By Paul Goodman
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There are three keys to winning a bigger proportion of the ethnic minority vote in 2015 – important for the election itself and essential to our long-term future.
The first is polling. Since not all ethnic and religious minorities are the same, it follows that our prospects are likely to be brighter with some than with others. I've pointed out before that research suggests that our prospects are relatively bright among Hindus and Sikhs. Knowledge is essential, and that means polling.
The second, and perhaps least vital, is policy.
The third is having a presence on the ground – the way in which Labour built and kept its monopoly in some of these communities, members of which originally arrived in cities (where the Conservative presence is generally weak); joined trade unions as poorer workers, and have seldom had contact with the Conservatives, if at all.
James Forsyth reported yesterday on last week's political Cabinet, which was addressed by Andrew Cooper, David Cameron's Head of Strategy, and Alok Sharma, the Party Vice-Chairman responsible for its drive to win more ethnic minority votes. Cameron told those present that each must visist evangelical churches, gurdawaras, temples and mosques, and that he himself is planning to do so, holding "Cameron Direct" events when he does. Cooper added that when they do so, they should make "the positive case for integration" rather than simply attack multiculturalism.
Forsyth also wrote later in the day that Conservative strategists, alarmed by claims that the Government's same-sex marriage plans are going down like the cup of proverbial cold vomit with ethnic minority voters, have commissioned some polling. This has apparently found different views among different groups. Black voters and Muslims are opposed to same-sex marriage; Hindus and Sikhs are "more in favour of gay marriage than the population as a whole…This has reassured them as the Tories believe that Hindus and Sikhs are
the two ethnic minority groups with whom they have most chance of making
progress before 2015."
What does all this tell us about how Downing Street CCHQ is applying polling, policy and presence?
On polling, it is clearly getting there. I will return in due course to polling and the same sex marriage issue, but that the powers that be grasp that, say, Pakistani-origin Muslims and Indian-origin Hindus have different views of the Party, and that polling should conducted with this in mind, is encouraging. (At the last election, some 13% of the former voted Tory, compared to 25% of the latter.)
On presence, Cameron is taking a leaf out of the book of Stephen Harper and the Canadian Conservatives, who are the market leaders when it comes to centre-right parties winning ethnic minority votes. Last time round, Harper scooped up over 40 per cent of the total. I'm told that he used to go round the Cabinet table – perhaps he still does – asking each member personally which ethnic or religious minority events he or she had attended over the weekend.
The Prime Minister is right to lead from the front. But a one-time visit by Philip Hammond, say, to your local black evangelical church, or by Patrick McLoughlin to your local Sikh gurdawara is not going to cut much long-term ice. For that, the party needs that presence on the ground, which means councillors or – taking a leaf out of Arnie Graf's book – community campaigners. Michael Gove's free schools may provide a route on during these difficult electoral times.
On policy, the party is – on paper – very well placed. Ethnic minority voters are younger than the white majority. This means that communities in which employment rates are high (such as those Indian-origin voters) have a long-term interest in lower taxes. I've already noted that Gove's free schools and academy policies offer a point of entry. And then there is family policy: whatever the intricacies of polling on same-sex marriage may tell us, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs will all have a socially conservative bias towards strong families.
However, Lord Ashcroft's research in this area was a reminder of how formidable voter resistance to the Conservatives is among ethnic minority voters. Labour, he wrote, "passed laws to help ensure they were treated equally". It is "seen as far more committed to equal opportunity than were the Tories…Labour's
equality legislation gave them the better record on this score." Another means of getting a foot in the door could be to take up Sharma's call for listed companies to disclose their ethnic balance at senior level.
Finally, a reminder of those grisly statistics. In 2001, only one in ten voters were ethnic minority members. By 2050, that figure will be one in five. As Forsyth points out, 27 per cent of under-fives are non-white. The Conservatives are facing long-term demographic marginalisation – and permanent opposition – if present voting trends continue. Which is why Cooper was right to hint that the party should end its war on multiculturalism, opposition to which is seen by ethnic minority members as opposition not to a multi-cultural society, but to a multi-racial one.