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10 Sep 2013 05:46:33

Modern politics’ golden rule? Ignore media commentators and focus on your key messages

By Tim Montgomerie in Australia
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Loughnane and TextorPicture of Brian Loughnane and Mark Textor (right).

A lot has been written about Lynton Crosby’s influence on Britain’s Tory leader. Not so much about Mark Textor – Crosby’s business partner – and the pollster who has just helped Tony Abbott become Australia’s new prime minister. I emphasise "helped" because most backroom credit for Abbott's win should go to federal campaign director, Brian Loughnane (something Mr Textor has himself acknowledged) but that isn't so relevant to British politics - Brian is not advising the Tories.

“Tex”, as he is known, lives by modern politics’ golden rule: ignore media commentators and stick to your plan. “There are,” Textor has written, “almost no former journalists who have been successful campaign managers. This is because they are tactically focused on Monday morning's headlines and not the long-term strategy required to get a consistent and, critically, a salient message to the public.” The “media monster”, he has said, has “acute ADD” (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Textor does not hide his low view of the chattering punditry. Via his entertaining and irreverent Twitter account (he recently described Tony Blair as a “wanker”) he regularly slams the “political nobodies, has beens and innumerate journos” who make up political discussion channels. Unlike the polling operation that David Cameron used before the last election he is always ready look beyond a few simple headline numbers. Some polls found that Australian voters preferred Kevin Rudd to be prime minister, than Tony Abbott. In one of his regularly revealing articles for Australia’s business press Textor warned against such superficial readings. Voters, he said, don’t notice the stable and united team that Tony Abbott has built and don’t credit him for it. He believes that the commentariat worry too much about a politician’s charisma and not enough about their management skills. That’s dangerous in an age when voters put a premium on competence.

In many respects Abbott’s victory is Textor’s victory. Abbott’s constant repetition of a few key messages – Scrap the carbon tax; Stop the boats carrying illegal immigrants; and Build more roads – sent political journalists to sleep but they were killer messages identified by Textor’s opinion polling. Local journalists refer to him as the “suburban whisperer” – the man who reminds politicians of what real Australia thinks.

Textor, like Lynton Crosby, is sometimes painted as a hardline right-winger but he’s always data-driven. While he helped crafted Abbott’s sceptical position on climate change he has also encouraged a focus on the preservation and quality of local parks and waterways. He has written movingly and repeatedly about the welfare of aboriginal communities.

Working with Textor can be hard work. An extraordinary self-publicist according to his detractors he likes to be noticed and he likes talking. One Sydney journalist who met him for lunch noted that “he did eat, so there must have been times when Textor wasn't talking; I just struggle to remember them.”

And when he talks he talks plainly and he encourages politicians to do the same. One of the explanations he gave for the failure of Julia Gillard’s campaign to paint Tony Abbott as a “misogynist” was that the strategy was “weak simply because one has to Google it to remind oneself of what it’s supposed to mean.”

Mr Textor has advised politicians throughout the world but won his reputation for his advice to John Howard. It was said that the smallest distance in Australia was between Howard and Textor but that relationship soured when Textor’s polling was leaked in the run up to the Liberal Party’s defeat in 2007. The polling suggested that Howard should step down. While it was probably the right advice it wasn’t wanted, it was ignored and wasn't quickly forgiven by its target.

Alongside Lynton Crosby, Textor will be helping Cameron to shape the next Tory election campaign. If he has his way we can all expect to become a bit bored as messages are endlessly repeated. We can expect more streetwise language from Cameron. And my fellow pundits should brace themselves for a few disrespecting Tweets.

23 Aug 2013 08:13:54

If it embraces pro-working class economic policies the Right can devastate the Left

By Tim Montgomerie
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I've now been at The Times for just over four months and of all the articles I've published since taking over the Comment desk one of the most important was a piece by YouGov's Peter Kellner that documented declining voter faith in left-wing parties across Europe. After conducting polling in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden Mr Kellner - himself a man of the Left - worried that "millions in all four countries no longer think left-of-centre parties care about them; and most reject the idea that governments are good at solving social problems." The polling is summarised in the table below:


I don't believe that the austerity we are seeing is a short-term problem for the Left. It's not just that countries like Britain are only a quarter to a third of the way towards getting rid of the deficit. The ageing population means that it's going to be hard for governments to afford any new forms of expenditure that aren't related to pensions, healthcare and social care. There's also the fact of global tax competition. If left-wing governments think they can keep raising taxes to pay for new benefits or entitlement programmes they will find that footloose individuals and businesses will teach them some basic lessons in economics.

