The Conservatives know they have an ethnic minority problem, but they can’t find a cure

A dog with two bones.


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Should the Conservatives be depressed or cheered by the latest batch of polling for the centre-right think tank Onward? It shows that the party has a mountain to climb if it is to win the votes of ethnic minority voters, with just 24 per cent of minority voters saying that they believe the Conservative Party is “on their side”, against 53 per cent who say the same for Labour, according to polling conducted by Populus.

To make matters worse, new analysis (also for Onward) shows that demographic change will cost the Conservative Party a further 28 seats by 2031 if they don’t improve their standing among ethnic minority voters. The Tory party’s poor performances among ethnic minority voters (and equally importantly, among white voters in diverse areas) is one of the growing barriers to the party winning a decent working majority, which it has not done since 1987.

But the positive news is that although their standing among minority voters is bad at present, it doesn’t have to be. It’s not like, say, Labour’s position among elderly voters. Labour performed better with this group in 2017 than 2015, but there is bad news for their future growth. According to polling by Opinium for another think tank, the Social Mobility Foundation, Labour converted essentially all of the over-65 vote that described itself as willing to even consider a Labour vote.

The Conservatives are doing badly not just among ethnic minority voters as a whole, but even ethnic minority voters who say they would consider voting for the Tories. At the last election, 70 per cent of white voters who started the campaign saying they would consider a Conservative vote voted Conservative. Just 36 per cent of ethnic minority voters who describe themselves as “considering” a Conservative vote go on to actually do so.

So the Tory angst over its hopes of a good (or any) working parliamentary majority could, potentially, be eased with the right approach. But the problem for the Conservatives is that many of their turn-off policies – tough visa rules, particularly for people outside the majority-white Commonwealth nations, their embrace of Brexit – are important to retaining the voters they have already.

And until a politician comes along who can appeal both to existing Tory voters and Conservative considerers, the Conservatives will continue to struggle to get the votes they need to win not just small parliamentary majorities but ones that are big enough for them to pass their agenda.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.