"Bluntly, the Conservative Party’s problem with ethnic minority voters is costing it seats," Lord Ashcroft wrote last year after the publication of his report, Degrees of Separation. Correcting the problem is a long-standing cause for this site. Tim Montgomerie has pointed out that the number one driver of not voting Conservative is not being white. I have argued that the Party had made strategic errors through tokenism and ignorance; that it doesn't matter if we think we're not racist but ethnic minority voters do, and that it's time to end the Conservative war on multiculturalism (which, by the way, is supported by 71 per cent of Tory voters).
The new study by Operation Black Vote which found that Britain's ethnic minority voters may determine the 2015 election thus makes a point which all of us should have grasped already, though the detail is compelling. In its account of the study today, the Guardian reports that the number of seats where black and Asian voters could decide
the outcome had rocketed by 70 per cent compared with the 2010 election, and says that the ethnic minority vote is
bigger than the majority of the sitting MP in no fewer than 168 constituencies. ("The seats extend beyond
inner-city areas to include places such as Southhampton Oxford, Sherwood, Ipswich and Northampton," according to the paper.)
One can quibble about the detail, but the trend is unmistakeable. In 2001, one in ten voters were ethnic minority members; by 2050, that figure will be one in five. It would be easy to conclude that nothing can be done to halt a Conservative slide to demographic marginalisation, as we dwindle into becoming a rump party of the shires, like the protectionists of the 1850s. However, there is cause for cautious optimism, for three reasons. First, because although the Party won a mere 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010, the figure is higher among some groups: among voters of Indian origin, for example, it came in at 24 per cent. Second, because Downing Street and CCHQ have grasped the scale of the problem.
Finally, both have worked out elements of a vote-winning strategy – namely, that having ethnic minority faces in the Party at a senior level, though important, is less so than knowledgeable engagement on the ground and micro-policies that work with voters. The former is largely a matter for Associations locally, but the latter mostly depends on Ministers, and there are signs of success. The Voice recently ran a feature called "Is Labour losing the black vote?", which clocked Theresa May's consultation on stop and search, praised Boris Johnson's engagement with black churches, and pointed out that the Tories have "a natural advantage… studies show their conservative values are
more ideologically aligned with that of African Caribbeans."
As ever, Alok Sharma, the Party Vice-Chairman responsible for ethnic minority campaigning, needs more support – and CCHQ, in the medium-term, more consistency. No lasting gain is possible if teams are put in place for general elections and then disbanded afterwards. Not so long ago, reports such as this morning's were cause for unrelieved gloom. But there are indications that Downing Street's study of the succcess of Canada's Conservatives in winning ethnic minority votes, the rising number of ethnic minority Tory MPs, the hard work of Parliamentarians who hold marginal seats, Ministerial focus and Labour complacency – a factor single out by The Voice – are beginning to pay dividends.