The Conservatives have a golden opportunity capture the ethnic minority vote if they soften their stance on immigration, according to a study by party modernisers.
The Bright Blue group has advised David Cameron he could attract millions of ethnic minority voters by introducing a “more balanced” approach to immigration not based on “caps and clampdowns”. The study found that many in the ethnic minorities support Tory policies such as restricting state benefits for new migrants and tough border controls to curb illegal immigration.
At last month’s election, an estimated 33 per cent of such voters supported the Tories – a dramatic rise on the 16 per cent who backed the party in 2010. Labour’s support dropped from 68 to 52 per cent.
Tory officials believe the party’s belief in aspiration, family and enterprise appeals to many ethnic minority groups, notably the Hindu community, among whom the Tories won more votes than Labour. The Tories are now looking at how to extend their appeal to help the party retain power. Some Labour MPs believe policies such as the proposed mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m cost the party support among the Indian middle class. It has now been ditched.
After a year-long project, Bright Blue, a liberal Tory think tank with close links to Mr Cameron, concluded that the party needs to tone down its harsh rhetoric on immigration in order to reap a bigger electoral reward. Its report said: “With ethnic minorities set to grow as a proportion of the electorate in the coming decades, forecast to comprise 20-30 per cent of the UK population by 2051, it is vital for the Conservative Party that it continues to strengthen its appeal amongst ethnic minorities.”
A poll of 1,200 ethnic minority voters by Survation for Bright Blue found that 24 per cent of non-Tory supporters would consider backing the party if it changed its immigration policy –behind only change on the NHS (34 per cent) and economic policy (29 per cent)
Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “It is not in the long-term interests of the Conservative Party to pursue a policy agenda on immigration that predominantly focuses on caps and clampdowns. It needs a balanced approach. A strong narrative that is positive about the contribution most immigrants make to Britain. And a policy agenda that, yes, tackles abuse and illegal immigration, but is also much more welcoming of those who will enrich our economy and society".
The study concluded: “Ethnic minorities want the same immigration policies as the wider public. Competence and contribution are prioritised by ethnic minorities as characteristics for our immigration system: strong border controls and letting in those immigrants who will best benefit Britain. Ethnic minorities also place a considerable emphasis upon the integration of immigrants. These policy priorities are shared by the wider public and so mark points of significant agreement and consensus between ethnic minorities and the wider population.”
However, the Survation poll found that ethnic minorities are markedly more welcoming of immigrants, less keen on limiting numbers and much more positive about the impact of immigration than the population as a whole. While acknowledging problems such as racial tension, they are more likely to believe that integration has been successful. Some 88 per cent of ethnic minorities believe it is important for new arrivals to make efforts to integrate.
Among the ethnic minorities, there is 80 per cent support for the Government’s decision to make EU migrants work for three months before having access to benefits, while 38 per cent want them to wait for more than a year, in line with the wider public.
Immigrants are “very positive” about Britain, with 93 per cent of them saying they are “proud” to live in the country and 60 per cent feeling respect for the British political system.
The findings will be studied by Downing Street and Conservative Party HQ. However, Mr Cameron is likely to receive conflicting advice from some ministers, who want to maintain a tough approach – not least to combat Ukip. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, remains committed to reducing net migration to under 100,000 a year but it is currently running at 318,000. This week business groups criticised the Government after Mr Cameron announced plans to cut the number of skilled workers coming to Britain from outside the EU, a move resisted during the Coalition Government by Vince Cable, the then Liberal Democrat Business Secretary.
Bright Blue has called previously for the target to be abandoned and replaced by one for gross non-EU migration, excluding students.