Will Cameron ever make his long-promised speech on race?

In January, Tory strategists briefed that Cameron would distance the party from Enoch Powell's toxic legacy but we've heard nothing since.

The lack of support for the Conservatives among ethnic minorities is rightly recognised by party strategists as one of the biggest obstacles to a Tory majority. In 2010, just 16 per cent of BME voters supported the party compared to 68 per cent for Labour and 14 per cent for the Lib Dems. As Lord Ashcroft noted in his study on the subject, "not being white was the single best predictor that somebody would not vote Conservative". Unless this trend is reversed, the problem will grow worse with time. The new study by Operation Black Vote reveals that there are now 168 marginal seats in which the ethnic minority vote is greater than the majority of the sitting MP and BME voters will account for one in five of the total number by 2050 (up from one in ten in 2001). As in the case of the Republicans, this long-term demographic trend threatens to consign the Conservatives to irrelevance. 

Alive to this danger, Tory strategists briefed in January that David Cameron was so concerned at how the issue of race was damaging support for the party that he would address it "head-on with a speech in the next two months". Referring to the toxic legacy of Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, Sajid Javid, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who is of Pakistani origin, said that it would require "the Prime Minister, someone of that standing", to say 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". The Daily Mail went on to report that Cameron had "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." 

But seven months on, we've heard nothing from Cameron. Instead, the party has further damaged its reputation with ethnic minorities through a series of demagogic stunts (most notably the "go home" vans) on immigration. The more astute Conservative MPs, however, continue to recognise the need for a detoxifying moment. In an essay for the new Tory group Renewal, Nadhim Zahawi, who has called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, wrote that "the problem isn’t primarily the Conservative policy platform. It’s far deeper than that, a gut feeling which says ‘these people aren’t on my side; they don’t have my best interests at heart.’ Partly this is a legacy issue. Though both were repudiated by the party, many non-white Britons have never forgotten Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ speech, nor the notorious slogan from the 1964 Smethwick election ‘if you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Labour’. The handling of the Brixton riots, as well as the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, convinced many others we were indifferent at best, downright hostile at worst. Given this history, it’s not going to be easy for us to gain the trust of ethnic minority voters who have never considered voting Conservative before." 

Indeed. But does Cameron, who, under the guidance of Lynton Crosby, has abandoned modernisation and retreated to the core territory of immigration, welfare and Europe, still have the imagination to respond? 

David Cameron laughs as he speaks to men during a visit to the Jamia Mosque on August 7, 2013 in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496