Continue reading "If it embraces pro-working class economic policies the Right can devastate the Left" »

12 Jul 2013 05:53:44

Stephen Crabb MP: Why our Party is making progress in Wales

Stephen Crabb MP is Wales Office Minister and a Government Whip.  Follow Stephen on Twitter.

Values and identity are key to further broadening the Conservative Party’s appeal. The Party remains locked out of too many communities across Britain where support for our policies does not actually translate into Conservative votes. But the experience of the party in Wales in recent years demonstrates that this can be turned around. Wales will always be one of the more challenging areas of the UK in which to campaign and win. But, by adapting to the new realities of devolution and a deepening national consciousness, Conservatives in Wales have bounced back strongly from the disastrous 1997 election, when we lost our entire parliamentary representation and Labour declared Wales a “Tory Free Zone”.

In 2009 Welsh Conservatives topped the European elections in Wales, beating Labour into second place.  In 2010 Welsh Conservatives increased their number of MPs from three to eight, and in 2011 we became the second largest party in the Welsh Assembly. Welsh Conservatives have good reason to remain optimistic and ambitious for the future. With Wales being the only part of the UK where Labour remains in power, its leadership wants to talk up the record of Welsh Government as 2015 approaches. Ed Balls even suggested that "the UK can learn from what Carwyn Jones is doing in Wales".

If Miliband and Balls wish to present Wales as an incubator for the kind of policies that a UK Labour government would pursue, then Welsh Conservatives should gladly accept the invitation to make Labour’s record in Wales a key battle-ground. Between 1999 and 2010, when Labour ran both the UK and Welsh governments, Wales’ economic performance relative to the rest of the UK deteriorated while outcomes in key devolved public services like the NHS and Education also worsened significantly.

In 2015, voters in Wales will for the first time be able to compare and contrast directly the distinctive approaches taken to public service delivery by Conservatives in London and by Labour in Cardiff. Devolution helps to create a marketplace for policies. Failing approaches become even more apparent when better alternatives are being employed just across a border. But it is not just at the level of policy and delivery that Welsh Conservatives can campaign with confidence in 2015. Elections are also about the values we hold and communicate.

At the last Westminster and Assembly elections the Labour leadership urged voters in Wales to “come home to Labour”. Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith MP echoes this by claiming that Labour is the “true party of Wales”, which embodies the intrinsic values of Welsh people. At the heart of the Welsh Labour outlook is a sense of entitlement and absence of humility, characteristic of old-style machine politics, which takes Welsh voters for granted.

Labour’s position is buttressed by the economic structure of Wales, with its relatively high levels of state spending, greater proportion of public sector workers, and the highest density of trade union membership of any of the UK’s regions or devolved nations. But while it is true that the Welsh national experience has given its people a different outlook and set of values, it is not the case that these values are essentially social democratic and that they translate into a preference for state intervention, higher taxes and public spending.

Welsh values can instead be described as communitarian: less individualistic, borne out of strong family and community bonds, and a deep sense of history and place. Wales also enjoys a high stock of social capital with relatively high rates of volunteering and community participation. This is fertile ground for a Conservative Party which emphasises the social market, as opposed to socialism; localism and community solutions instead of centralised diktat; and values the dynamism of the voluntary sector rather than seeing it as a poor second-best to state intervention. 

Far from being intrinsically hostile, the distinctive values of Wales actually underpin much of what constitutes modern Conservatism. If communitarian does not equal socialist, neither does patriotism equal nationalism. This is another area where Welsh differences need to be properly understood if the party is to continue its growth. The starting point for Welsh Conservatism is a recognition of the growing importance of Welsh identity in our politics.

The Welsh Conservative Party has increased its representation at every tier of elected politics over the last decade because it has understood that Wales is different; because it has been comfortable putting Welsh identity at the heart of its message; and because the Party now owns a set of policies that speaks directly to the values and aspirations of Welsh families and individuals.

