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Black Londoners remain under-represented in local government, according to new study

A new study from Queen Mary University of London has shown that London’s Black population remains under-represented in local government in London.

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The research, Getting better, slowly. Ethnicity, gender and party in London’s local government, published in Political Quarterly, found that, unlike London’s Black population, the capital’s Asian population is now represented proportionately overall.

The research also finds a clear advance in Black and Asian representation across London since the 1990s; after the 2018 elections, 26 per cent of London councillors are Black or Asian.

White Londoners over-represented

Compared to the broader population, the research finds that London’s White populations is over-represented in council chambers by more than 15 percentage points.

Asian councillors are now present in roughly the same proportions as in the city’s population as a whole, while Black council representation remains at almost six percentage points below the wider population.

London’s large variations

Ethnic representation varies enormously between the different London boroughs with large disparities between Black and Asian representation.

The proportion of Black and Asian councillors ranged from 3.3 per cent in Bromley to 63.3 per cent in Newham. While much of this can be explained by the different demographics of the boroughs, some council chambers are much less representative than others: Asians were underrepresented in 20 councils and Black Londoners in 28, out of a total of 32 in total in London.

The research also found important differences in the gender representation of different groups. White and Asian men were over-represented in London councils by 15.2 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively, while White women were represented proportionally.

Black men were the least represented group (at -3.3 percentage points) while Black women and Asian women are also under-represented (by -2.3 and -2.2 respectively) Black women were the only group to see better representation than their male counterparts. 

Variations by political party

Queen Mary’s study also showed clear differences in representation between the main political parties: 90 per cent of Conservative councillors are White; in the whole of London in 2018 there were just four Black Conservative councillors. In comparison, 61 per cent of Labour councillors are White. 

Mercy Muroki, Researcher at Queen Mary’s Mile End Institute said: “The under-representation of groups in local government matters both in its own right and because local government is an important pathway to national office. If we want to see a more representative parliament, we need to see more representative local government.”

Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations said: “Lots of research looks at gender and ethnicity separately, but this shows how important it is to look at the two together. London’s local government has a real problem with the representation of three particular groups – Asian women, Black women and Black men.”

The study is one of the few to focus specifically on representation in local government. Existing studies of ethnic representation in London are now over 20 years old. 

More information

The research paper, Getting better, slowly. Ethnicity, gender and party in London’s local government by Mercy Muroki and Philip Cowley is published in Political Quarterly.

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