Published:


Uppal PaulPaul Uppal is MP for Wolverhampton South-West. Follow Paul on Twitter.

As a
Party, we need to address our underperformance in urban areas.
Whilst much of it has been attributed to our image with
working class inner city voters, a new study suggests that our results with
ethnic minority voters has also played a significant role.

A
recent major study, the Ethnic Minority British Election Study (EMBES),
published by the Runnymede Trust shows that at the 2010 General Election only
16 per cent of ethnic minorities voted Conservative. We must increase ethnic minority
voting for the Conservative Party, if we are to win in urban areas and adapt to
the changing face of Britain. In 2005, David Cameron’s first conference speech
as leader highlighted this issue by saying what we need is “fundamental change
… that shows we're comfortable with modern Britain and that we believe our
best days lie ahead".

This
message is as true today as we sit in a coalition government and as we’re
recovering from electoral defeat. If it wants to become a strong electoral
force in this modern Britain, the Conservative Party must be willing to change
and listen. Whilst Britain has changed over the past decade, the non-white
British population has grown from 6.6 million in 2001 to 9.1 million in 2009 – or nearly one
in six people – the Conservative Party has been too slow to adapt.


Whilst
working harder to change the image of the Party – which too often is seen as one that only represents the
rich – it is key to reach working class voters. It is noticeable that the
Runnymede Trust study shows that class is not a major factor in voting behaviour of
ethnic minorities. Data shows that they are likely to vote
Labour regardless of their class.

It
may seem that we have a mountain to climb, but I think we can be encouraged by
what the Canadian Conservatives have achieved in transforming their success
with BME voters. The Canadian Conservative Party achieved a landslide in 2011, whilst also significantly increasing their appeal to ‘new Canadians’. In
2000, the Liberal Party had a 60 point lead with ‘new Canadians’. At the 2011
election, the Canadian Conservative Party turned this around to take a 20 point
lead with ‘new Canadian voters’. Whilst I acknowledge every country is
different, I think we can be encouraged by their success and also learn some
lessons.

I
disagree with some who would say our message needs changing; the barrier is
largely one of perception of the party. This is the barrier we need to break
down before we can realistically expect to significantly change our electoral
success amongst the BME population. Disappointingly, studies such as Lord Ashcroft’s
‘Degrees of separation’
have shown that one of the main drivers for not voting
Conservative amongst BME communities is the perception that the Party is
hostile towards black and ethnic minorities and does not care about them. I
find this very disappointing, as this is not the Party I see today. Whilst we
can’t change history and what has gone before, we can change perceptions. The
Prime Minister has done a lot to revitalise and grow the modern Conservative
Party.  It is clear that a lot more needs to be done to relay this to the
voters.

If
the Conservative Party isn’t engaging with BME voters, if councillors and MPs
aren’t attending celebrations at the mosques or temples and visiting community
initiatives, and if senior politicians aren’t recognising cultural events or
being seen in the BME media, then this message will continue to not reach BME
voters. Our absence allows Labour, in addition to other groups, to define us to
BME communities, entrenching negative perceptions further. To change
perceptions, we need to be engaged and visible from the grassroots to the top.

Better
awareness and better engagement are key, but as Baroness Warsi has said, "We
won’t win hearts and minds overnight".  This cannot just be a strategy for
2015, but a long term process that becomes part of our ethos. Superficial
efforts near an election won’t change longstanding perceptions, and they might
create cynicism about our motivations. It’s important we grasp the importance
of this now and are consistent with delivering the change. This is not just a
message to be taken on by BME MPs or candidates with marginal seats or seats
with a high BME population. If our strategy is to be effective and to be
lasting, it needs everyone from the Conservative Future, local Associations,
MPs in safe seats and senior politicians.

What
was demonstrated in Canada was a deliberate strategy to deliver on the issues
that mattered to BME communities. Politicians went out into these communities,
listened and then responded. In raising issues, such as the searching of Sikh
turbans at airports and the theft of Asian jewellery, the Conservative Party
can mimic the strategy employed by the Canadian Conservatives and deliver a
message that resonates with BME communities in the UK.

If
we can break through the barriers created by perception and history, I believe
we will see success as our message is one that will resonate with many BME
voters.  Whilst I certainly do not think BME voters can be seen as one
homogenous group, many people from BME communities would be considered to be
conservative in their values. As Katharine Birbalsingh wrote in The Daily Telegraph,
“It is difficult to talk about ‘ethnic minorities’ since they come in all sorts
of shapes and sizes, classes, religions, interests and motivations. But there
is one thing, more often than not, that they have in common: ethnic minorities
tend to be conservative with a small C”.

Our
message is not a difficult one, but perhaps we need to speak up our values
more, rather than allowing Labour to flood our message as being one of
unfairness’. At our core, we are a Party that stands for
justice, personal responsibility, strong families and aspiration. Whilst tackling
the deficit has rightly taken precedent since our election in the years leading
up to 2015, we must ensure that we are talking up Conservative values and
bringing policies that support and reflect them, ensuring voters feel they can
identify with us.

Breaking
down the barriers created by perception and history is a long term task. There
is no single reason why BME communities are resistant to voting Conservative,
and there is no single message or approach that will remedy this. The facts are
simple though; without the increased support of BME communities, it is
difficult to imagine a Conservative government, governing on its own. 
With simple steps and a genuine commitment, I do believe this future is not
inevitable. Once we have broken down these barriers, the rest is simple, be
careful in our language and strong with our message.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.