Although nationalism – in the sense of separatism – is a minority interest in Wales, patriotism runs very high indeed. A recent opinion poll found that the Welsh were the most likely to say they took pride in their flag and in their national sporting teams, ahead of people from Scotland and England. But patriotism is not to be confused with nationalism, and Conservatives must resist the lure of simplistically arguing for 'ever looser union' with England as an end in itself. Despite the advent of devolution providing a boost for Plaid Cymru’s vote at the start of the 2000s, there has been a steady fall in its support. Polls show that only around 10 per cent of voters are in favour of independence In short: the people of Wales value the Union.

Nevertheless they also want, more than ever before, to elect politicians who share their patriotism, who will fight for Wales, and who communicate a strong belief in the Welsh nation. This extends to support for the Welsh language, which has become a touchstone issue. Although only a minority of Welsh people speak it fluently, there is an underlying bank of good will for the language which goes far beyond those who speak Welsh. The native tongue is much more central to the national identity of Welsh people than it is for the Scots or Irish.

Welsh Conservatives understand this and have been at the forefront of calls for stronger protections for the language. The party that acted as midwife at the birth of S4C (a Welsh language TV channel) in the 1980s must never stop working to renew its reputation as a defender of the language. The Conservative Party now campaigns confidently as a distinctively Welsh Conservative Party and, more than ever before, selects Welsh activists as its candidates. For the first time there is now a Welsh-speaking Conservative Secretary of State in the Wales Office; a half of all Welsh Conservative MPs have served previously in the Welsh Assembly; and all eight MPs represent constituencies in which they have longstanding and deep roots.

There must be no reversal in this trend. In an age of localism, when voters demand authenticity and accessibility from their politicians, the party must always rely on Welsh party members and supporters for the bulk of its candidates. The Conservative renaissance in Wales demonstrates that the party has a genuine UK-wide offer. As the United Kingdom has changed over the last fifteen years, both socially and constitutionally, so the Welsh Conservative Party has adapted and matured, regaining its relevance and impact as a political force.

11 Jul 2013 06:16:02

Paul Uppal MP: The long road to winning support from ethnic minority voters

Uppal PaulPaul Uppal is MP for Wolverhampton South-West. Follow Paul on Twitter.

As a Party, we need to address our underperformance in urban areas. Whilst much of it has been attributed to our image with working class inner city voters, a new study suggests that our results with ethnic minority voters has also played a significant role.

A recent major study, the Ethnic Minority British Election Study (EMBES), published by the Runnymede Trust shows that at the 2010 General Election only 16 per cent of ethnic minorities voted Conservative. We must increase ethnic minority voting for the Conservative Party, if we are to win in urban areas and adapt to the changing face of Britain. In 2005, David Cameron’s first conference speech as leader highlighted this issue by saying what we need is “fundamental change ... that shows we're comfortable with modern Britain and that we believe our best days lie ahead".

This message is as true today as we sit in a coalition government and as we’re recovering from electoral defeat. If it wants to become a strong electoral force in this modern Britain, the Conservative Party must be willing to change and listen. Whilst Britain has changed over the past decade, the non-white British population has grown from 6.6 million in 2001 to 9.1 million in 2009 - or nearly one in six people - the Conservative Party has been too slow to adapt.

Continue reading "Paul Uppal MP: The long road to winning support from ethnic minority voters" »

9 Jul 2013 06:45:28

Gavin Barwell MP: We need a long-term plan to modernise the Party on the ground. Here it is.

Gavin Barwell is Member of Parliament for Croydon Central. Follow Gavin on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 17.06.08Most of the debate about what the Conservative Party needs to do to win overall majorities at future General Elections focuses on policy and message – and rightly so. Even without an organisation on the ground, parties with an attractive message can achieve success.

But organisation does matter.  In marginal seats, it can make the difference between victory and defeat.  And our organisation is not what it used to be.

The way in which we have historically organised ourselves now compounds that problem in two ways.

First, because we still generally organise on a constituency-by-constituency basis (with each constituency having its own Conservative Association which is largely left to get on with things) rather than pooling resources across a wider area, the general decline in membership has been felt most in safe Labour seats and Conservative/Labour marginals, particularly those in parts of the country that are more difficult territory for us.  In some safe Labour seats, we have simply ceased to exist.  And in many Conservative/Labour marginals, our membership is so small that it is difficult to raise funds for campaigning or find enough people to deliver our literature.  What strength we have left tends to be in safe Conservative seats and it is very difficult to motivate activists in these areas to go and campaign elsewhere where their efforts might have some impact on the number of Conservative MPs elected to Parliament.

