So far, out of 48 Tory candidates selected for the next election, only one is non-white – ex-soldier Afzal Amin. In 2010, 11 black and Asian Tory MPs got into parliament, one, part Nigerian Helen Grant, even winning Ann Widdecombe’s old seat. Adam Afriyie, Alok Sharma, Nadhim Zahawi, Priti Patel are effective in and outside Parliament. Incredibly, Muslim lawyer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi was appointed Deputy Chair of the Conservatives. The party was, or so we thought, becoming more progressive, inclusive and modern. Well it was, but all that is now ditched. Tory leaders are dashing about frantically like mad mastiffs. Their own grandees and strategists warn of dire consequences if they don’t stop, breathe deeply, and think rationally about the future of the party and nation.
On Friday, on LBC, presenter Iain Dale asked me why so few black and Asian Britons vote Tory. Most migrants are self reliant, hard working, pro-family, pro-business. So why are they not attracted to Conservatives who promote those values? After a brief respite, the party is seen as for and of white middle England, that imagined place with old, familiar pubs, fêtes, women who read Joanna Trollope, bell ringers and flower arrangers, maids on bicycles, local councillors who look like Eric Pickles or Penelope Keith, small church intrigues, decent Christian charities, one or two Chinese takeaways, an Indian restaurant called Taste of the Raj. In 2011, screenwriter Brian True-May explained why his series Midsomer Murders never had non-white characters. Britain might now be cosmopolitan but his settings were “the last bastion of Englishness”. Letting coloured folk into the enclosures, would turn that England into “Slough”. A year later two Asian actors were featured and True-May was gone. Maybe he is now advising the Tories.
Then there is the problem of Theresa May, who has gone into reverse and will not be stopped. In 2002, she made a startlingly honest speech to her tribe. Here are some choice lines: “Our base is too narrow and so occasionally are our sympathies.” ‘“You know what some people call us – the nasty party.” “Our country has become more diverse but our party has remained the same.” “I want us to be the party that represents the whole of England, not some mythical place called middle England.” Brilliant, what a lady, many of us cheered. Today she makes Michael Howard and Widdecombe look soft and fluffy. Her anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are terrifyingly right-wing, even for some right wingers. Some are racist in effect, if not intent. Why has she picked India, Pakistan, Arab and African countries for a £3,000 visitor’s bond and not, say, Australia? The policy is in deadlock because the Lib-Dems are opposing it but the harm’s been done. Her record on refugees and asylum-seekers is worse than any previous Home Secretary’s. Now she wants to dump the Human Rights Act and deny education and health to the “undeserving” incomers. It makes me sick to watch a woman pushing so many injustices. She is the poster girl of the nastiest Tory Party ever. Gove, the neo-Imperialist, is their poster boy.
The Lib Dems still have only white MPs – most of them men. And being cowardly and power crazed, do not robustly oppose the policies above. Sarah Teather, a woman of honour, left her party in protest. Her arguments were conspicuously ignored. Inexplicably, there are still many Lib-Dem loyalists among people of colour. But to be loyal without any return is blind faith. One of them, an Afro-Caribbean, told me; “The messiah will come before we get an MP who looks like me or you. So we wait.” Not all those selected for the next election are white, but that is already too little too late.
Operation Black Vote calculates the non-white vote will decide the outcomes in 168 seats. Millionaire Tory peer Lord Ashcroft reruns May’s earlier pronouncements (“We should be a party for the whole country”) and warns that without attracting minority voters, Conservatives will never get an overall majority. He should have added that those who won’t and don’t vote Tory are no longer grateful fools who can be manipulated by toffs in power. That message needs to be heard by the Lib Dems too. I have heard more patronising, insulting talk from them than any of the others.
So what of Labour? Though Ed’s lot can, without a qualm, betray their minority voters, the principles of equality are now too embedded in Labour’s culture for it to be quite as treacherous as the Coalition. Thankfully, on the wane are the dirty community politics played by the previous generation of Labour MPs. Their young black and Asian MPs are smart and super-confident. In key surveys the party (which can also be hysterically anti-immigrant) is seen as more positive than others about migration and more committed to equality. Other researchers have also found Labour is perceived better on women’s issues and human rights. A Runnymede study found most black and Asian voters choose Labour regardless of social class.
I think this is bad news for democracy. It isn’t healthy for one party to get most of our votes. But the others are not with us and too often calculatedly against us. To back them would make us turkeys. The Coalition needs a reality check. I hope that answers Iain Dale’s good question.