It is hard for any of us to see the world through the eyes of those different from us. However it can help if you grow up between two cultures, as I have done since the age of three.
As Conservatives, we know that British Muslims are natural Conservative voters because they share so many of our values. Accordingly it is intensely frustrating when people who would naturally vote Conservative if white and Christian or atheist choose to vote Labour almost by reflex.
In my view, there is no single causative factor. There are multiple contributors to making Muslims vote Labour, which we need to identify and address. In this piece, I will deal with just one.
I believe that, obviously without intending it, we often use language which alienates Muslims who might otherwise think seriously about voting for us. What finally brought it home was realising that, even though I have been a Conservative Party member for over 30 years, some of what I hear still grates even though I have large gotten used to it.
I had five minutes of speaking time at the Conservative Muslim Forum fringe meeting at the Welsh Conservative Party Spring Conference in Llangollen recently, and decided to tackle the subject head on. The speech I gave is below.
Talking with Muslim voters; language that attracts or repels
British Muslims are natural conservatives. They believe in a strong family. They want their children to get on. They believe in hard work. They are keen on business success. They believe in taking care of yourself and not relying on the state.
But look at Lord Ashcroft’s report “Degrees of Separation.” In the 2010 general election, only about 16% of ethnic minorities voted for us. 2/3 voted for Labour.
How many of us have spent hours trying to win over Muslim voters and failed? How often have we gone into a closed room at home and screamed in frustration “Why won’t they vote for us?”
The reasons are many and complicated. In my allotted time, I can only talk about one. It is not rocket science.
When something looks difficult, we study it carefully. We think hard about it. We proceed cautiously. It is the simple things that trip us up. I’m a tax expert. When I’ve messed up, it wasn’t on complicated tax issues. It was on things that were really simple.
So what is it that you are doing wrong?
How did you feel when you heard my last sentence? Did you feel slightly negative about me?
I managed that with a deliberate choice of one word. Before that sentence, I talked about us, we Conservatives. As soon as I said “you” I divided you from me.
I did that deliberately. It is easy to do by accident. I think we Conservatives do it all the time.
Every time we talk about the values of “British Muslims” being the same as “our” Conservative values, we are putting a gap between them and us.
They notice, even if they don’t say it. It is easy to think we are being inclusive, when we are actually using exclusive language.
So how can we do it right? We don’t have time today for a workshop. But the basic principle is very simple.
We need to think about every sentence we use, and every word we use. Does our language unite us with the audience, or does it divide us? Let me give just one example.
Immigration policy is controversial. British Muslims of Pakistani origin don’t start from the same place as white British Anglo Saxon Christians. When I talk about immigration policy, I start with something like this:
“This country belongs to all of us. All of us, collectively, have the right to decide, together, who can come here. We want immigrants who will make this country richer for all of us. That matters to all of us.”
I can go on for ages like that, before I talk about specific policies. My goal is to ensure that the person I am talking with understands that immigration policy is not about keeping people like him or her out of the country.