The Tory Party is failing to win over ethnic minority voters because it remains tarnished by the legacy of Enoch Powell, a Conservative minister said yesterday.
Treasury minister Sajid Javid – whose father emigrated to the UK from Pakistan in 1961 with just £5 in his pocket – said the Tories are still being hurt by their association with Mr Powell.
In April 1968, Mr Powell, a member of Ted Heath’s shadow cabinet, delivered his hugely controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which was widely condemned as racist.
Senior government sources say that David Cameron is so concerned that the issue of race is damaging support for the Tories that he is planning to address it head-on with a speech in the next two months.
The Prime Minister chaired a Cabinet meeting last week at which ministers were shown evidence that the single biggest factor in voters not backing the Tories is race – far outweighing wealth, class or where someone lives.
But Mr Javid’s intervention, in an interview with The Spectator magazine, will anger those Tories who bristle at any suggestion that the Conservatives are the ‘nasty party’.
Mr Javid said that when his father’s friends were told that he had become an MP they assumed he must be representing the Labour Party.
‘I said to him, “Dad, why do you think that’s the case?” He said “I’ll sum it up for you in two words – Enoch Powell”.’
Mr Javid added: ‘The damage that was done to the party’s image in the 1970s, particularly by Enoch Powell, is something we still haven’t been able to shake off.’
He said this will ‘require the Prime Minister, someone of that standing’, to say Enoch Powell ‘doesn’t represent what the Conservative Party is today in any way and to set out what the Conservative Party actually is when it comes to race relations, multiculturalism and so forth’.
Mr Powell was sacked from the Tory front bench after his speech in 1968 but many right-wingers believe he was prophetic about the effects of mass immigration on British society.
Mr Cameron has already asked for ideas for a speech to combat the idea that the spirit of Powell is alive in the modern Tory Party and is seeking ideas for policies which will dramatise the common values between Conservatives and non-white voters.
Conservative research shows that many ethnic minority voters share Tory values on the promotion of family and hard work.
Campaign bosses believe the Tories can boost their support with the Sikh community and middle class voters of Indian origin.
But they have been told by pollsters that they will struggle to win more votes from the black community and among poor Muslim immigrants.
Mr Cameron has already set up Conservative Friends of India and other groups to cement relations with the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.