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.

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.