On ConservativeHome today, Sunder Katwala writes that the figures in Survation’s poll for British Future on ethnic minority voting should be treated with “a degree of caution”. This is sensible. It may well not be that a majority of Britain’s Hindu voters supported the Conservatives a fortnight or so ago, as the survey finds, or that almost a quarter of British Muslims voted Tory.
None the less, the rough picture that the poll sketches is almost certainly right. In 2010, Indian-origin voters were the most likely of Britain’s surveyed ethnic minorities to support the Conservatives, and black voters, whether African or Caribbean in origin, the least likely. The survey’s suggestion that the Party has made some progress over the past five years sounds plausible.
This site has written before about David Cameron’s push with Hindu and Sikh voters in particular – the unveiled of a statue of Gandhi in Parliament Square; his visit to Amritsar), the campaigning by Cabinet members such as Theresa May, Eric Pickles and Chris Grayling, and the building of a polling evidence base by Andrew Cooper in Downing Street. See also Lord Ashcroft’s “Degrees of Separation“.
This work, plus the wider campaigning among ethnic minorities, needs a team in place to make it work. Below, we list some of its main members. What applies to it applies to the CCHQ campaigning team more widely – namely, that it shouldn’t now be broken up during the economies that traditionally follow election campaigns. Keeping and broadening expertise is vital.
- Downing Street. Craig Oliver, now Deputy Chief of Staff, headed up the Downing Street side of the operation. Civil servants can’t undertake party political tasks but, in the press office, Alistair Campbell (no relation) did as much to promote the Prime Minister’s work on issues that affect ethnic minorities as could properly be done.
- CCHQ. Carrie Symonds, the Head of Broadcasting, took a special interest. (She is tweeting about the British Future findings today.) However, the CCHQ resource was small, at least compared to Labour’s – with one person organising constituency visits and some press office support. It needs beefing up.
- Friends of, friends, friends of. The best-known of these groups is Conservative Friends of Israel. Conservative Friends of Pakistan “got better”, in the words of one source, and I will turn to Conservative Friends of India in a moment. There is also Conservative Friends of the Chinese and British Tamil Conservatives: there is Tory support among both sets of voters.
The most effective vote-winners of all will be local MPs: Andrew Stephenson in Pendle, Bob Blackman in Harrow, Mike Freer in Finchley and Golders Green. (The retention of Hendon also indicates that Jewish voters supported the Conservatives in large numbers, just as the loss of Ilford North shows that Muslim voters went mostly for Labour.) I now turn to Indian-origin voters, and three people in particular.
- Priti Patel. The appointment of the former the Treasury Minister (and ConservativeHome columnist) as Cameron’s Trade Envoy to India was designed to catch Hindu and Sikh voters’ eyes – as was her post-election promotion to Work and Pensions with the right to attend Cabinet.
- Alok Sharma. Sharma served as Party Vice-Chairman with responsibility for ethnic minority voters after the 2010 election, and is currently co-Chairman of Conservative Friends of India with Ranjit Singh Baxi. Sharma would be entitled to feel that he has helped the Party to come a long way over five years – and is now off as a PPS to support Oliver Letwin in his work on delivering the Conservative Manifesto.
- Shailesh Vara. The former co-Chairman of Conservative Friends of India has deep roots in the Gujurati-speaking Indian-origin community in Britain, and was tasked by Lynton Crosby with a mission to target seats in which these voters have significant concentrations, such as Harrow East, Crawley and, yes, Morley and Outwood. Vara was also one of three people behind the “Blue Skies” video (see above), which Crosby sent booming out of CCHQ’s tannoy on election night – or, rather, at five in the morning, as the reality of a Conservative majority loomed into view. The awards dinners which some Cabinet Ministers are assiduous in attending only reach so deep. The constituency campaign meetings which Vara attended, at which he was able to address voters in Gujurati, reach deeper and will have helped to make a difference.
Finally, the master of winning ethnic minority voters for a Conservative Party is based not in Britain but in Canada – Jason Kenney, a.k.a “The Smiling Buddha“, who remains its Minister for Multiculturalism despite also being Minister of Defence.
Kenney has much more party support at his disposal than Sharma has had at his. This helps to explain why this site believes that CCHQ’s spending on long-term campaigning projects should be ring-fenced – an idea that Lord Feldman should look at in his current post-election review.