Nick Viner has recently been appointed as the Director of Conservative Friends of Pakistan and is based at CCHQ.
Conservative Friends of Pakistan (CFoP) has a crystal clear mission statement in seeking to build a stronger, wider and deeper relationship between the Conservative Party, Pakistan and the British Pakistani community. CFoP is a working example of the progressive nature of the modern Conservative Party. Furthermore its existence shines through as evidence that the Party is clearly focussed upon winning the next General Election whilst also cementing our important relationship with Pakistan; a country that Britain values as a close partner on the world stage.
In organisational terms, with the recent appointment of Alok Sharma MP as Vice Chair of the Party with responsibility for BME communities we are sending a clear message in terms of the direction the Party is set towards. It is groups such as CFoP that are significant in making sure the Party’s message is heard and understood in those communities Conservatives have too often left untouched.
There is no getting away from the fact that we face an uphill struggle. The Conservative Party won a thoroughly underwhelming 13% of the British Pakistani vote back in 2010, with the Labour Party gaining a somewhat unsurprising 60% of the vote. CFoP exists to bridge that gap and to do that we need to re-focus on those issues that matter to the British Pakistani community. This is not going to be accomplished overnight but we are clear that through a programme of engagement and action at a local level we can truly be seen to be the Party that is naturally representative of this community. From that point it will be possible to build a national message.
Recently, at Party Conference up in Birmingham, we held an event (which is reported in full here) as well as manning an exhibition stall both of which were successful in terms of explaining our message to a wider audience and in gauging the mood towards organisations such as CFoP. Party delegates seemed to be enthused by the idea of a programme of reaching out to the British Pakistani community and we were further buoyed by the clear support from the Parliamentary Party.
The opportunity of Party Conference being held in Birmingham offered us a further chance to engage with the wider community given the large number of British Pakistanis resident in the Birmingham area. We followed this through by holding numerous meetings with international aid charities, community leaders, local councillors and young entrepreneurs who expressed a keen interest in explaining the issues that mattered to them and their vision for a more socially cohesive Britain.
Since the 2010 election there has been a raft of polling taken, and one thing is clear from both this and our own research exercise in Birmingham: we need to do more. The Runnymede Trust report, published earlier this year, points to salient issues for the British Pakistani community, including the lack of opportunities available for minorities, and that societal discrimination still exists in Britain which has yet to be fully addressed by political parties. From studying the available data it seems to be fairness and a level playing field in areas such as employment that this community, totalling around 1.3 million people, aspire towards and central to CFoP’s aims is breaking down those social barriers.
It is interesting to note that the five constituencies with the highest British Pakistani population are without a Conservative MP and CFoP will be focussing its efforts on reversing this trend. In terms of engagement, we can learn a lot from our sitting MPs who represent ethnically diverse constituencies and who know what it is in their local area that certain groups feel passionate about. CFoP will act as a conduit for those MPs, helping them to spread best practice to all Conservative candidates. Furthermore, the fact that only around a third of British Pakistanis polled earlier this year said that they ‘would never vote Conservative’ is indeed evidence that the Party can indeed make gains into the BME vote.
On the international stage, CFoP will continually make the case for aid programmes in Pakistan to be continued with the appropriate accountability measures, and focussed on those areas with the highest levels of deprivation. In a country where near on 60 million people live below the food poverty line at 30p or less every day, 12 million children do not attend a school and half of the adult population are illiterate we as Conservatives must help those who have less opportunity to strive for a better life; a chance at building a meritocratic society should surely be the aim of every Government that has fairness at its heart. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, commonly regarded as the founder of Pakistan, was famously quoted as saying:
“If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”
The core of this message is one that the modern Conservative Party often espouses on the basis of building a fairer society and CFoP will be a vocal supporter of this message in the UK.
With our mission statement and objectives clear to see, Conservative Friends of Pakistan is indeed fortunate to have Michael Wade as Chairman; he has been a Treasurer of the Party for 12 years and himself descended from a Parsi Zoroastrian family. CFoP is also proud to have Lord Strathclyde as President, Francis Maude MP as Patron and our three parliamentary Co-Chairmen. It is through a combined effort that we will be able to lead delegations of MPs and Peers out to Pakistan and hold the seminars and events in the UK that will further cement CFoP as a significant force within our Party structure.
There is a long road ahead in terms of reaching our goals contained in our mission statement, but with a clear focus on community engagement and delivering on a consistent message of social cohesion, we must succeed in bringing the Conservative Party closer to those aspirations and beliefs that the British Pakistani community hold dear.
For those who may hold an interest in getting involved in our organisation, I would ask that you send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org as a first point of contact, and you can become a member for free!