Returning the Conservative Party Conference for the first time since 2010 I didn’t really know what to expect. Yet what was clear to me by the time that I had left was that the Conservative Party will get to a point in the future where we are able to reach all sections of society, and dare I say receive a significant share of the Black and Minority Ethnic vote. There are several reasons for this optimism.
First, the party broadening its appeal is something that the vast majority of Conservative activists now recognise is very important. When I last visited party conference I had the feeling that for many people this was a case that still needed to be made. Although it was clear that we were not able to get a majority even with an unpopular Labour incumbent, there seemed to be a denial that the toxicity of the Tory brand amongst BME communities was significant.
The second reason I believe the Party will at some point in the future broaden its appeal is because of the inevitability of demographic change. Whether we look at the figures from the Runnymede Trust that only 16 per cent of ethnic minorities voted Conservative, or we analyse the various predictions about how Britain’s ethnic makeup will change, we know that future elections will consist of a more diverse electorate. This inevitability means that we as a Party will have no choice but to change. The question is now when and not if.
Further, the performance of many Conservative MPs in marginal seats has shown that if we really put the work in we can win over sceptical communities and convince them that we are on their side. I remember a visit to the constituency of Bedford not too long ago. I went to speak at an awards ceremony where the local MP was also in attendance. The diverse audience had nothing but praise for how he had been a key supporter for them.
Whether or not Richard Fuller manages to hold on to Bedford, the work he has done to engage with the Bangadeshi, African and Caribbean communities, amongst others, has been first class. The same can be said of many other parliamentarians including Gavin Barwell in Croydon, Paul Uppal in Wolverhampton, and in even the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has done a fantastic job in Loughborough.
The final reason of why I feel the Conservative Party will be able to broaden its appeal in the future is the Prime Minister’s speech on Wednesday. This was the first time in a long time that I was reminded why I joined the Conservative party as a 19 year old. The commitment to helping those who want to get on in life, particularly in relation to the tax system, is a conservative ideal that surpasses race.
Safeguarding the NHS, where you will often find a large number of ethnic minority employees, and the clear message that a vote for UKIP is a vote for a dysfunctional and wasteful Labour party, will mean that party activists have a clear message to take to the electorate over the coming months. It is for them to decide if this message has come too late this time, but even if it has we must continue to make the clear case for the values of a strong Conservative government.
It was reported that Lynton Crosby made a rare public intervention when speaking at an event about appealing to Muslim voters at Conference. Though I was not in attendance, it is clear to me that some party officials seem more comfortable speaking on this subject than others. This is probably the biggest failure of what has otherwise been an exciting 2010 intake. Besides the likes of Paul Uppal, most of the ethnic minority MPs seem quite inconvenienced around the idea of engaging with this topic. It is something that they may feel they have no obligation to contend with, certainly not in public.
The final thing I’d like to say is a story about a young member of my team that attended conference this year. She is a lady of Caribbean decent that has lived in the Midlands for most of her life. I asked her to attend the Prime Ministers speech on Wednesday. When she returned she thanked me for the recommendation and said it had inspired her to now look into politics and to formulate her own opinions. She went on to say that her initial research had actually been a bit of a shock as to her surprise she was leaning more towards the Conservative party than either Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
For the party to truly broaden its appeal, which I believe it will, we will need to spread the message of what it truly means to be a Conservative. For many people I am convinced that, if they hear a clear Conservative message, we will be able to win them over. 2015 might be too soon to make a real difference, but there is great optimism for the future.