David Cameron gave a speech this morning where he urged support for West Ham Football Club. Given that he is on record as being an Aston Villa supporter this has been seized on by the Labour Party to suggest it was not a mere slip but indicative a character flaw which renders him unfit for office. The Prime Minister has taken his son Arthur to Aston Villa matches – but Arthur then decided to support Chelsea. All most unfortunate.
The rest of the speech will gain less attention – but it concerned an important challenge for Conservatives – winning the confidence of ethnic minority communities. Only 16 per cent of non-white voters backed the Conservatives last time. Mr Cameron gave his speech in Croydon and the challenge is particularly important in London.
Yet there are many ethnic minority voters who favour Conservative policies – while thus far declining to vote Conservative. For instance this Lord Ashcroft poll found that 54 per cent of black voters and 57 per cent of Asian voters opposed any increase in Government borrowing.
Or there was the Ethnic Minority British Election study which found:
“On the tax cuts versus spending question we find that every ethnic minority group is less supportive of greater government spending than the white British group. In this respect they appear to be less ‘left-wing’ than the majority, which contrasts strangely both with their greater support for Labour.”
In his speech this morning Mr Cameron said:
“I want this to be an opportunity country…where no matter who you are or where you’re from; whether you’re black, white, Asian or mixed race; whether you’re from the inner city or rural heartlands; you can make the most of your talents.”
He added, implicitly refuting Lord Tebbit’s “Cricket test”:
“We are a shining example of a country where multiple identities just work.
A country where you can be Welsh and Hindu and British.
Northern Irish and Jewish and British.
Where you can wear a kilt – and a turban
Where you can wear a hijab covered in poppies.
Where you can support Man United, the Windies, and Team GB – all at the same time.”
The ambition for innovative new free schools was rightly emphasised:
“Think of the Harris Academy South Norwood, or Oasis Shirley Park – both oversubscribed, both giving children the best start in life.
Since our reforms, the number of children in Croydon going to a school classed as good or outstanding has increased by nearly 30 per cent.
So we will go on expanding that Free Schools programme in the next five years – opening 500 new ones.
Like the Avanti Trust’s new Hindu-ethos school, and Wallington Grammar’s new secondary school…continuing to transform the life chances of children from every background and every walk of life.”
He pointed out that “stop and searches by the Met have now fallen by 43 per cent, and around the country practices are really improving”.
Then he set out some future goals:
“We’ve said we will create two million more jobs in the next parliament. I set this ambition: by 2020, 20 per cent more black and ethnic minority people in employment.
That means 660,000 more people with a job.
With regard to apprenticeships there have been “two million people have started an apprenticeship in the last Parliament – and 190,000 of those have been taken up by black, Asian and mixed race people. In the next Parliament we are going to create another three million apprenticeships. Today, I set this ambition: by 2020, 20 per cent more of them will be started by black and ethnic minority young people, meaning 300,000 more apprenticeships in the next five years.”
While with universities “the number of Asian, black and mixed race students increased to its highest level ever. In the next five years, I want us to go further, with an ambition for 20 per cent more students from diverse backgrounds in university. That’s 19,000 more students with the Conservatives.”
He then mentioned similar targets regarding start up loans for entrepreneurs and an increase in black and ethnic minority representation in the police and Armed Forces.
“At this general election, there is one party fielding more black and ethnic minority candidates than any other – and that’s us, the Conservatives and in 18 per cent of retirement seats – seats that we have more than a good chance of keeping – we have black, Asian or ethnic minority candidates.”
The speech is welcome although Conservative progress will come more from the bottom up than the top down. Often Labour councillors and MPs are well entrenched in an array of community “networks” (predominantly but not exclusively religious ones) where ethnic minority voters are to be found. So they conclude that Labour is “on their side”.
For some Conservatives talking about ethnicity is so sensitive that they ignore the subject. That is a mistake.
However it is also unconvincing to just offer an apologetic acceptance to Quangocracy and political correctness. Lord Ashcroft’s polling also found:
“Sikhs and Hindus in particular spontaneously said they disliked the tendency to “put people in boxes” in the name of diversity.”
Instinctively the Conservative approach is “colour blind” – to judge each person as an individual. That is commendable. But it is probably not enough in overcoming some long standing barriers. Some positive action is needed.
This will be a long battle for Conservatives. But perhaps – as with the US Republicans last November – a bit of modest progress is being made.