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It doesn't matter if we think we're not racist. But it matters if ethnic minorities think we are.

By Paul Goodman
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Before the last party conference, Tim Montgomerie reported that most voters aren't worried that the Conservative Party is bigoted, basing this conclusion on polling evidence obtained for ConservativeHome.  "Only 2% say that Conservative attitudes to women are a big barrier," he wrote, adding that "only 1% identify attitudes towards gay people and ethnic minorities".  This is both true and at the same time incomplete - and if considered in isolation (which Tim didn't do, of course) can further a dangerous complacency.

This is because there is an obvious difference between voters in general and voters in particular.  For example, if 1% of all voters think that the Conservatives don't have a problem with people from Yorkshire, but 84% of people from Yorkshire disagree, this will clearly be a barrier to winning votes and seats in Yorkshire.  So let's have a look at the three groups identified in the article (which is surely correct in identifying class, as the polling on which is was based suggests, as the main problem for the party among the generality of voters).

  • Women.  At the last election, 36% of women voted Tory, 31% Labour and 26% Liberal Democrat.  So David Cameron's party reversed the gender gap that had opened up under Tony Blair: traditionally, the Tories won a larger share of womens' votes, but New Labour changed this.  None the less, the gap was still there.  2% fewer women than men voted Conservative, and 3% more women than men voted Labour.  The Conservative lead over Labour was largest among the oldest tranche of women, and Labour's lead over the Conservatives the biggest among the second youngest tranche, 25-34 years olds.  I know of no evidence which suggests that women voters in this group or in any other had a problem with Tory attitudes rather than policies, although it would be strange if some  women who voted other than Conservative to have had a positive view or no view on Tory attitudes.
  • Gay people.  While there are detailed breakdowns of how women and members of ethnic minorities voted, there is no reliable evidence in relation to how gay people voted - and it stands to reason that although the sexual orientation of some will have determined their vote, this will by no means be true of all.  The Economist's Bagehot has quoted a YouGov poll for Stonewall on attitudes, which found that while 37% of voters regarded Labour as gay-friendly, the figure for the Tories was 22%.  Ben Summerskill, Stonewall's Chief Executive, told me that his sense is that gay people vote "increasingly in line with the rest of the population".
  • Ethnic minorities.  Gay people may or may not vote in line with the rest of the population, but ethnic minorities certainly don't.  We won 36% of the national vote, but only 16% of the ethnic minority vote - a full 20 points less, less than a fifth of the total, according to the Runnymede Trust.  Obviously, this varies from group to group: for example, almost a quarter of Indian-origin voters, mostly Hindus, vote Conservative, compared to only 13% of Pakistan-origin voters, mostly Muslims.  No less obviously, perceived Tory attitudes will have had less effect (if any) on how many ethnic minority members cast their votes.  However, a mere glance at the word cloud at the top of this article will confirm thatwe have a very big problem with ethnic minority voters.  The word cloud is drawn from research by Lord Ashcroft.  It suggests that ethnic minorities hold the general prejudices of most voters, though more deeply - and have particular ones too.

The biggest item in the word cloud is "For the rich", which helps to confirm that first point.  But the report itself also helps to prove the second one.  As Lord Ashcroft puts it: "the Conservative Party’s unpopularity among black and Asian voters is not simply a matter of class and geography...Among ethnic minority voters the Conservatives’ brand problem exists in a more intense form."

"Enoch Powell was often mentioned in evidence, as was the notorious Smethwick election campaign of 1964 in which a poster appeared – not distributed by the Conservatives, but remembered as such – saying “if you want a n****r for a neighbour vote Labour”. The failure, on the Conservatives’ watch, properly to investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence was also cited."  I have previously reported that CCHQ:

  • Has asked Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West, and Paul Uppal, MP for Wolverhampton South-West, to compile a campaign guide on working with ethnic minority voters.  Both are of Indian origin and their role may reflect the party's better performance among such voters compared to voters who originate from Pakistan.
  • I understand that the Guide is now almost complete, and will have a section on campaigning, on minorities in Britian, and on issues of concern to them.  It is emphasised that not all ethnic minority groups are interested in the same issues, and that responses to them must be driven by Conservatives values and beliefs.
  • That the Guide will shortly begin to be taken round about target seats in working sessions: these includes seats we currently hold as well as seats we want to win.  CCHQ has taken advice from Jason Kenney, Canada's conservative Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, as has been reported previously, who was recently in Britain.

Although the party now has the capability to explore voting records and intentions by ethnicity and religion, breaking down voters in this kind of detail is a new discovery for it - and for others, bearing in mind the lack of reliable data for how gay people voted in 2010, as cited above.  I have a particular bugbear about the party's failure to study what religious voters think and where they are distributed, which I've written about before in the context of gay marriage.

But my big point is this: that while the number of women and gay voters must surely remain roughly constant, the number of ethnic minority ones is soaring.  Ethnic minority members made up under one in ten of the population in 2001.  By 2050 ethnic minorities will make up a fifth of the population.  On present voting trends, the party is facing demographic marginalisation.  Which - again - is why our war on multiculturalism must end.


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