Tory reformer warns PM: 'We must reach out to ethnic minorities'

In a new book, a No 10 adviser says the Conservatives have 'absolutely no policy or clear strategy' for attracting voters from BME backgrounds, and urges David Cameron to change tack – or suffer at the polls

Jane Merrick
Saturday 25 August 2012 23:37 BST

David Cameron faces criticism from inside his own party on the Conservatives' progress on race relations, with a warning that the Tories have "no policy or clear strategy" to engage with ethnic-minority voters.

In a book to be launched at Tory conference, and written by a member of the Tory Reform Group who has advised Downing Street on race, the Prime Minister is warned that black and Asian support at the next election will fall unless the party changes tack.

The book's author, Samuel Kasumu, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday, criticises Mr Cameron's comments during the Olympic Games over replacing "Indian dance, or whatever" with competitive sport in schools.

He also warns the Prime Minister not to sack Baroness Warsi as party chairman in the forthcoming reshuffle because she can "cut through" to ethnic minorities in a way her colleagues cannot.

Mr Kasumu, who founded Elevation Networks, a social enterprise tackling youth and graduate unemployment, says that Mr Cameron has not made a speech on race since becoming Prime Minister, and the only pledge in the Tory manifesto to help ethnic-minority communities – a mentoring scheme in Whitehall – has never been delivered.

The book, Winning the Race, says that while Mr Cameron and party chiefs have focused on trying to attract more black and ethnic-minority candidates, they have failed to introduce policies to help voters from those backgrounds.

It follows a report by Elevation Networks and the centre-right think-tank the Bow Group earlier this year showing that black graduates will earn 9 per cent less than their white peers for the same type of work within five years. The report claimed that black students did not face a "level playing field" in educational and employment opportunities. Figures revealed by The Independent showed that just four out of 10 black students were in full-time employment six months after leaving university, against 52 per cent of white graduates.

At the 2010 election, 11 black and ethnic-minority Tory MPs were elected, an increase of nine, after Mr Cameron's pledge, shortly after becoming leader in 2005, to increase representation through the A list of candidates. His biography on the No 10 website says the Prime Minister "was proud to see a significant increase in the number of women and ethnic-minority candidates standing for the Conservative Party".

But Mr Kasumu told The IoS: "The party simply has no policy when it comes to dealing with ethnic-minority communities and their concerns.

"There has been much debate about how to attract voters from these backgrounds but, frankly, absolutely no policy or clear strategy. The policies must come before the votes, not the other way round.

"The party's history when it comes to race relations is so poor that there will need to be a more radical approach to ensure a rebalancing of perceptions among ethnic-minority communities. I question whether the Prime Minister or the party as a whole have an appetite for this. In the years to come a lack of progress could prove disastrous.

"To say that the party is out of touch would imply that we could qualify the current state of play. Frankly, in many respects, race policy is simply not on the agenda, we simply aren't reaching out. We're too passive and we will suffer for it in 2015 if we do not start to change."

Research by the former Tory deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft earlier this year showed that 16 per cent of BME (black minority ethnic) voters backed the Tories at the last election. In an afterword to Winning the Race, Ben Harris-Quinney, the chairman of the Bow Group, calls on Mr Cameron to identify leaders from black and Asian communities who could one day be elected into Parliament.

Mr Kasumu said Mr Cameron's comments during the Olympics on Indian dance were "not only inappropriate but ill-timed". He added: "The Games was partly won on the basis of London's diversity, and comments like that go against the great spirit of the Games.

"It is unfortunate that the only time our Prime Minister discusses anything to do with race or culture, it is to say something has failed or isn't working. It seems the Prime Minister was more proactive when in opposition."

He added: "Lady Warsi has to stay. She is able to cut through to communities and her role is very pivotal. To lose Lady Warsi would be a huge step back in the little progress we have made so far."

A spokesman for No 10 declined to comment last night.

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