Posted on March 4, 2014

Without More Ethnic Minority Votes, Can the Conservatives Ever Win Again?

Tim Wigmore, Telegraph (London), February 26, 2014

The biggest barrier to a Conservative majority in 2015 is simple: 18 million voters would never, ever vote for them. According to a new Ipsos-Mori poll, 40 per cent of voting age Britons would never consider voting Conservative. Only 33 per cent would never consider voting Labour.

The revelation is nothing new, but it does put the Conservative Party’s challenge at the next election into perspective. The party faces the “Romney problem”–it needs a rising proportion of a diminishing share of the electorate to win. That’s because of its complete failure to engage with ethnic minorities: only 16 per cent voted for the party in 2010.

Here’s the statistic that should terrify CCHQ: BME voters are 33 per cent more likely to vote for Labour than white voters–but they are seven points less likely to vote Conservative than white voters. Unless this changes dramatically, it will be a roadblock to the Tories ever winning another election.

As David Skelton and other Conservatives have observed, the party needs to amend its relationship with BME voters, and fast. One MP in a marginal seat recalled his recent trip to a hospital with a large ethnic minority population: “I looked around and thought–no one in this room would vote for us. It was terrifying.”

Few of his colleagues have been alert to the danger that this poses for the Conservative Party’s future. The MP believes David Cameron made a mistake by not giving a big “race speech” early on in the Parliament–but “It’s too late in the electoral cycle now–that will just look like an obvious bid for votes.” Another MP laments the “feeling that if the PM appointed a few black advisers the problem would go away.” But no amount of photos of the PM with Shaun Bailey will solve the Tories’ BME problems–especially with complaints from a friend of Mr Bailey that he was “frozen out” and “the place is dominated by those from Eton.”

Yet, besides the odd piece of cosmetic change, the Conservatives are making little effort to reach out to BME voters. Endless tub-thumping on immigration and the notorious–and utterly ineffectual–“Go Home or Face Arrest” vans risks reinforcing the impression of too many ethnic minorities: that the Tories aren’t particularly comfortable with the changing face of Britain.

The ongoing row over stop-and-search is a snapshot of the Conservatives’ problems. Theresa May, hardly a wet, believes that stop-and-search is ineffectual. Reforming it would have the very handy by-product of providing a totemic olive branch to BME voters. Mr Cameron, weary of giving Ukip the chance to out-flank the party on crime, wants none of it. Labour last week offered their backing for stop-and-search reform. It has received little attention but, by encouraging ethnic minorities to go to the ballot box, it could be decisive in giving David Cameron a P45. To give just one example, in Enoch Powell’s old seat, the arch marginal of Wolverhampton South West, the rising BME vote alone would destroy the Conservative Party’s 691 vote majority. In 2015, there will be 50 Conservative seats where Labour is second and the BME vote is larger than the Conservative majority.

Demographic change means that every year it is getting harder for the Conservatives to ignore their problems with ethnic minorities. Lynton Crosby thinks that his relentless focus on core issues–including immigration–offer the Tories the best chance of remaining in government. But even if Mr Crosby is right, where are the Conservatives planning for the very different Britain they will have to woo in 2020 and beyond?