David Cameron takes part in a ceremony at the Hindu temple Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London, during Diwali, on November 4, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories' minorities push has come too late to help them in 2015

Transforming the right's standing among ethnic groups requires a longer march than is available in the final year of this Parliament. 

Britain's growing ethnic diversity is not news, but the scale of grappling with the new realities of multi-ethnic Britain on the political right is certainly eye-catching. 

Just this past week, the Bright Blue manifesto saw ConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman challenge his party to make a stronger offer to ethnic minorities; Lord Ashcroft has followed up his earlier major study by calling for the Conservatives to adopt a 10 to 20 year outreach strategy. Now, Policy Exchange has upped the ante with its very own "BME research unit", its opening contribution is its Portrait of Modern Britain, an impressively accessible guide combining much of the existing data about multi-ethnic Britain.

Why so much Tory love-bombing of black, brown and beige Britain? Largely for that most sincere of political motives: electoral self-interest. The ethnic voting gap cost David Cameron an overall majority in 2010 - and at least 24 gains from Labour in crucial marginals. This will only matter more. An ever-increasing share of new voters will come from Britain's expanding minority population: one in five of those who turn 18 during this Parliament aren't white.

The central message of the Policy Exchange report is that the ethnic minorities can't all be lumped together as a single group. "Has it really taken us until 2014 to realise that" asked David Lammy at Tuesday night's launch. Lammy worries that all of the parties too often still sound as if they think that ethnic minority Britons have all just stepped off the boat.

The picture did long ago cease to be a simple one of white advantage versus non-white disadvantage. Third or fourth generation black Britons and recent Somali migrants may be on quite different trajectories. Yet several broader generalisations remain valid too. Britain's ethnic minorities, generally, are younger, more urban (though slowly more suburban), more religious, more likely to be graduates, yet more likely to be unemployed too. Citizens from minority backgrounds have the strongest sense of being British - and, across every minority group, are much less likely to vote Tory.

There are nuances within these broad brush-strokes: the Conservatives won around one in six (16 per cent) non-white votes overall last time, but only 9 per cent of Afro-Caribbeans, and one in four (24 per cent) British Indians. But that is hardly a more impressive score, once you realise that Indian Brits have pretty much converged completely, in socio-economic terms on the white British average, indeed moving slightly ahead. So the voting gap here - with Labour 37 points ahead among British Indians, on 61 per cent even in 2010, almost entirely reflects the hangover from a toxic Tory past image.

An analysis focused on different ethnic community groups has its limits too.  It would be difficult to talk coherently about a "white British" experience of our country in 2014: graduates and non-graduates, the youngest and the oldest see their country very differently, as the marmite phenomenon of Ukip demonstrates. Such divergent experiences by age, class and education will increasingly apply within most minority communities too. If anything, the speed of shifts in outlook, between first generation migrants and their British-born, British-educated grandchildren may well be greater.

Though Jessica Ennis is celebrated in Policy Exchange’s cover blurb, hers, now the largest ethnic minority group features only briefly in the report, because mixed race Britons aren’t really a ‘group’ at all. Ennis was declared "the face of the census" as the number of mixed race Britons doubled in a decade. Over two million Brits today are of mixed ethnic heritage, though around half tick other census boxes. While the report presents the data for the five largest "distinct ethnic communities", Britain's long-term racial demographics have a stronger "melting pot" dynamic than in the United States, where three-quarters of those of mixed ethnicity marry somebody from another minority background. By contrast, three-quarters of marriages involving mixed race Britons are to somebody white.

Newspaper headlines declared that a third of Britons will be "ethnic minorities" three decades from now, but who really knows what the term will even mean in 2050? Should we really have expected Lord Scarman, assessing the Brixton riots in 1981, to have envisioned our Olympic summer of 2012? Those "ethnic minority" Brits of 2030 will include many more people like Jessica Ennis (or, indeed, her new baby), Ryan Giggs and Seb Coe, or my own children, for whom ethnic identity may well become as much a matter of choice, not ascription.

Ethnic groups which retain low rates of intermarriage will remain more distinct; others, like the Caribbean category, are fast-disappearing as a distinct group. So the group categories should come under increasing pressure from the lived reality of contact and integration. Faith is often already a more important badge of "community" allegiance than ethnicity, as it has long been for Britain’s Jewish community, the classic "model minority", who helped later groups, such as the Ugandan Asians, to find their voice and place too. Whether we are "majority", "minority" or somewhere in between, strengthening common and inclusive "in group identities" that we all share - such as a civic Englishness as well as Britishness - will usually be the best focus of public and political energy. 

In contrast to the energy on the right, the centre-left is eerily quiet. Its think-tanks don't talk much about race anymore. Dangerous complacency? Perhaps. The Canadian picture changed pretty quickly. It would be good for Britain, and for racial integration too, were the right to succeed in creating a proper contest for all of the votes in our multi-ethnic society. Non-white Britons are ill-served as citizens if one party thinks they are out of reach and the other that they are in the bag.

Firstly, Ukip. The think-tankers and party strategists see minority outreach as an existential challenge. On the backbenches and in the constituency associations, the Ukip revolt is top of mind. In a country that is 14 per cent ethnic minority, the Ukip vote is 99.4 per cent white, according to the authoritative recent study by Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin, and certainly doesn’t see Britain rising diversity as confidently as the Policy Exchange report. How many MPs and candidates are talking about the need to win more non-white votes in the week after the European Elections? Paul Goodman’s Bright Blue essay sets an essential "golden rule": "any pitch for ethnic minority votes must be in the interests of the country as a whole". Any offer to the Ukip minority should be held to a similar standard too.

The Ukip vote is much older too. The Conservatives have been the party of older Britons. That will never be the case with ethnic minority Britons, where the Labour allegiances of the first generation. They need to bring the votes of younger non-white Britons into play. The next generation do have much lower levels of partisan allegiance – and would expect to be able to shop around with their votes. Though more highly educated, they have lower levels of political trust than their elders – integrating into the more apathetic British norm – and their confidence in being British makes them more demanding if they believe they are discriminated against. Theresa May’s push to move faster on stop and search could therefore by of both practical and symbolic importance. Yet age, as much as ethnicity, could be a barrier, if the Tory pitch seemed to prioritise those high turnout pensioners.

Secondly, talk has not yet turned into much action, nor yet a clear strategy, beyond the mantra of there being "no quick fixes". Several core questions remain unresolved. Could an account of the past - even an "apology" - break the ice, or would it just stir up old ghosts, even with voters who may never have heard of Enoch? Should the party select and target specific groups - Hindus and Sikhs, rather than Muslims; affluent Africans, but not Afro-Caribbeans - with whom it has most chance of progress, or would being spotted doing this risk exacerbating mistrust of the party's motives?

Thirdly, perhaps the most important question: is it now too late for 2015? The message discipline which Lynton Crosby wants to impose on the Conservative campaign may cut across efforts to reach out to minority voters.

The Conservatives have chosen an guru with an impressive electoral record. He certainly knew how to win the Australian election of 2001. But it will be another year before we know whether Crosby had the wrong play-book to appeal to the changing face of the Britain of 2015.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.


Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  


India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.