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Kevin Culwick: The Tory challenge amongst minority voters

Culwick KevinKevin Culwick is Director of Lord Ashcroft Polls. This is a summary of the presentation he gave to ConHome's Victory 2015 Conference on 9th March.

Last year Lord Ashcroft published Degrees of Separation, the biggest ever survey among ethnic minority voters about politics in general and the Conservative Party in particular. At the ConHome Victory 2015 conference I highlighted some of the findings in my introduction to the session optimistically titled ‘How To Win Among Ethnic Minorities’.

The research found that 45% of black voters, 35% of Muslims, 26% of Sikhs and 19% of Hindus said they would never vote Conservative. It also identified the views about the party that tended to accompany this answer – the main barriers between ethnic minority voters and the idea of voting Tory.

The view that the Conservatives do not stand for fairness was the single most important factor for Hindu and Sikh voters who would not vote for the party. This is the familiar brand problem, with which we have become wearily familiar, of the Tories seeming to be for the better off not ordinary people. However, more than half of ethnic minority voters also felt that Conservative policies had shown they were hostile to people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. People felt their communities had lost out disproportionately as a result of Tory policies, and even if this hadn’t been the party’s intention, it didn’t seem to mind very much that it was the result.

Conservatives like to talk about the values they have in common with ethnic minority communities. Unfortunately many people in these communities see things rather differently. As far as they are concerned Conservative  values are not to do with family, faith, community, enterprise and thrift so much as selfish individualism. Similarly, Tories have good reason to think of themselves as the party for people who want to get on in life. But minority voters often argue that for their families, getting on in life wasn’t just a matter of hard work and ambition. Discrimination needed to be overcome first, and this sometimes meant legislation. On this score, they believe Labour deserve the credit.

The idea that Conservative politicians, and even Conservative voters, “probably look down on people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds” was a powerful factor for many. This goes back decades to the time of their parents’ or grandparents’ arrival in Britain. As they recall it, the Conservatives gave the impression of being none too keen on their being here, and for many this impression has persisted, reinforced over time by what Tories would regard as isolated and unrepresentative incidents: from Enoch Powell’s speech, the reaction to John Taylor’s candidacy in Cheltenham, or the failed Stephen Lawrence investigation, to unpleasant remarks by obscure local councillors.

With this in mind, it is important to note that for most minority voters “multiculturalism” is simply the technical term for their presence in Britain, and unequivocally a good thing. Arguments about things like integration or faith schools – however thoughtful – will be heard as hostile if, by using a particular word, they seem to question the very idea of a society that includes minorities. For these voters, criticism of multiculturalism sounds like implied criticism of them.

The perception that the Conservative Party “does not seem to have any members or spokesman from different ethnic or religious backgrounds” is very widespread, though increasingly refutable. When they do come across a prominent Conservative from their own ethnic or religious background, however, their reaction is usually not that the party must be more open to people like them than they had realised, but that the party wants them to think it is. The research found that this was particularly true for black voters. Told that there were some black Conservative MPs (which most did not know), their reaction was that if they had become Tories they must be doing very well for themselves.

There is hope, however. Most agreed that the Conservatives “used to be hostile or indifferent to people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, but the party is changing for the better”. And while the attitudes I have described are common, they are not universal. Younger minority voters were more open to the Tories than older generations, and those employed in the private sector more so than others; Hindus and Sikhs working in the private sector were among the least likely of all voters in the research to say they would never vote Tory. In fact compared to white public sector atheists they will be a very fruitful target indeed.

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