As someone who grew up as an Asian boy in Thatcher’s Britain, I find the Tories’ current campaign to woo black and ethnic-minority voters hard to believe. Others of my age and background may find it almost funny, too.
My earliest memories of the Conservatives are that they were never on my side when I was subjected to racism, whether in the football stands or by the police. I won’t forget how they ignored Stephen Lawrence’s family after his murder and, two decades on, it’s difficult to shake those suspicions. I welcome anything that offers black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters better political representation but it doesn’t take long to notice that the Tory party is little closer to looking like the country it represents.
I’m proud to be an MP for a Labour Party that has always fought for better representation for those facing discrimination because of their gender, race, faith, disability or sexuality. The first black MPs in modern times were Labour, and since Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng smashed the glass ceiling we have had more councillors and MPs from ethnic-minority backgrounds than the other parties combined. The 2010 election was one of Labour’s worst defeats in history but we tripled the percentage of our MPs from ethnic-minority backgrounds. Although the Conservatives gained 97 seats in 2010, they have only 11 BAME MPs to Labour’s 16.
Labour knows it must keep improving. Our representation is getting better. Eleven per cent of candidates in target parliamentary seats across the UK are from ethnic-minority backgrounds and 54 per cent are women. In London, 70 per cent are women and 40 per cent are from ethnic minorities.
Through our community organising work, we engage with BAME groups about the issues that matter to them. As a result, we are able to identify young BAME people who are interested in improving their areas and encourage them to join our Future Candidates Programme (30 per cent of those who applied in 2013 were BAME). Without this proactive effort, increasing representation wouldn’t happen.
Many remember that David Cameron’s chief strategist, Lynton Crosby, was responsible for the “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” dog-whistle campaign in 2005. Last summer, we saw vans bearing the words “Go home” being driven through six of the UK’s most diverse boroughs. None of the Tories thought this may be a problem for BAME Britons who recall the National Front using similar language in the 1970s and 1980s. With Crosby as the Tories’ chief adviser, voters can be excused for viewing the Conservatives’ focus on ethnic-minority voters as insincere. Last month, one of the BAME Tory parliamentary candidates admitted his party is still seen as “racist”.
Many of our ethnic-minority communities arrived in the UK in difficult circumstances and with very little. They understand better than anyone the pricelessness of community and fairness as values applied to all. It’s a world-view that is fundamentally incompatible with a modern Tory party whose approach to politics is based on pitting communities against each other and an idea of fairness that is centred on the individual.
So excuse me if I struggle to believe the Conservatives when they claim that they have changed.
Sadiq Khan MP is the shadow justice secretary and also the shadow minister for London