethnic Minority Political Participation in Contemporary Britain' waswritten by Prof J Solomos (City University, London), Prof M Keith, Dr L Back and Dr K Shukra (all Goldsmiths College, University of London).

2. The researchers conducted 200 interviews with activists involved in eight different organisations, as well as 70 interviews each with members of the ethnic minority communities involved in more formal politics in Birmingham, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham.

3. The study is part of a wider Democracy and Participation programme, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The programme director is Professor Paul Whiteley at the University of Essex.

4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests more than £76m every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at

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