Second, because the central organisation of the Party is under the control of the Leader of the Party, our organisational focus is always on the next general election to the exclusion of all else.  When I worked at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, we would agree after each General Election defeat that we needed to rebuild a Conservative presence in places like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle.  We would start to invest a bit of resource in this, but as soon as a General Election approached everything would be focused on winning that Election.

Continue reading "Gavin Barwell MP: We need a long-term plan to modernise the Party on the ground. Here it is." »

8 Jul 2013 06:16:43

David Skelton: Now is the time to set out how to win more support outside our south-eastern heartland

David Skelton is a former Deputy Director of Policy Exchange. He is now establishing a campaign group aimed at broadening Conservative appeal, which will launch next week. Follow David on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-07-07 at 20.39.47The Conservative Party can still win a majority at the next election. It’s true that the party hasn’t won an overall majority for 21 years - and it’s true that the Party is no longer an electoral force in many places across the country, especially in our great northern cities. Yet I am optimistic that the Conservatives can be the party for the many, not the few.

The challenge for the Conservatives over the coming years is to reach out to those groups of voters who remain largely detached from the Party: voters outside of the South Eastern heartland; ethnic minorities; working class voters (especially in the North and Midlands); and people living in cities.

Only 16 per cent of ethnic minority voters voted Tory at the last election. The Party only holds 20 of the 124 urban seats in the North and Midlands (that’s 16 per cent). It doesnt have a single councillor in Liverpool, Sheffield or Manchester. And the perception of the Party remains that it is not a people’s party, with 64 per cent of voters agreeing with the statement that the party “looks after the interests of the rich and powerful, not ordinary people.”

If the Party can’t overcome these challenges it will find it difficult to win an overall majority in the decades to come, and will have to face spells of opposition interspersed with brief periods of coalition government. For those of us who believe that the country would be better off with a majority Conservative government, that is clearly something that should concern us greatly.

That’s why I am launching a new campaign group next week with the express aim of broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party, in order to build a coalition of voters to ensure Tory success for decades to come. MPs from across the party have contributed to an initial paper looking at Conservative challenges and how the party can overcome them. Contributors include Matthew Hancock, Douglas Carswell, Robert Halfon, Laura Sandys, Nadhim Zahawi, Gavin Barwell, Guy Opperman, Paul Maynard, Rachel Maclean, Stephen Crabb, Damien Hinds and Lord Bates.

The goal for the group is to suggest ways to break down the barriers between the Conservative Party and key groups of target voters. This will include considering policies that the Conservatives should pursue to gain ground, in areas such as job creation and the cost of living. We’ll also be tackling issues around how the party can be more diverse and representative at national and local level, attract more ethnic minority candidates and people from poorer backgrounds, and use technology and social media in an effort to reach out to voters.

The group will also emphasise the importance of Conservatives being involved on the ground all year round, not just in the few months before an election. By being actively involved in real and virtual social networks, and becoming known as positive forces for change, Conservatives will start to overcome the negativity or suspicion that still exists towards them in many parts of the country. That is why the group will not purely be based in the Westminster bubble, but will be working at a local level to help change happen.

The 2015 election is, obviously, crucial. Most of the target constituencies that the party must win are urban, and consist of  a higher than average proportion of ethnic minority voters and public sector workers – just the sort of people that this group aims to attract.

But we must think much longer term than the next election. One of the key goals must be to win second place back from the Liberal Democrats in as many seats as possible, so that the Conservatives are seen as the main challengers to Labour – crucial for future elections. The old political maxim of ‘second place first’ absolutely identifies what the Conservative target should be in many constituencies.

The ultimate aim of this group is to ensure that the Conservatives are able to govern, alone, with sustainable majorities, over the coming decades. At the moment, their ‘glass ceiling’ of support is too low to be able to do this. Only by broadening their appeal and reaching out to voters who have previously been reluctant to vote Tory will the party be able to build the new coalition of voters that it needs. If they can successfully broaden their appeal, the Conservative Party will retain its mantra as the true 'One Nation' party, and be victorious at the next election and beyond.

