Forty-five years ago this weekend, Enoch Powell warned of
what he saw as the consequences of immigration. The “Rivers of Blood” anniversary
is a good moment to ask how far Britain is regarded as a multicultural society.
It is also an opportunity to look further at the attitudes of minority voters
towards politics in general and the Conservative Party in particular.
In a poll of 1035 minority voters completed earlier this week, I found that nearly nine in ten think Britain has become a multicultural
country, and a similar proportion saying this is a good thing. In a nationally
representative poll conducted at the same time, 90% also said Britain was
multicultural, but only 70% were in favour of this development. There was
considerable variation between different kinds of people but in only one group
– UKIP voters – did a majority (57%) say they were opposed to multiculturalism.
Three quarters of ethnic minority voters said that having
people from a wide variety of backgrounds had strengthened British culture,
though only just over half of the general population agreed. Just over half
(54%) of the national sample thought immigration had been a bad thing for the
country on the whole. 80% of black voters disagreed, but only 64% of those from
an Asian background; only 51% of Sikhs thought immigration had generally been
good for Britain.
Strikingly, most minority voters thought “the different
ethnic groups that make up this country get on well”, while a majority of the
general population thought “there is an increasing amount of tension” between
them. Again, UKIP voters were the most likely to think this; indeed black and
Asian people were twice as likely as UKIP voters to think relations between
different ethnic groups were good.
Nearly nine in ten ethnic minority voters thought Labour
supported Britain being a multicultural country, with little variation between
groups. However, while only 38% of black Caribbean participants thought the
Conservatives favoured multiculturalism (though 44% thought this of David
Cameron), nearly two thirds of Hindus thought so (and three quarters thought it
true of the Prime Minister).
Only just over half (54%) of voters as a whole thought the
Conservative Party favoured multiculturalism. Tellingly, UKIP voters were much
more likely than average to think this was true of the Tories (73%).
Most participants in the ethnic minority poll could not name
spontaneously a single politician from their own or another minority
background. Keith Vaz was mentioned most commonly (by 10% of participants),
followed by Sayeeda Warsi, Diane Abbott and, perhaps oddly, Ed Miliband. George
Galloway, of all people, was fifth.
The memory of Enoch Powell remained strongest among black
Caribbean participants, 64% of whom said they had “heard of him and know who he
is or what he said”. Meanwhile, more than half of those from an Asian
background said they had never heard of him; only 28% knew who he was. Among
the wider population, nearly three quarters had heard of Powell and 58% knew
who he was or what he said. 90% of UKIP voters fall into the latter category.
Nearly three quarters of Hindus, 70% of Sikhs and 68% of
Muslims agreed that “if you work hard, it is possible to be very successful in
Britain no matter what your background”. Only 59% of the general population
thought this. Those from a black Caribbean background were the most likely to
disagree: half thought it more true that “in Britain today, people from some
backgrounds will never have a real chance to be successful no matter how hard
they work”. This group was also the least likely to think their children’s
lives would be better than theirs – only 51% thought this, compared to 67% of
those from a black African background and six in ten Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
The economy and jobs were overwhelmingly the most important
issue for ethnic minority participants. More than half mentioned the issue
spontaneously, with immigration second, raised by 6%. Only 22% of black voters,
and 38% of those from an Asian background, said they most trusted David Cameron
and George Osborne to manage the economy (though 51% of Hindus did so – more
than among the population as a whole).
More generally, and not surprisingly, Labour was by far the
best regarded party among ethnic minorities. Again, though, there was
considerable variation in attitudes to the Conservatives. While the party did
uniformly badly among black and Muslim voters, Hindus and Sikhs often had a
rather more positive view of the Tories than did voters as a whole.
Nevertheless, it remains a fact that only 16% of ethnic
minority voters supported the Conservatives at the last election. As I argued
in Degrees of Separation, we must do
better than this – both because we should be a party for the whole country, and
because we will find it increasingly difficult to win a majority without them.
There is no doubt that in 2010 this situation cost us seats.
The Conservatives are starting to take this issue seriously,
with the energetic Alok Sharma in charge as Vice Chairman for BME Communities.
This is welcome, but in my experience the party has often proved unable or
unwilling to sustain long term projects. The urgent always ends up crowding out
the important. It will take more than one Parliament to get this right, but we
1,035 adults from ethnic minorities were interviewed
by telephone between 22 March and 15 April 2013. A separate survey of 1,002
adults was conducted by telephone between 12 and 14 April 2013; results have
been weighted to be politically representative of all adults in Great Britain.