The former minister’s interview today does not pull any punches – from being a “brown, working class woman from the north” who felt “patronised” by public school-educated colleagues, via the prediction that it is “too late” to attract enough ethnic minority voters to win in 2015, to her heavy implication that the “chequebooks” of Conservative Friends of Israel are setting Government policy, she hits at numerous painful spots.
That was clearly her intent – sometimes people do get stitched up by an interviewer, or poorly phrased remarks are taken out of context. Not so on this occasion – as the interview was shared between Oliver Wright at the Independent on Sunday and Tim Shipman at the Sunday Times, comparing the two accounts shows they are almost identical (right down to the opening anecdote about her children’s football playing).
Baroness Warsi is right about the Conservatives’ serious problem among the growing number of ethnic minority voters. As shown by Lord Ashcroft’s ‘Degrees of Separation‘ report and Policy Exchange’s ‘Portrait of Modern Britain‘ both showed, we lag far behind Labour – a trend that is holding up even as these voters climb the income scale. The proportion of the electorate who identify as members of an ethnic minority is rising and will continue to do so. Warsi is undoubtedly right when she says the Conservative party has failed to win ethnic minority voters over, that this failure seriously harms our electoral prospects and that it must be overcome.
But she’s wrong to imply that she is necessarily an essential part of turning the electoral situation around. For a start, if she believes that having prominent ethnic minority figures in the Conservative Party is a key to doing so, she ought to remember that she is far from the only one. Indeed, there are a growing number of ethnic minority Conservative MPs who have won elections in their own right – unlike, say, Dewsbury in 2005 where Warsi’s candidacy saw our vote share fall by 1.2 percentage points (an increase of 172 voters on 2010). Some of her colleagues don’t appreciate being lectured on election-winning by someone who hasn’t done it themselves – maybe they’re being “bitchy”, as she says today, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
Finally, and most importantly, she’s wrong to treat all ethnic minority voters as one bloc. Again, Policy Exchange and Lord Ashcroft’s research have demonstrated that there is no “ethnic vote”, there are a myriad of different groups concerned about different things. Kenney’s success in Canada hinges on understanding this – we must realise that winning over different ethnic minorities means defeating Labour in detail in many areas, not on broad brush questions of perception. To take the Gaza issue as an example, it’s worth reading Lib Dem Charlotte Henry’s account of campaigning in Golders Green – David Ward’s comments may have attracted some Muslim voters in Bradford, but in doing so he cost his party the support of some Jewish voters who concluded the Lib Dems are anti-semitic. It isn’t a question of say x or y, win more of the “ethnic vote”- it’s far more complex.
In short, Warsi has correctly identified an electoral problem – but her interview demonstrates that she is part of a flawed solution, not the answer. As I wrote for The Guardian the other day, “a generalised, tokenistic fix based on personalities rather than ideas” for this issue was never going to work. Indeed, the party leadership has been trying it for several years and the gap between us and Labour among most minority populations is as big as ever.