Daniel Hannan, Telegraph (London), May 7, 2014
The gravest long-term threat to the Conservative Party is not the uneven constituency sizes, nor the split on the Centre-Right, nor yet the party’s weakness in Scotland and parts of northern England. Dwarfing these challenges is the Tories’ failure to win any meaningful measure of support from the fastest-growing section of the population, namely people from ethnic minorities.
Britain is undergoing unprecedented demographic change. In 1950, white people were close to 100 per cent of the population; in 2050, they will be 65 per cent. And not being white is the single greatest predictor of not voting Conservative.
Look at how people from different backgrounds voted at the last election. Labour enjoyed colossal leads among every ethnic minority community. Even Indians, who are significantly less anti-Tory than other non-white groups, were four times as likely to vote for Gordon Brown as for David Cameron.
A new study by the think tank Policy Exchange reveals the gravity of my party’s predicament. It explodes the notion that there is a simple policy solution, such as changes in stop-and-search rules or immigration amnesties.
Different ethnic minorities are, as you would expect, heterogeneous. There are huge differences in levels of educational attainment, home ownership, private sector employment and virtually every other economic indicator. Bangladeshis and Jamaicans, Sikhs and Nigerians seem to have only one major political trait in common: they don’t like voting Tory.
People of Pakistani origin are more likely to own their homes than white people, but this doesn’t make them any likelier to vote for the homeowners’ party. East African Asians are more likely to be business owners than white people, but this doesn’t make them any likelier to vote for the entrepreneurs’ party. People from black Caribbean backgrounds are more likely to attend church than white people (57 per cent as against 10 per cent), but this doesn’t make them any likelier to vote for the party that, at least sometimes, does God.
For as long as I can remember, Conservative politicians have had only one message for immigrant and ethnic minority voters: namely, “your values are our values”. By any measure, that appeal is failing. One reason is that it isn’t always true. Plenty of immigrants arrive with fully developed political opinions, often retaining links to Left-of-Centre parties in their countries of origin.
While you can certainly argue that crossing half the world to make a new life implies a decent dose of initiative, not all immigration is carried out in this fashion. Having a points-based system, where each successful applicant has had to beat others to citizenship, might attract enterprising people and, indeed, make them feel patriotic from the beginning. But much of our post-war immigration was a statist project: government officials went to Commonwealth countries, recruited workers en bloc, paid their passage and put them to work in the public sector. It would be odd if that process had not produced a disproportionate number of Labour voters.
The phenomenon is not unique to the United Kingdom. In every Western country–with one important exception–immigrant and ethnic minority voters are likelier than the general population to vote for Left-of-Centre parties. The exception is Canada where, at the last general election, newcomers were likelier to vote Conservative than native-born Canadians.
That result was largely the achievement of one man, Jason Kenney, now the immigration minister and a strong contender to be Stephen Harper’s eventual successor as party leader. He grasped early on that first impressions matter. When people arrive in a new country, they are often badly off, and likely to be living in areas represented by the Left-of-Centre party. Their first political contact will probably be with their local councillor who, in between explaining how schools, taxes and housing policy work, will drop in some politics: “I don’t know how much you know about our party system here but, basically, we’re the nice ones. The other lot didn’t want you here in the first place.”
The vital thing, Kenney realised, was for Conservatives to define themselves in the eyes of new arrivals rather than being defined by their opponents. That meant being where settlers were, being there early, and being there often.
Endlessly repeating, like some shamanistic incantation, that you “share the values” of this or that community doesn’t work when people begin with the assumption that your values involve greed, selfishness or racism. Nor does turning up to a religious festival once a year serve to counter what the other side says about you. Outside Canada, Right-of-Centre parties have failed to understand the magnitude of the problem.
US conservatism had its greatest triumph in 1984, with the landslide re-election of Ronald Reagan. If that election were repeated today, with the Republicans taking the same shares of the vote among black, white and Hispanic voters in their present proportions, Walter Mondale would take the White House. Reagan used to say that Latinos were Republicans who didn’t know it yet. His hope was that, as immigrants moved up the social scale, their voting habits would shift accordingly. It isn’t happening. And it isn’t happening because, unlike Kenney’s Conservatives, the Republicans haven’t invested anything like enough effort in, say, running Spanish-speaking advice centres. At the last presidential election, nine out of every 10 advertisements on Spanish-language media were for the Democrats.
Britain’s Tories have an analogous problem. Most Conservative associations have a sprinkling of black and Asian members, and almost all MPs make a point of visiting their local mosques and temples, but this doesn’t begin to address the scale of the challenge. When immigrants are automatically visited by Conservatives on arrival; when Asian broadcast news networks hear more from the Tories than from Labour; when every association copies Andrew Rosindell’s Romford, and runs events aimed specifically at Commonwealth immigrants, then, perhaps, the balance will begin to tilt.
How to get to that stage? Open primaries would help. In the 1980s, conscious of their electoral weakness among ethnic minorities, and desperate for the support of anyone with a black or brown face, the party sometimes promoted people who were even more eccentric than the average politician. Not any more. To pluck an example at random, the leader of the Conservative MEPs is Syed Kamall, the son of a bus driver from Guyana, a practising Muslim and a tax-cutting Eurosceptic who has fought his way to the leadership without the slightest help from the party hierarchy. There will be many more Syeds–that is, natural free marketeers–who have not joined the Tories for the most basic reason of all: no one has asked.
Let me end on a more hopeful note. At present, the Eurosceptic argument is being made disproportionately, and disastrously, in terms of immigration. If one side talks trade and investment while the other talks Romanians and Bulgarians, the first side will win. Which is why, as the referendum gets closer, I suspect that the rhetoric will switch from immigration, which has limited appeal to non-white Britons, to our global role. And that–I say this with certainty, having been making speeches about it for 20 years–is a message that elicits a warm response from people with family links in Commonwealth countries. An anti-EU campaign in which people from ethnic minorities were disproportionately active would have a benign impact on race relations. It might also, incidentally, give the Conservatives the opening they need.
Daniel Hannan is Conservative MEP for South East England