Mohammed Amin is Vice Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
When I wrote “Winning Muslim Votes” for the Tory Reform Group magazine “Reformer”, I asked why:
“Muslim business owners and professionals who, if they were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) would be expected to vote Conservative but who actually vote Labour despite their wealth and socially conservative attitudes.”
I decided the key reason was a form of collective memory:
“As someone who has lived in the UK for over 50 years, I still remember the Labour Party as the promoter of the Race Relations Act while the Conservative Party had Enoch Powell making speeches about “Rivers of blood.”
I made a similar point in my piece “Hard-edged but inclusive” written for the book "Are we there yet? A collection on race and Conservatism" published by DEMOS and the Runnymede Trust:
“As Conservatives we can be proud of our party’s early pioneering of racial equality by selecting a Jew, Benjamin Disraeli, as our party leader and then prime minister. At the same time we need to be objective and recognise that our party produced Enoch Powell, who I regard as a racist; while Ted Heath sacked him from the shadow cabinet he was never expelled from the party and instead left voluntarily over the European Economic Community.”
After I wrote these pieces, some of my younger Party friends accused me of being an old fogey, and were incredulous that Enoch Powell could still be relevant to voting patterns today. Accordingly I had a feeling of quiet vindication when I read “Degrees of separation – Ethnic minority voters and the Conservative Party” by Lord Ashcroft. If you search the full report, Enoch Powell gets five mentions. The focus groups organised by Lord Ashcroft and his team show that Enoch Powell’s ghost still haunts us, and is costing us votes. To give just one of the quotes:
“The Tories had a lot of racist policies so it was easy not to vote for them. They appeared to be a racist group. ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’. And if you go back to the rivers of blood speech, Enoch Powell, there was no-one in the Conservative Party denouncing him and saying this isn’t the way forward. What he said was widely accepted.” [BC] (Black Caribbean)
At a personal level, no matter what else Enoch Powell did for our country, for me he will always be simply the racist who did not want people like me in Britain. Accordingly I was dismayed to read some of the comments to Paul Goodman’s piece “Enoch Powell, the dazzling man who won only 15 votes in a Tory leadership election”.
What is to be done?
We need to learn from the most electorally successful British politician since Margaret Thatcher. When Tony Blair became Labour Party leader, few voters thought that Labour was serious any more about Clause IV of its constitution. However it remained a tangible link with the old Labour of state control and it was a brilliant stroke to force through its repeal.
I suspect relatively few voters today genuinely believe that the Conservative Party really is a party dominated by racists. However Enoch Powell will remain an excuse for ethnic minorities to not vote Conservative until the Party deals properly with his memory. His impending centenary provides the perfect opportunity, and it is our leader David Cameron who needs to perform the exorcism with a high profile speech.
Mr Cameron does not need me to write his speeches for him, but the points I would make, in outline form, are as follows:
- The values of the Conservative Party (the family, self-reliance, hard work and personal social mobility to name but a few) are the values that almost all ethnic minorities recognise as their own. They came to Britain to work hard and succeed, and many have done spectacularly well.
- However many people from ethnic minorities do not vote for their natural party, Conservative, for a very specific reason.
- They remember that many decades ago, the Conservative Party did not welcome non-white members. Most fundamentally they remember Enoch Powell, and his loathsome speech about “Rivers of blood.”
- I (David Cameron) was one year old at the time and don’t remember the speech!
- However it is a stain on the history of our Party that the leader at that time, Edward Heath, did not immediately expel Enoch Powell from our Party.
- Enoch Powell had made some great contributions to Britain during the Second World War, and as a politician afterwards, but all of his accomplishments count as nothing against the racism that he displayed in 1968 and afterwards. He left our Party in 1974, and the reaction of most right thinking Conservatives was “good riddance to bad rubbish.”
- Sadly however much we may regret history, we cannot change or re-write it.
- What I can say, without hesitation, that the Conservative Party today, the Party of Sayeeda Warsi, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and others is not the Conservative Party of 1968. It is a party that welcomes members from all parts of our community, and I call upon ethnic minority voters to recognise the Party we are today.