Racism in political parties: Why are some voices not heard?

 By Dr Alan Maddison, January 2021

 JVL introduction

All members of ethnic, religious or other minority groups should feel welcome during party meetings, and complaints of abuse or discrimination dealt with robustly.

It is therefore deeply disturbing that BAME and Muslim members have recently denounced a ‘hierarchy of racism’ in Labour, where they say their complaints are ignored or dismissed in contrast to those relating to antisemitism which are taken seriously.

In this article for JVL Dr Alan Maddison looks at an under-researched area: the comparative prevalence of different forms of racism manifesting during Labour and Conservative party meetings.

His analysis reveals the scale of injustice towards BAME and Muslim party members, with the overwhelming focus on Labour antisemitism not justified, and yet indirectly contributing to the silencing of their legitimate voices of protest.

Alan Maddison writes:

Prejudice towards various ethnic or religious minorities, present in our society, is inevitably and regrettably found in our political parties too.

It is important that this is dealt with effectively so that party members from all minority groups are made welcome, and can help shape policies for our shared and better future.

Yet when it comes to tackling party racisms the voices of those fighting abuse or discrimination against black members seem least audible. As elsewhere, is it that some of those holding white power and privilege, in politics, the media, and the ‘establishment’, feel threatened and do not wish others to hear what these particularly oppressed people might have to say?

Lately, the overwhelming focus of political narratives, media coverage, inquiries and recommendations (Stubbs & Spooner, Home Affairs Committee 2016, the Chakrabarti Enquiry, and the EHRC Report) has been on antisemitism in the Labour Party. Victims from various Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, and from other political parties, seem to have been relatively neglected. Remarkably, no credible evidence has ever been presented to support such an enduring and discriminating selectivity.

In the Labour Party itself, BAME members have protested that whilst allegations of antisemitism are treated seriously, their own complaints of racism (here and here) or Islamophobia have been ignored. They denounce an unacceptable ‘hierarchy of racism’ and have been particularly critical of Keir Starmer.

Conservative Party BAME members have also complained of a widespread racism and Islamophobia which get far less political and media attention, and which the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has so far failed  to investigate.

To better understand the scale of such apparent inequality, I thought it would help to examine available evidence on how much prejudice, abuse or discrimination Jewish, Muslim and BAME members may face when attending meetings in the Labour and Conservative Parties.

Prejudice and political parties

Various societal prejudices and false stereotypes are learnt from childhood from parents, friends, teachers and the media. It is to be expected that some people joining political parties will carry with them such conscious or unconscious prejudice, and some even overt hostility to minority members.

However, there are no published comparative surveys covering the prevalence of racism, Islamophobia or antisemitism for members of political parties, so I have had to go about investigating this issue indirectly.

In Figure 1 we see the shares of the UK population, categorized by voter preference or political profile, admitting to holding negative views about others based on their race or religion.

In each of these three surveys (NatCen Social Research, Pew Research, JPR) there is an increase in negative views towards all three minority groups as we move from left to right or far right on the British political spectrum, and a raised but still much lower dislike of Jewish people.

Some studies suggest that children who are more attracted to adopting false stereotypes that simplify their understanding of a complex world, or feel more threatened by various perceived out-groups, are more likely to vote for right-wing political parties once adult.

Other socio-psychological studies, initiated after the Nazi Holocaust, have shown that certain personality traits, such as Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation, that share a characteristic hostility towards many minority groups including Jewish and black people, are also more common in right-wing voters (here and here).

Some have suggested (without any evidence) that Labour Party members might be more antisemitic than their voters because Jeremy Corbyn had allegedly attracted many antisemites into his party. Evidence suggests otherwise, as shown in surveys in 2017 and 2019, illustrated below.

These findings suggest that Boris Johnson, not Jeremy Corbyn, may have increased the prevalence of antisemitic prejudice in his party.

Others seem to believe that ‘very-left wingers’ are more often ‘antisemitic’. The evidence in the above survey suggests this is false: ‘very left wing Corbyn supporters’ endorsed on average only 0.44 of the five ‘antisemitic statements’, compared with 0.82 for ‘centrists’ and 1.08 for Boris Johnson supporters.

In the absence of more specific comparative data for party members, it seems reasonable to work on the assumption that prevalences of animosity towards BAME, Muslim and Jewish people will be similar to those found in members of the public who share the same political affiliation, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Relative risks for encountering prejudice during party meetings

Individual risks for each minority member

In order to translate the Figure 1 animosity data into real-life situations we can transpose them onto a meeting of say 100 members for both major political parties.  Most local party meetings will involve fewer than 100 participants of course, but the same dynamics will apply. In Figure 3 we can better appreciate the relative risks for a BAME, Muslim or Jewish member meeting another party member who may dislike them, based purely on their race or religion.

