White van men: the the Home Office’s aggressive message to illegal immigrants hit a sour note last year
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It is still hard to trust the Tories on race, despite its campaign to woo black and Asian voters

The party is still little closer to looking like the country it claims to represent.

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

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's power game

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.