Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for his party to increase the number of BME Parliamentary candidates, coming on the back of the release of Census 2011 data is timely. The latest demographic statistics clearly reveals that in many cities across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, the minority vote has the potential to make or break a party’s electoral prospects in the forthcoming 2015 general elections.
In calling for greater BME representation within his Party, what the PM fails to understand is that diversity cannot be achieved through diktat. The ideological and practical dimensions of current Conservative policies remain hostile towards minority communities and clearly mark them out as the ‘Other.’ The recent scathing letter from Doreen Lawrence to the Prime Minister castigating his government for turning its back on the race agenda echoes the frustrations felt by many BME communities who have watched the steady diminution of Race under the Conservative and Lib-Dem Coalition.
Cameron needs to recognise that BME voters are not electoral fodder that can be duped by shallow rhetorical flourishes of a Tory commitment to diversity. The Party’s electoral chances will ultimately be determined by its success in tackling the deep systemic and structural racial inequality that have historically plagued BME communities. On the basis of the Party’s present record, the prognosis does not appear to be too good.
Cameron marked his relationship with the BME and particularly the Muslim community early on in his premiership in his speech to world leaders at the Munich Security Conference. He attacked multiculturalism and declared that Britain has wrongly “tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values”. He also articulated a highly contentious conveyor belt theory of radicalism claiming that “many [of the convicted terrorists] were initially influenced by ‘non-violent extremists’ and then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.” By defining ALL Muslims as potential terrorists and assuming that Black and minority ethnic communities did not ascribe to “our” values of ‘Britishness’, he was effectively sanctioning State racism and State Islamophobia. The timing of this speech also added insult to injury, taking place within hours of one of the biggest anti-Islam rallies ever staged in Britain by the English Defence League in Luton.
Within months of the controversial Munich speech the PM mounted the ‘Red Tape Challenge,’ inviting the public to help the government reduce the overall burden of regulation on businesses. According to the website, the Red Tape Challenge is a way “for you to tell us which regulations are working and which are not; what should be scrapped, what should be saved and what should be simplified.” It looks at six cross-cutting themes, one of which is Equalities.
However instead of referring to specific regulations on how the Equality Act 2010 is implemented, the website invited people to comment on whether the Act should be scrapped. It is worth noting that no other piece of legislation passed by Parliament has been subject to the same process. The Prime Minister’s decision to consult on the Act at a time whilst the specific regulations were already under review in a separate process merely highlights Cameron’s willingness to put the interest of business and the free market above a key piece of legislation, which sets basic standards that protect vulnerable people from discrimination and harassment.
This gulf between the rhetoric of creating a more diverse party and the reality had its clearest manifestation in the unfair treatment meted out by the Party to the only BME member of the Cabinet, the Asian Muslim party co-chair Sayeed Warsi. The PM’s decision to refer her for investigation in relation to a series of business trips and Warsi’s subsequent demotion over these minor breaches of the ministerial code has been highly discriminatory. Two of the Prime Minister’s other Cabinet colleagues were caught out for far worse misdemeanors – Grant Schapps for his dodgy private business dealings and Jeremy Hunt for failing to maintain professional boundaries while overseeing the Murdoch bid to take full control of BSkyB. Neither Cabinet member was investigated and instead the PM rewarded them with key Cabinet posts in the mid-term Cabinet reshuffle. Warsi’s fate offers a salutary warning to any aspiring BME politician contemplating a political future with the Conservative Party. Currently there are only eleven Tory MPs from ethnic minorities and the Conservative party has support from only 16 per cent of ethnic minority voters compared with 68 per cent support for Labour.
Judging by the Census Analysis undertaken by the University of Manchester, the attempts by the Conservatives to garner the BME vote is going to become more difficult as the number of BME voters have increased. In 2011, one-in-five people (20%) identified with an ethnic group other than White British compared with only 13% in 2001. As the BME population has almost doubled, critically many of Britain’s cities have become increasingly plural. There is little doubt that come 2015, cities such as Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester – expected to have non-White majority populations in the next decade – will hold the political balance of power. The University of Manchester calculates that 8 boroughs in London and five cities in the Midlands and North – Oldham, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester – are likely to decide the electoral outcome in 2015.In the most recent American elections, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney learnt of the value of the minority vote much to his chagrin, when he pandered to the narrow sectional interests of his party’s core White conservative vote. In ignoring the growing Black, Asian and Latino votes he effectively undermined his own electoral prospects for the American Presidency. Unless the Conservatives embrace diversity and multiculturalism as a fact of British life, the Tories electoral prospects are likely to be a replica of the Republicans’.
Arwa Almari and Ratna Lachman