Always assuming that party members are generally representative of members of the public as a whole, in an average Conservative meeting of 100 members there will 33 who dislike BAME or Muslim individuals, and around 6 who dislike Jewish members.

In a similar Labour Party meeting there would be fewer of both, 18 members who dislike BAME or Muslim individuals and around 4 who dislike Jewish members.

Of course, minority group members entering such meetings are very unlikely to have any communication with all of those who are prejudiced towards them, and even when they do meet or exchange views with some, that animosity might or might not be expressed.

Nevertheless, a BAME or Muslim member will face potential discrimination or abuse 5-6 times more often than a Jewish member during meetings of both parties.

In contrast to the media noise, this does suggest that all minorities should feel more welcome or ‘safer’ attending Labour Party meetings than Conservative ones.

Collective risks for each minority group

To assess the scale of the collective risks for potential abuse and discrimination for each minority group as a whole, requires us to take into consideration the number of BAME, Muslim and Jewish members attending such meetings.

In a large survey of party members in 2017 it was reported that 4% of Labour members and 3% of Conservative members were from BAME communities, and extrapolating from the 2011 Census about one third of these would probably be Muslim. There are no reliable data on the number of Jewish party members, but an estimate of 0.5% in line with the general UK population share seems reasonable.

So in our Figure 3, in meetings of 100 members there would be approximately 3-4 BAME members, 1 Muslim member, and 1 Jewish member at every other meeting. (These  are national averages; there will of course be considerable variation according to geographical locations.)

An estimate of the maximum collective risk, where every minority member is involved in an exchange with every single member with animosity towards them, and that animosity is expressed, is shown below.

At the extremes, the highest collective risk faced is for BAME members in the Conservative Party and the lowest for Jewish members in the Labour Party. We see that compared with Jewish groups the potential for abusive incidents is slightly over 30 and 10 times higher for the BAME and Muslim groups respectively, and always greatest in the Conservative party meetings.

Although manifestations of animosity toward each minority may vary over time, it is reasonable to expect a correlation between actual number of incidents of discrimination or abuse for each minority group during party meetings and the estimates of the potential maximum risk illustrated in Figure 4.

Reported complaints about incidents duringLabour Party meetings

Manifestations of such animosities or prejudices held are hopefully infrequent. They may vary over time, triggered by certain events or by topics being discussed, such as immigration, Brexit, terrorism, Gaza hostilities, or the Labour antisemitism campaign.

Some members’ comments may be motivated by a dislike for victim groups or by a more benign prejudice borne of ignorance. They may even be innocent yet cause a mistaken perception on the part of the victim.

The number of complaints lodged should still provide some indication of how often manifestations of animosity occur for each minority.

Only the Labour Party has published data on complaints and these only for antisemitism. The latest published figures covered 1201 cases, a maximum of 0.24% Labour Party members taken through the disciplinary process i.e. following a complaint there being judged to be a case to answer. We are informed that the ‘vast majority’ of antisemitism complaints were not submitted by Jewish victims themselves but by people conducting social media trawls. There was no information on how many incidents took place during party meetings

However, the leaked Labour report provided details of 143 cases, albeit probably the most serious ones. From these we can extrapolate that of the 1201 total cases about 30 may have taken place during Labour Party meetings.

Recently the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) published a survey (6) of 422 Muslim Labour members, officials or supporters, undertaken between July and August 2020. Of these 29% reported having experienced Islamophobic incidents, most of these happening during Labour Party meetings. Only 18% were reported. Extrapolating the findings of this survey to the estimated 8,000 Muslim Labour members we should have had 320 reported complaints of Islamophobia occurring during Labour Party meetings.

There is no publicly available quantitative data on complaints of Labour Party racism for the 22,000 BAME members. Yet given the size of this group is does seem important to attempt to provide some estimate even if approximate. The latest Home Office crime survey data revealed that around 0.9% of BAME individuals experienced a racist incident over the previous 12 months, slightly – higher than the 0.8% of Muslims experiencing an incident motivated by Islamophobia. If we apply this ratio to the 320 Islamophobia complaints from 8,000 Muslim Labour members, then upscale to the 22,000 BAME members we reach a total of around 1,000 racist incidents.


In Figure 5 below we see the estimates for reported complaints for each minority.

According to these estimates of incidents occurring during Labour Party meetings, for every antisemitism complaint, there should have been 11 complaints for Islamophobia and 33 for anti-black racism. In fact, these complaint ratios are very close to those for the relative collective risk estimates as shown in Figure 4, suggesting a similar level of prejudice manifestations for each minority.

Most incidents are probably not reported, so if we apply the LMN 18% reporting rate to the antisemitism complaints we can estimate a total of reported and unreported incidents of 5,500 for BAME members, 1,800 for Muslim members and 170 for Jewish members.

