Posted on April 10, 2012

British Tories Look to Canadian Cousins for Help with Ethnic Voters

Randy Boswell, Montreal Gazette, April 10, 2012

Britain’s Conservative Party, now heading that country’s minority coalition government but envious of Canada’s federal Tory majority, is preparing an ambitious outreach effort among the U.K.’s ethnic minorities — long-time backers of the Labour Party — in a strategy that’s directly modelled on the Jason Kenney-led campaign credited in recent elections with convincing key Asian-Canadian communities to abandon their traditional allegiance to the Liberals.

British news reports have quoted officials from Prime Minister David Cameron’s governing Conservatives saying the party’s bid to achieve a parliamentary majority will only succeed if — like Prime Minister Stephen Harper — Cameron can broaden the Tories’ appeal among immigrants from India, Pakistan and elsewhere.

At the centre of the Conservatives’ wooing of Canadian ethnic minorities has been Kenney, Harper’s minister for the Department of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The Calgary MP is renowned for attending countless ethnic festivals across the country, waving the Conservative flag and cementing new bonds between the party and various immigrant communities — especially in politically strategic ridings around suburban Toronto.

Both the Independent and Daily Mail newspapers are reporting that Cameron intends to send his political secretary, Stephen Gilbert, to meet with Kenney to learn more about how British Conservatives can increase their support among so-called BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) voters, as they’re categorized in British political parlance.

“If we want to win a majority — we need the support of everyone who shares our values — whatever their background,” said Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, co-chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Cameron’s cabinet.

“But at the moment, there is often a big mismatch between the ideals and aspirations of ethnic minority voters and the party they vote for. We need to learn from centre-right parties in other countries how to attract (voters) who share our values but haven’t traditionally voted Conservative,” she told the newspapers. “And we need to go out and persuade those voters that a Conservative government is the best way of fulfilling their aspirations for themselves, their families and their communities.”

Warsi, the first female Muslim minister in the British government, has been an outspoken defender of religion as an important bastion of conservative values in society. High levels of religious faith, belief in traditional family values and support for a strong law-and-order agenda are seen by British political observers as potential common ground between longtime Conservative supporters and ethnic minorities.

The Runnymede Trust, a British think tank that conducts research and advocacy on race issues, issued a report in February that explored the political views among Britain’s five principal minority groups — those with Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African backgrounds.

The study showed that “black and minority ethnic people remain highly supportive of the Labour Party, with 68 per cent voting Labour. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats — coalition partners in the current government — got only 16 per cent and 14 per cent of the BME vote respectively.”

Runnymede Trust recently criticized the Conservativeled government’s “integration” strategy as focused more on assimilating ethnic minorities to “British values” rather than promoting multicultural diversity.

“It appears that the government does not view integration as a two-way process,” said an open letter co-authored by Runnymede in March and signed by 18 other racerelations organizations. “We are also concerned that (the integration policy) was put together without proper consultation with ethnic minority organizations.”