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Mark Field is MP for Cities of London and Westminster.

The Conservatives under David Cameron have made tremendous progress to
encourage and engage our Party members in community cohesion projects
across the UK.

However I believe that our by-election campaign in Ealing Southall may
have done lasting damage to the Party’s outreach work in the British
Asian Communities.

For a start I fail to understand why MPs such as Dominic Grieve and
Paul Goodman whose constituencies are within ten miles or so of Ealing
Southall and who have worked enthusiastically with their local Muslim,
Hindu and Sikh communities over many years, building trust and support,
were not brought in to advise on the  strategy of this campaign.   

The centralised imposition of a Sikh candidate, who first became
associated with the Party ten days before the by-election was called
and whose most recent political activity had been attendance at a
Labour Party fundraiser in mid-June, always had the makings of a
fiasco.  The way in the sensitivities of local Tory activists were
bypassed amounted to contempt towards our supporters and the electorate
at large. Building trust and support amongst ethnic groups can never be
a quick fix – it has to the culmination of consistent work and
commitment.

This potential calamity was clearly spelt out by local folk as soon as
the normal candidate selection process was discarded in favour of CCHQ
adopting the photogenic son of a prominent local businessman with no
previous links to the Party. Our  consequent  attempts to woo the Sikh
vote in Southall by exploiting divisions which have wracked the local
Sikh and Hindu communities for decades also struck many as blatant
opportunism. This warning was conveyed privately to many senior members
of the Conservative Party  as the campaign progressed but it was
apparently ignored.

To many neutral observers these actions betrayed a failure by our Party
to treat sensitively the potentially explosive racial divisions within
Ealing Southall. For sure the defection of five local Labour
councillors, all Sikhs and  whose ringleader was someone who only days
before had failed to secure the Labour nomination for the by-election,
made for good headlines at the start of the campaign. However, it
became increasingly evident that the Conservatives had been manipulated
by this dissident group, who were misleadingly presented  to the public
as having defected on ideological grounds.

Worse still these self styled community leaders failed to deliver much
more than a block vote of five. As a result, in spite of a frenetic and
energetic PR campaign, our vote effectively flatlined at 22.5% – and
this in a seat where in the 50 years to 1997 the Conservative share of
the vote never dipped below 30%.

As the national political bandwagon moves on from west London my
sympathies lie with the dedicated local Conservative association and
our ruling Group on Ealing Council who are now left with the unenviable
task of sorting out a divided and demoralised local Conservative force.
They won control of the council last year and  I know from my time
working  with Ealing’s Conservative activists that over many years they
have worked tirelessly to build relations with local ethnic
communities. Much of this effort now lies in tatters.

From my own experience as an inner London MP over the past six years
working alongside a sizeable Chinese and Bangladeshi population, I know
that there is no substitute for respectful and patient work alongside
British Asian communities to promote harmony and understanding.  Even
in the highly pressurised atmosphere of a by-election we had a
wonderful opportunity over the past three weeks to show the country at
large that modern Conservatism embraces these values.

65 comments for: Mark Field MP: Some urgent lessons from Ealing Southall

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