Much talk has been had in recent months about the need for the party to broaden its appeal in order to have any chance of winning a majority in 2015 and beyond. Critics would even suggest that this new phase of modernisation within the Conservative party will need more than just another three years. Some Members of Parliament have actually confirmed this idea through the setting up of a group titled ‘2020’.
But I think those critics are wrong. There is enough time to demonstrate we are the party with the right ideas to take the nation forward, but we will need to be more radical. We must break down barriers and perceptions amongst various types of voters, and of course mustn’t forget that there is about 10% of the population that still do not vote for us: ethnic minority voters.
It will become increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to change the attitudes and perceptions of many first-generation ethnic minority members who migrated after the Second World War to help rebuild Britain. They have lived through some of the key moments in Britain’s race relations history, and remember how they were made to feel isolated by various Conservative politicians. Norman Tebiit's cricket test and Enoch Powell’s "rivers of blood speech" are often sited as important events that defined the breakdown of relationship between Conservatives and ethnic minorities.
Conservatives were unwilling to confront accusations of racism and police brutality following the riots of the 1980s. There were also battles with the trade unions and other tensions with working class Britain that would have also impacted black and Asian voters disproportionately – simply because of where they are geographically and socio-economically located. It is therefore unwise to simplify the reasons for a lack of engagement amongst some groups to being mainly causes by two ill-thought statements. There are a number of historical and present issues, mainly but not exclusively class-related, that have resulted in the present state of play.
But all is not lost. There is a new generation of ethnic minority voters that were not around during the 60s, 70s, and were infants during the 80s. They remember little to nothing about Conservatives being in power before 2010, and are still very much open to supporting a party… as long as the policies are in line with their priorities. The Department for Business recently launched a business start-up loan fund for students interested in starting up their own business, and the National Citizen Service is due to be delivered across the country from 2013. Our education reforms are a radical step in the right direction, and we must look forward to seeing how Chris Grayling takes the much-needed reforms within the criminal justice system to the next level. These are key policy reforms that need to be more effectively communicated to all people that traditionally do not vote Tory.
We are a party that now recognises the unique challenges of different communities, but we must go further. For us to truly be seen as a party that desires to have a broad appeal, we must for the first time recognise that deep inequalities still exist within our nation today. We must admit that it is unacceptable for black graduates to be three times more likely to be unemployed upon graduation than their white counterparts. We must not accept the fact that the Bangladeshi community have performed amongst the poorest academically for many years now, and we simply must recognise the disparity in relation to stop and searches amongst ethnic minorities in our cities.
For the Conservative party to take its place as the natural home for many ethnic minority communities we must demonstrate that we understand the challenges that so many of them face today. In my new book ‘Winning the Race’, I speak about my story of how I joined the Conservative party aged 20, just as the economic crisis was beginning to bite. As a young entrepreneur at the time, I could see that there was a need for change. The government is going in the right direction, making tough choices in difficult times, but we must not forget that our modernisation journey is far from complete. I look forward to launching the book at party conference with the Bow Group.