This is an extract from a book of essays to mark the launch next Monday of a new campaign group looking at ways to broaden the appeal of the party

21 Jun 2013 06:39:46

David Skelton: The midlands and northern challenge - where we hold only 16 of 124 urban seats

Skelton DaveDavid Skelton is a former Deputy Director of Policy Exchange. He is now establishing a campaign group aimed at broadening Conservative appeal, which will launch in July. Follow David on Twitter.

Take a look at the electoral map for the big Tory landslides since 1945 – whether it be Eden’s in 1955, Macmillan’s in 1959 or Thatcher’s in 1983. One thing becomes abundantly clear – a major contribution to big-post war election victories was winning seats in Scotland, the North and the Midlands. These leaders were winning seats in cities that have now become an electoral  wasteland for the Conservatives.

If the Conservatives cannot make significant headway in the urban centres in the North and Midlands, as well as making some kind of recovery in Scotland and picking up seats in the South West, it will be much more difficult for them to govern with an overall majority again. Being shut out from great swathes of the nation means that the party is starting each election campaign at a disadvantage. That’s why it’s so crucial that the Conservatives make a focused and determined effort to regain lost ground outside of its South Eastern heartland.

The scale of the problem is illustrated by the fact that the Tories hold less than a third of the seats in the North of England and only a single seat in Scotland. They hold only 20 of the 124 urban seats in the North and Midlands (that’s a mere 16 per cent). In cities where there was once a strong Tory presence, such as Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool, conservatism has become very much a minority interest – there isn’t a single Tory Councillor in any of these cities and in most Council wards the party isn’t even in a challenging position.

In Liverpool, once a bastion of working class Toryism, the Party came a miserable seventh in last year’s election to be Mayor of the city – with just over four per cent of the vote, compared to the winning candidate’s 59 per cent. There isn’t much evidence that the situation has improved since then either. This morning’s YouGov poll, which gives Labour a nine point lead nationally, gives them an 11 per cent lead in the Midlands and Wales and a whopping 36 per cent lead in the North.

Continue reading "David Skelton: The midlands and northern challenge - where we hold only 16 of 124 urban seats" »

20 Jun 2013 05:20:09

Elizabeth Oldfield: Religion in Britain. Not dead - but alive in new ways. And a challenge to the political parties.

Oldfield ElizabethElizabeth Oldfield is Director of Theos Think Tank.  Follow Elizabeth on Twitter. 

The religious landscape of the UK has changed and is changing, but not exactly in the ways we expected it to. 15 years ago, the “secularisation thesis” which argued that industrialised societies would also inevitably be increasingly secularised was still, in the public mind at least, credible.

Not so now. Globally, religion has only become more important and more visible. That’s true even in the UK, which continues to see declining attendance figures for mainline Christian denominations. We don’t have an increasingly secularised society, but we do have an increasingly plural one. The headlines from the last census look straightforward – fewer people identifying as Christian (although still 59.3 per cent), more people identifying as no religion (25% per cent), and more people identifying as Muslim (4.8 per cent). The single, dominant religious affiliation is fading, and making way for broader diversity.

Even this doesn’t communicate the complexity though. The census questions are the bluntest of blunt instruments, dealing only with self-identification, not belief or practice. Other research conducted by Theos shows us that only 9 per cent of people are consistent in their complete non-religiosity. The rest occasionally attend a place of worship or believe in one or more ‘supernatural’ things, such as angels, heaven or (like a fifth of the non-religious) the supernatural power of deceased ancestors. Across the whole population, traditional religious belief has declined, but has not been replaced by straightforward materialism. The numbers of people who believe in a personal God have gone down, but those who believe in a spirit or life force have gone up, along with belief in a soul and in life after death. Cathedral attendance is booming and not just among Christians.  Even if we happened to tick the same box, the likelihood of us believing, behaving or belonging in the same way as our neighbours is becoming ever smaller.

Increased religious diversity is accompanied by a louder, shriller and more divisive public conversation about it. In the long shadow of 9/11, it has become more acceptable, even fashionable, to be publicly hostile towards religion, and organisations like the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association have found a new lease of life on the coat tails of Richard Dawkins et al. Groupings of socially-conservative religious believers have also become more visible, more media savvy and certainly more litigious than in previous decades. Although these groups do not constitute a US-style “Religious Right”, their clashes with their secularist counterparts have more and more a whiff of America’s culture wars. Even as numbers of Muslims grow, anti-Muslim feeling, especially following events like the Woolwich attacks, is also on the rise.

