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10 November 2014updated 06 Sep 2021 11:58am

David Cameron’s call for an Asian Prime Minister – and why he doesn’t really mean it

The Prime Minister's call for an Asian leader is ironic considering the poor Tory record on ethnic minority representation and attitudes.

By Imran Khan

David Cameron hijacked the GG2 Asian Leadership Awards last week in a cynical move to woo the Asian vote, where he commented:

When I hear those terms Your Honour, Brigadier General, Right Honourable, more often I want to hear it followed by a British-Asian name.

He added:

And yes, one day I want to hear that title Prime Minister, followed by a British-Asian name – just not immediately, if that’s OK by you.

A deep sense of disbelief from Asian diasporas should come as no surprise to him, or his shiny PR entourage, considering the Conservatives’ recent and long established form on all matters to do with black and minority ethnic community (BME) representation. Indeed, the incredulity expressed among Asian communities at the event and more widely at his unlikely remarks would have been matched only by the high levels of deep resentment held by Tory local associations up and down the country.

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Cameron knows only too well Tory Lord and pollster Michael Ashcroft’s study into ethnic minorities sentiments towards Conservatives, which showed that only 16 per cent of BME voters support the party while two-thirds voted Labour. The research concluded that for British Muslims voters, there is a “perception that the Conservative Party does not stand for fairness, is actively hostile to people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and that its policies have shown this to be the case, were the strongest factors for Muslims who say they would never vote Tory”.

Hostility among Asians towards the party may have taken decades to incubate but is sustained today by the Tories’ daily denigration of Asian identities. At every turn, Conservatives have depicted Asians as Islamist terrorists, or a multitude of other villainous caricatures most likely to resonate with a populist discontent for multi-culturalism.

During Dominic Grieve’s tenure as Attorney General for England and Wales, he vociferously argued that some immigrants – particularly British Pakistanis – “come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic”, “have been brought up to believe you can only get certain things through a favour culture”, and are mainly responsible for electoral corruption.”

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Likewise, Cameron declared in his now notorious Munich speech that Britain needs a new “generous vision of citizenship” if it is to challenge the disenfranchisement of Muslim communities, while at the same time laying down the ideological foundations for a modern Tory philosophy of bigotry towards Muslims – the quintessential threat to national interest. He highlighted at the time that “the reason so many young Muslims are drawn to extremism comes down to a question of identity”. The prime minister seems remarkably comfortable generalizing about ethnicities in a manner that would be beyond the pale if applied to gender. His misguided search into the Asian psyche naturally yet shamelessly sets neighbour against neighbor.

As Saijd Javid MP was given the dubious honour of being named the most powerful Asian man in Britain, the PM turned towards him to declare, “I am incredibly proud that number one on your power list is Saijd Javid, the brilliant Asian man that I asked to join the cabinet.” A sense of irony would not have been lost upon the audience that this is the same person who had previously tweeted: “As a British Pakistani I find your comments not based on fact and deeply alienating and offensive @DominicGrieve,” when the then Attorney General made his own earlier foray into community cohesion.

Cameron is correct to calculate the electoral significance of Asians. Research by Prof Anwar of The University of Warwick has found that the national average turnout amongst Asians is higher than the national average. In the 2005 election, it was 61.4 per cent, but for Bangladeshi voters it was 76 per cent, for Pakistanis 70 per cent and for Indians 67 per cent. That might be worth thinking about a little more deeply the next time one of his MPs makes unqualified claims such as “gangs of Muslims are raping white kids“. 

The GG2 Leadership Awards rightly highlighted some of the great contributions Asians make to our society. And Sajid Javid certainly deserves recognition as the solitary Asian in the cabinet. However, until he uses some of his newly found power to bring about greater social justice, equality of opportunity within society, and persuades the Tories to turn their back on anti-Asian attitudes, many will reserve judgment on how meaningful badges of high office and promises from Tory politicians are – Asian or otherwise.

Imran Khan was a Conservative councillor in Surrey and tweets @immikhan