Major woos ethnic voters but admits racism exists

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday made a clear pitch for the ethnic minority vote, in a speech which praised the contribution made by immigrants into Britain.

Speaking at a rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of independence for India and Pakistan, the Prime Minister argued that ethnic minority communities shared common values with the Conservative Party. He said: "Some of you - or your parents or grandparents - have risked everything by leaving your country of birth and settling here. Your livelihood depended on your enterprise, your determination to come to Britain to give you and your families a better life."

The majority of ethnic minority voters back Labour but the Conservatives hope that they can make some inroads, particularly into the growing Asian middle class.

Mr Major, who has prided himself on his stance against racism since his days in Brixton, said that he believed it was being defeated despite the doom-laden predictions of earlier generations. Racism was being swept away not by legislation alone but by the British people.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Institute in London, he added: "It was the British character that won the day. Civil, decent and tolerant." However, the Prime Minister conceded that Britain was still not an equal society.

"I don't pretend that the prospects for the young black man in Britain are yet as open to talent as they are to the young white man in the Home Counties. But we must try and make it so," he said.

But he insisted that politically correct policies would not entrench and broaden opportunity. "No man or woman wants to succeed because of their colour. They wish to succeed on merit," he insisted.

Following Labour demands that he rule out any question of his party playing the race card in the general election campaign, Mr Major pledged his personal support for anti-racism. He argued: "I've never been a victim of racial discrimination, but any decent person would agree that those kind of acts are utterly repugnant in a civilised nation like Britain. They have no place in our country - and never, never in our party."

Labour hit back through their peer, Lord Swraj Paul, a prominent Asian businessman, who said after Mr Major's speech: "John Major's government has let down the Asian community time and time again thanks to its record of economic failure."