Continue reading "Elizabeth Oldfield: Religion in Britain. Not dead - but alive in new ways. And a challenge to the political parties." »

19 Jun 2013 07:08:44

Max Chambers: To win, Cameron must make a game-changing offer to the young middle-classes

Max Chambers is Head of Crime and Justice at Policy Exchange.

Screen shot 2013-06-18 at 15.32.21“Britain’s on the right track, don’t turn back”. When George Osborne invoked Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 campaign slogan last year, it was the clearest message about what is set to be the Conservatives’ overarching campaign message at the next general election. But even if green shoots have begun to bear fruit, it is still going to be very hard for the Party to win a majority, especially under the existing boundaries.

Despite a consistent mid-term lead for Labour in the opinion polls, those same polls indicate that the British people would still prefer David Cameron in Downing Street to Ed Miliband.  So of course,  if the Chancellor’s economic medicine starts to produce results that people can feel, and the Tories can successfully paint Miliband as a risk the country can’t afford to take, the Conservatives could yet turn things around. But given the Tories’ inability to win outright in 2010 despite relatively benign conditions and an unpopular Prime Minister, the best case scenario for the Party, on current trends, is surely another unwelcome coalition.

So while the campaign message may be lifted from 1983, there is no transformative military victory on the horizon. But is there a game-changer out there that could swing the odds in the Tories’ favour? How could the Conservatives get towards the magic 40% figure, which gives them a chance of the 7% lead they need to win that elusive majority?

Continue reading "Max Chambers: To win, Cameron must make a game-changing offer to the young middle-classes" »

18 Jun 2013 06:31:45

Max Wind-Cowie: We will win ethnic minority votes by backing outsiders - and learning from Boris

Max Wind-Cowie is Head of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos.  Follow Max on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 20.37.10In his excellent piece on the challenges faced by the Conservative Party, Sunder Katwala yesterday singled out the shifting ethnic character of Britain.  He observed, rightly, that "the Conservatives received a wake-up call about the dangers of getting on the wrong side of demographic change from the experience of their U.S Republican cousins last year".

And this transatlantic gloom is only reinforced when you look at polling here in the UK.  Whereas 36 per cent of white Britons gave the Tory party their vote, only 16 per cent of our black and minority ethnic (BME) population will.  As Britain becomes less white over time – and it will – we can expect that imbalance to make it more and more difficult for us to win majorities.

This isn’t news.  Indeed, many conservative thinkers, politicians and commentators have warned of the dangers of our disengagement from BME Britain – including ConservativeHome’s own Tim Montgomerie and Paul Goodman.

There are some common themes in many of the solutions that have been offered – most of which I would echo. We need to be "in it to win it" – and establish a presence in BME areas which shows us to be open and interested.  We have to be emphasise commonalities between certain types of BME voters and our traditional base – in particular, their shared experience as small business-people and their common low-tax, anti-spending instincts.  And we have to recognise that within the BME population at large, and within particular demographic groups too, there is every bit as much diversity and difference as there may appear to be between BME voters and White British voters.

The truth is that patterns of aggregate behaviour, affected but not determined by race and ethnicity, are never simple. They take a long time to become clear and raise difficult questions.  This is every bit as true in areas as complex and confusing as voting patterns as it is in arguably more straightforward areas such as housing or health.  There are, I believe, three key lessons that the Conservative Party must learn if we are to resolve our difficulty with BME voters.

1) The fix will never be quick

This series is about how the Conservative Party might win majorities once more.  And I have some bad news.  If we’re only really interested in 2015, then a focus on ethnic minority voters is very unlikely to deliver the goods.  As Trevor Phillips, former Chair of the EHRC and current Chair of Demos’ work on integration, told me:

“The views of BME voters of my age [towards the Conservative Party] were shaped by traumatic events – such as the rise of Powellism – and are really quite hard to shift.  The Conservative Party is unlikely to win over even affluent people in that generation.”

Of course it is good – morally, politically – that the Conservative Party is not racist.  But it is true, I think, to say that no amount of apology will transform the deeply-held, emotional suspicion felt by many who believe they were let down by us in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Furthermore, this is a group who – because of Labour’s more dynamic and aggressive pursuit of anti-discrimination legislation – feel a direct and personal debt of gratitude to the Labour Party. We won’t change history and, there’s no point in trying. 