This would mean around 25% of BAME, 23% of Muslim and 7% of Jewish Labour members experienced an incident considered prejudicial (not necessarily hateful) during a party meeting, probably over several years, but fewer than one in five of these would have attempted to lodge a complaint.

Overcoming the unacceptable hierarchy of racism

This analysis demonstrates the relative scale of party meeting animosity faced by members from each minority. It clearly reveals the extent to which the overwhelming focus on Labour antisemitism is in no way justified.

Such a focus distracts from far greater suffering of BAME and Muslim members in both parties, and indirectly contributes to the silencing of their voices of protest.

It helps the Conservative Party, where animosity against all three minorities will be greatest, avoid necessary scrutiny and implementation of remedial actions.

The relentless focus on left-wing supporters of Corbyn, shown to have the lowest measure of antisemitic prejudice, also places Jewish members at risk. It ignores the supporters of Johnson, right-wingers and centrists in both parties, where antisemitic prejudice may be more than double.

The previously denounced hierarchy of racism is not only unacceptable, given the damage it must cause to the genuine campaigns to make political party meetings a welcome space for all, it is shameful.

To overcome this unacceptable ‘hierarchy of racism’ we need to appreciate the underlying mechanisms.

The repeated claims of widespread Labour antisemitism (a ‘cess-pit of antisemitism’, ‘infested with Jew-haters’) were never supported by any credible evidence and were in conflict with reports from formal inquiries (Home Affairs Committee, Chakrabarti).

Given the data this was less an attack on antisemitism as such, more a political attack on Corbyn’s Labour Party and the integrity of its over 500,000 members.

Jamie Stern-Weiner considered the exaggerations of Labour antisemitism were initially part of a global campaign to silence any criticism of Israel or support for equal rights for Palestinians. Then the ‘smear campaign’ was weaponised by anti-Corbyn MP’s and Labour staffers, as alleged in the leaked Labour report, to prevent him ever becoming Prime Minister. This was a goal shared with the Conservative establishment.

The consequences of this manufactured Labour antisemitism campaign include a betrayal of other minorities. It helped deprive them of the attention they deserve within and outside their party, distracting from their voice, and producing an unacceptable hierarchy of racism.

It also helped deprive BAME minorities of the election as prime minister of the anti-racist leader for whom they voted massively, silencing their democratic voice too.

Sadly, Keir Starmer seems to have continued this factional weaponising from the Labour right, and the prioritisation of antisemitism, in order to undermine Jeremy Corby further and to suspend or purge left-wing members. The fact that Jewish Labour members who support equal rights for Palestinians have been investigated  for alleged antisemitism 10 times more often than non-Jewish members shows that such a  divisive campaign has little to do with making Jewish members more welcome in Labour! Even the voices of left-wing Jewish members are being silenced!

Keir Starmer was also criticised for not dealing adequately with apparent and appalling Labour staffer racism exposed in the leaked Labour report, in stark contrast to his words and actions on alleged antisemitism. There was concern when Keir Starmer described the ‘ Black Lives Matter’ movement as “a moment”, when discrimination against black people, even today in the UK sometimes leading to disproportionately high levels of death, is a struggle they have endured for centuries. In the LMN survey over half Labour’s Muslim members had no confidence in Keir Starmer to resolve the unacceptable and continuing ‘hierarchy of racism’.

The intensification of this politically manufactured Labour antisemitism campaign, continues to distract from the plight of BAME and Muslim members facing most abuse and discrimination. The ‘noise’, like a hand or mask over the mouth, has rendered almost inaudible their voices in both Labour and Conservative parties.

On the Conservative side things look no better. They have been criticised in two UN reports (here and here) for their policies that discriminate against immigrants as well as BAME and Muslim communities. They exploit racism and antisemitism to divide and rule, and so they are unlikely to be serious in challenging high levels of prejudice amongst their own members.

If this wasn’t depressing enough, in a recent parliamentary report it was stated that the Equity and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was unfit for purpose in protecting black communities from the decades of discrimination inflicted on them by such governmental and institutional racial prejudice. The report’s authors concluded that there was now no strong organisational voice to defend BAME communities.

Faced with such a damaging ‘hierarchy of racism’, unable to depend on Leaders of either party, nor the EHRC, the time has perhaps come for all minority group members and anti-racists to unite across all political parties. Those of good faith outnumber by far the political manipulators who would silence the oppressed in order to hold onto their own power and privilege.

A transparent and fair complaints system is needed for all minorities in all political parties, and an apolitical education on all racisms for members.

It is vital to be inclusive, to tackle the common roots of all forms of ‘otherisms’ where they develop and are exploited, namely in wider society.

We need to come together to make all political parties a welcome space for all, to help provide the political changes so desperately needed in society, and liberate the voices that for too long have been suppressed.



