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Samuel Kasamu: The challenge for the party in the Bradford West by-election

Samuel Kasamu is a social entrepreneur and political commentator

Screen shot 2012-03-02 at 18.40.56The coming by-election in West Bradford gives the Conservative party another opportunity to win what was a target seat in the 2010 general elections. Labour’s Marsha Singh actually increased his majority by 5% the last time around - and Jackie Whiteley, the Conservative candidate, will have a fight on her hands.

Singh must have had a lot of voter goodwill to hold this seat since 1997,  but there is no doubt that this election will ultimately add to the debate around two very key questions: can Conservatives win in the North, and can Conservatives win in areas with very large ethnic communities?

Bradford is a largely working class city that has a very distinctive history. It had a very rich manufacturing industry at the peak of the industrial revolution, and was once known as the "wool capital of the world". But now it suffers disproportionately from unemployment, with its youth unemployment levels much higher than the national average.

The people of Bradford have seen major employers going into administration over the last few years and will be wondering if there is any reason to give the Conservatives a chance. They’ll need to be convinced that any prospective candidate will be able to deliver better outcomes in regards to promoting growth and creating jobs for people within the area.

Social housing is another key issue that many of Bradford’s residents will be very keen to hear about, so Grant Shapps's reforms will certainly come into any debate.  The city is also one of the most ethnically diverse and divided areas in England. Over 19% of the population is of Asian descent. But it still has a very large white majority of 78%. None the less, Bradford is a key case study for how Conservatives must be able to strike the correct balance to deal with ethnic communities.

David Cameron’s statement that "multiculturalism has failed" will be something that historians and commentators may never forget. Whilst I have no view on the extent to which that statement may or may not be true, I most certainly appreciate the ramifications of such a declaration. The main issue is that multiculturalism has no fixed definition amongst most people. For some it means being able to continue to live within the confines of their faith, which may be heavily linked to their ethnic background. For others it represents a form of separation that is counterproductive when trying to build communities. I would reckon the links to faith is probably the key cause of tension amongst many ethnic communities that feel threatened whenever multiculturalism is attacked.

Whilst the term is generally seen as indicating different cultures coexisting side by side, with a dominant culture that connects them all, there is no doubt that for different voters multiculturalism is a very subjective term. From a policy level, it is seen by many as the alternative to integration. So in 2010 we said goodbye to the limited remaining of Labour’s ideas of community cohesion, and hello to a new wave of integration promise.

Eric Pickles's recent integration strategy brought together most of the things that were already being done in various Whitehall departments and was launched with a great whimper as opposed to a bang. The truth is if the word integration is seen on the pamphlets that are delivered by Conservative party activists in Bradford it will probably lose the party a lot of votes. Bradford has had a history of racial tensions that have led to a number of disturbances within the area, most notably the riots of 2001.

There is no doubt that the party’s strongest tool will be the Chairman, Baroness Warsi. Not only is she from the same region, but she also originates from Pakistan - the largest of the Asian communities in Bradford with around 20,000 residents originating from that country. But let us not forget that when Labour were in power, Baroness Warsi was the Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion. The budget that she would have been using on community cohesion activities linked to multiculturalism has been relocated to fund one of the coalition's flagship integration policies - National Citizen Service (NCS). A thousand young people are believed to have been involved in the 2001 Bradford riots, so it’ll be very interesting to see just how many young people in the area sign up to NCS.

So a combination of economic deprivation, a diverse ethnic makeup, and the need to understand the subjective nature of particular terms, will all combine to create a very interesting challenge for Jackie Whiteley. She must demonstrate that the Party has a strong housing policy, a strategy for job creation, and of course that the Conservatives are a party that has the ability to represent every section of society. Good luck!


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