In 2001, one in 10 voters in the United Kingdom were members of an ethnic minority; by 2050 the number will have risen to one in five. Put another way, demographic change is set to permanently alter the nature of political power in Britain, as it has already done in the United States.
The potential of changing demographics to permanently alter the balance of political power is at its most evident in the US where the last Republican candidate for the White House, Mitt Romney, lost because his party had little appeal to burgeoning numbers of voters from minority communities.
As in the US, so too in the UK; the demographic make-up of the country and its electorate is changing rapidly.
It is estimated that in Britain there are some 1m first, second and now third generation members of the Caribbean Diaspora, with Jamaica forming the largest grouping. Despite their numbers, most do not actively play a part in the UK-Caribbean relationship and with a few exceptions have taken little interest in the detailed formulation of how political parties and government thinks and acts in relation to the region.
However, there are signs that this is changing among second and third generation professionals in the community who are both British and Caribbean in outlook. These achievers in both the public and private sector do not identify with traditional Diaspora groups and associations, have become a part of the UK mainstream community but have developed an interest in Caribbean social and economic development and want to find a way to become closer.
They are for the most part graduates, upwardly mobile, aspiring and economically and socially well connected in the mainstream community. They do not necessarily see themselves as a part of the broader Caribbean community yet have links with the Caribbean through family and for instance might regard the region as a location for business; a holiday destination in much the same way as they might the Indian Ocean; or somewhere they wish to engage with in other ways.
In some cases they were born and educated initially in the Caribbean but have chosen to live and work in the UK and in every case want direct peer to peer relationships with the region that relate to their professional and personal aspirations.
During the course of 2013, the Jamaica National Building Society successfully held a breakfast meeting in London for this group which included individuals working at high levels in Government, banking, fashion, the legal and other professions who in most cases had never met each other before and who for the most part, have little interest in traditional community matters.
While the importance of this particular part of the Diaspora is widely understood in the US, the implications of this have not been thought through in the United Kingdom.
What ought, however, to dramatically increase awareness were comments made over the Christmas period to political colleagues in the Conservative Party by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. He told them then that the outcome of Britain’s next general election (due in May 2015) could well depend on the voting intentions of minorities in marginal constituencies.
In 2010, the Conservatives managed to obtain only 16 per cent of the minority community vote compared to the opposition Labour Party’s 68 per cent. The likelihood is that the Conservative’s share will fall even lower in the next election. The party has therefore recognised that unless it can bridge this gap, between 10 and 15 of its parliamentary seats are at risk as are their hopes of capturing 10 to 15 other marginals held by Labour.
One consequence which may over time become an existential challenge is that Conservative MPs and candidates are being given advice on how to engage minority communities in a strategy that builds reportedly on the experience of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The UK’s Labour Party, which has to a significant extent taken the votes of the Caribbean and Asian communities for granted, is also gearing up to improve their outreach, is starting to identify the issues that matter to the UK’s Caribbean community, and is considering how best to restore the once close links with the Caribbean and its political support groups resident in the UK.
For the Caribbean, demographic change in North America and in Europe offers an opportunity to modify political positions, if in a well considered manner the region encourages its Diaspora overseas, and in particular its professionals in the community, to engage actively with all political parties and legislators.
This is already an approach taken in Washington by countries like the Dominican Republic and the nations of Latin America, but has so far been conspicuously absent when it come to the countries of CARICOM in both North America and Europe.
Surprisingly, it is still the case that a significant number of Caribbean governments think they should not be seen to be encouraging their community overseas to actively lobby. They regard this, in some old fashioned way, as being seen to interfere in the domestic affairs of another country, irrespective of the fact that it is widely accepted that most nations actively encourage their communities to act in this way.
In suggesting this, the Caribbean has not recognised that this is now, not only the way of the world, but could for a region that has fallen off most nations’ political map, bolster the position of friends in Government and politics in Europe and North America, who despair about how hard it is to achieve progress on Caribbean issues.
Developing a strategy is hardly rocket science. The successful lobby on APD made clear that the Caribbean Community have a role in changing policy when it comes to something that hurts each individual personally through their pocket book.
If individuals or groups willing to play a greater role could be brought together to, for instance, develop policy papers within the context of the countries in which they are citizens, they could have a profound impact on helping develop policy and its formulation for individual Caribbean nations or the region as a whole. In this context, there is a new elite of achievers in ever more senior positions who want to be asked to help.
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at email@example.com