That’s not to say that we should abandon BME voters and retreat to a White core vote.  Because the longer-term looks more optimistic, and because 2015 will not be the last election we fight.

2) It’s no good just sucking up to vested interests

Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Co-Chair and current Minister for Faith Groups, is given to saying that BME voters "share our values but haven't traditionally voted Conservative".

This theory – of a naturally conservative BME electorate who, for historic or cultural reasons, are wedded to Labour – is an underlying assumption in many of the conversations I have with Conservative activists and MPs.  The problem with it is that, sometimes, the conservatism on display in many BME communities jars with that of the modern, open Conservative Party. 

Sometimes, the approach of the elders of BME communities can feel almost like that of old-school trade union barons. Individual liberty can sometimes be treated as secondary to a set of collective rights; there can be an instinct to close down debate within and between communities in favour of ‘unity’ - diversity within groups can be ignored.

The Labour Party have often tacitly supported this set-up – and they have benefited from doing so. The biradari system, for example – in which community elders have effectively gifted elections to Labour – has been rewarded by Labour Governments by the turning of a blind eye and the allocation of funding in such a way as to reinforce and entrench the influence of established "community leaders".  For two reasons, this cannot be the Tory way.

First, it is a strategy of diminishing returns.  Bradford West and Tower Hamlets – both areas in which the taken-for-granted BME vote rebelled, delivering stinging defeats for Labour in their heartlands – show that working via ‘elders’ is less of a guarantee than has been assumed. 

Second, this approach is wholly antithetical to our Party’s values.  In the same way that in the 1980s we refused to acknowledge union barons as the sole legitimate representatives of working class interests, so we must not treat religious or community leaders as though they have some divine right to speak on behalf of their own diverse groups.

Whilst we do need to win over BME voters – particularly younger voters – we mustn’t try to do so by pretending that we agree with the "leaders" of particular communities and imitating Labour’s approach. We need an authentically conservative take on dealing with multiculturalism and diversity.

Support the outriders

So what to do?  Well, I believe the Party should ally itself with outriders within BME communities.  We should be side by side with people like my friend Jasvinder Sanghera – who was recently rewarded for her inspiring work with a CBE. Jasvinder has translated her own experiences of "forced segregation" – as she puts it – into a life spent campaigning for the rights of women in BME communities.  She isn’t asking her community to give up on its culture and its heritage, but she is demanding that they recognise the British way of life as their own and that they respect the freedom of individuals to live lives that they choose for themselves. 

Her message is powerful and it fits much more comfortably into the Conservative Party’s conception of society than does mimicry of the clientism that has characterised Labour’s approach.

What’s more, it strikes a chord with exactly the young, BME voters with whom we stand a chance of connecting.  As the Economist pointed out in their recent article Generation Boris, across the board the UK’s younger population is charactertised by a commitment to the kind of rugged individualism and aspiration that is embodied by people like Jasvinder, and which is at the heart of modern conservatism.

And that leads us to some of the policies that might start to make a difference in how we are perceived. The outriders in BME communities are not only those who take a stand against particular practices. 

They are also the people building a small business but who remain convinced that banks discriminate against them on the basis of assumptions about what it means to be an Asian shopkeeper.  They are the mothers desperate for improvements to the local school, who would leap at the chance of more targeted support to help them benefit from Gove’s ‘free-school revolution’. They are people like Ray Lewis, taking a lonely but fruitful stand against the rise in gang culture amongst the men and boys they see around them – who would revel in a real ‘Big Society’ approach that rewarded their success in undermining silence and aquiescence in communities torn apart by violence.

Yesterday, Sunder highlighted Boris Johnson’s successive victories in London as evidence that the Conservative Party might be able to turn the tide of BME antipathy.  He’s right to have done so. For Boris’ win demonstrated exactly the kind of Toryism that can work in convincing young BME voters to give us a chance.

Boris’ message for BME Londoners was about opening doors for people, ensuring that barriers to entrepreneurship and success (be they self-imposed by communities or created by lingering discrimination) are torn down and promoting the positive ideals of integration and patriotism.  And it is these themes that might, just, work in promoting our party to voters who – at present – don’t really hear us. 

We need to work with outriders, take our time and – at all costs – avoid replicating the dangerous and failing strategy that Labour has pursued.