Comments (10)

  • Jan Brooker says:

    It would be interesting to find out the *BAME* representation amongst Labour Party staff. We seem to have White, mainly male, staff accusing Black people of racism. Marc Wadsworth, Jacqui Walker as prime examples. My partner, a proud Black African woman, had 4 AS and racism charges from the LP after a line-and-a-half comment on a Jacqui Walker post – alluding to the Maafa [African Holocaust] ~ the mere mention of which (according to one charge) *belittles* the (Nazi) Holocaust*. Heirarchy of racism indeed; Black members are not even allowed to talk about their own history, in the Labour Party. To me, that makes the LP main structures now openly racist towards its own Black members, a fairly natural follow-on from the Leadership’s, now open, support for Zionism ~ and its implementation in apartheid Israel.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Excellent article but I am worried by the choice of picture .

  • David Townsend says:

    Dr Maddison’s research is presented in a very coherent, and damning, report. It should be required reading for Starmer, every Labour MP and official, and, indeed, every politician and journalist throughout the UK.

    It should also raise serious questions as to why antisemitism in Labour was singled out by the EHRC for investigation.

  • More excellent analysis from Alan Maddison

  • John Bowley says:

    The worst forms of racism, which apply to highest numbers of our members, are being suppressed by the new Labour Party hierarchy under Keir Starmer.

  • Carol Taylor-Spedding says:

    Excellent analysis telling the truth.

  • Philip Ward says:

    My question is whether the proportion of Jews in the LP really does match the proportion in Britain as a whole – at around 0.5%, a figure presumably derived from the census or similar. The proportion of Jews who vote Labour is only around 15-20%, so I presume that is partly reflected in the number who are members. If it was directly, then only there would only be 500 Jewish people in the LP. Possibly having regard to the left having a history of stronger commitment to activism might raise that to 1000 or 1500. This would also suggest that a much larger proportion of these are antizionist than amongst British Jews as a whole. A lot of us are quite old as well, and reflect a time when British Jews were generally more left-wing.

    Alan takes trouble to say that fake antisemitism allegations are mixed up in the complaints numbers in the LP, but still uses that data for his estimate of antisemitic incidents occurring at LP meetings. That’s fair enough, given the lack of information we have, but it does mean he is over-estimating the problem in the LP.

    It is also the case that the survey he links to includes a statement about Israel and “Jewish loyalty” in its five antisemitic remarks (“Having a connection to Israel makes Jewish people less loyal to Britain than other British people”). OK, the “correct” answer is no, because it is based on a stereotype (and anyhow, no-one could be “less loyal to Britain” than me and I have no “connection to Israel”, despite being Jewish), but a non-racist person not fully understanding issues related to zionism and nationalism I think could be pretty stumped by that question.

    So, the gap between the amount of antisemitism and racism or islamophobia in the LP is even greater than Alan estimates.

  • Ian Saville says:

    Thanks for this compelling piece of research and analysis. Can you give a reference for the contention that Jewish members are 10 times more likely than non Jewish to be disciplined for antisemitism?

  • Angie Hudson says:

    The ethnic group that is never mentioned and is the most marginalised and suffers the most discrimination is Gypsys, Travellers and Roma. They have no representation, no voice. Their presence in an area provokes hate and shocking abuse. But there are no votes to be had in highlight their plight.

  • Dr ALAN MADDISON says:

    Thanks for all your feedback and comments. I’ll try to address some here.
    1. For the Jewish Labour membership I did take advice from JVL officers. The JLM say they had 2500 Jewish members, but I’m not sure they are all Jewish or Labour members as claimed. We estimated around 1000 Jewish Labour members may be left-wing. Because these are informed guestimates it seemed more credible to go for the population share as our guide. Phil makes a point we considered too, that Jewish people are often more active in politics which may balance the low voting share for Labour. Any error in our estimate will not affect complaints data, but will influence the collective risk and pro rata figures. Hence the repeated use of ‘estimates’.

    2. The prevalence of antisemitism was taken as 5% based on responses to the question about ‘favourable or unfavourable views about Jews’ as reported by JPR. The endorsements of ‘antisemitic’ statements, even if disputed, was only applied for the distribution of ‘antisemitism’ across the political spectrum.

    3. The reference for the 10 fold greater investigation of Left-wing Jewish members is a Morningstar article reporting 35 cases. Taking our left-wing Labour Jewish population as 1000, this is 3.5%. The published complaints for Labour antisemitism was 0.24% to end 2019. So the10 fold estimate seems reasonable, perhaps conservative.

    4. It is true that surveys indicate that ‘Gypsy Travellers Roma’ suffer more prejudice than many other minorities, but as with LGBT, Disabled and many minorities I had to content myself with a reference to ‘all victims of otherisms’. I was tempted to add abuse towards women too.

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