Posted on July 5, 2024

UK’s New Parliament Most Diverse Ever — But Not at the Top

Siraj Datoo, Bloomberg, July 5, 2024

British voters elected the largest ever number of ethnic minority MPs to the House of Commons on Thursday, a reflection of more minorities becoming involved in politics as well as political parties seeking to reflect the people they represent.

More than 13% of the new parliament come from an ethnic minority background, according to an analysis by the British Future think tank, an increase from 10% in 2019. More broadly, 18% of the British population belongs to a non-White ethnic group, according to 2021 census data.

Yet while 66 out of 87 of these MPs will represent Labour, that same level of diversity is unlikely to be seen in Keir Starmer’s cabinet, expected to be announced on Friday.

Newly elected prime ministers have typically appointed their frontbench — key spokespeople — to the cabinet. If Starmer follows suit, then three cabinet ministers out of 31 will come from an ethnic minority background. Thangam Debonnaire was also expected to be part of the top team but failed to win her election campaign.

That’s fewer than were in former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet and it is a smaller proportion of the larger diverse Parliament. Just one of them will hold a key post, in contrast to previous Conservative cabinets in which the most senior roles — the premier, chancellor, home secretary and foreign secretary — were all held by people from minority backgrounds for the first time, with at least two in those jobs since July 2019.

To be sure, Starmer’s top team used to feature more ethnic minority MPs but three left the shadow cabinet in November, along with seven others, to vote for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. The fact the party had a more diverse candidate list, and now more MPs, is largely attributed to it having more diverse members.

“Ethnic minority representation is a new norm in British politics,” said Sunder Katwala, director of British Future. “Many will be surprised to recall that when Labour was last elected in 1997 it was with an all-White cabinet — it took another five years before Paul Boating became the first Black cabinet minister.”