The Conservative benches are finally beginning to look like the country they represent. But is the Tories’ commitment to diversity more than skin deep? Nels Abbey analyses where the party stands
“I'm down with the ethnics. You can't out-ethnic me” so said the then newly minted Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in 2008. Given the look of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet in 2021, it could be argued that the gentleman spoke nothing but the gospel. Despite this, and the fact that many (almost certainly a majority) Black people would be considered quite conservative, Black people are still more likely to vote for the Labour Party. In fact, the standing of the Conservative Party in the community is so fraught that to accept an invitation to Downing Street is to risk your own reputation.
Nevertheless, the Conservative Party is the most successful political entity in human history for good reason: in the hyper-competitive market that is politics they know how to rapidly innovate in order to remain relevant or regain relevance and have the competitive advantage that comes with it. So, can the Tories turn the tide and win the support of Black people – as they did with other non-traditional Conservative voters during the last election?
When assessing the likelihood of success (or failure) of almost any project but especially political ones I believe it’s wise to take a glance at the three Ps: personnel, policy, and prayer (luck).
“The Labour Party is swiftly losing the faith of Black voters”
In the age of diversity and inclusion, any organisation that wishes to attract a certain clientele must ensure that that clientele is reflected and represented in their ranks at all levels. On the surface, the Conservative government has done this very well. Scratch under the surface and the picture is more fascinating.
The most bitterly true piece of advice I ever received about being a writer was: “expect to be ignored”. Alas, this proved so of an article I wrote for the Evening Standard in September 2014 about how the Conservative Party could win the votes of ethnic minorities by “ditching the crazies” in favour of the “credibles”.
Though I use different language today, the “crazies” was a euphemism for ethnic minority Conservative politicians who seemed rather gung-ho on making inflammatory and divisive statements – especially on race. The “credibles” by contrast were, as the name suggests, ethnic minority Conservatives who “come across as full of integrity, great ideas and bursting with intellect”. On the list of “credibles” I included: Kwasi Kwarteng, Sam Gyimah and Baroness Warsi.
What transpired over the seven years, three general elections and one major referendum since that article was published proves the advice I received about writers being ignored was 100 per cent correct. Of the listed credibles, all but Kwasi Kwarteng have been frozen out of frontline politics, or they have left the party altogether. Thankfully the likes of Helen Grant (a passionate anti-racist and ambassador for Black Britain), Nadim Zahawi (who worked tooth and nail to improve vaccine take up in ethnic minority communities), Adam Afriyie (a business role model), Rishi Sunak (a role model for walking on water), and others hold down the fort.
The ones I once called crazies (but now affectionately term “culture warriors”), who I was confident would serve only to hinder any efforts to make the Conservative Party attractive to ethnic minority voters, pretty much rule the roost – especially on issues of race. And as was entirely predictable, they help make the party less attractive to ethnic minorities.
In a political dichotomy that can only be ascribed to genius: Johnson’s government is the most diverse in our history, yet it would struggle to be considered anti-racist. What is transpiring is often tragically yet hilariously farcical: Black History Month interventions from government that essentially condemn anti-racism and anti-racism writers, the promise to be watchful for any NHS “waste or wokery,” the failure to condemn those who booed the (almost) all-conquering England team’s stand against racism – which led to England player Tyrone Mings taking to Twitter to call the Home Secretary out for, in his words, “stoking the fire” of racism.
“Low-hanging fruit popular policies the Conservative Party should be offering Black communities are missing”
No 10’s own race adviser resigned – one and a half times – due to the government’s actions in relation to race. The notorious Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report was widely condemned (including by the UN) and even members of the Commission have since distanced themselves from it.
As a satirist, I am often kept up at night wondering how the Tory culture warriors will threaten my livelihood next.
This very noble approach to diversity means we have a new paradigm: surface-level representation and actual representation. The assumption that a person who looks, lives, or loves like you is willing or even able to represent your interests in the corridors of power is now a proven fallacy. This makes for a more beautifully complex democracy, one that demands a higher level of political sophistication from its voters.
At the beginning of the Covid pandemic there were fears the nation could be on the verge of experiencing a boom in unemployment. Then there was relief that the boom did not happen. One problem – it did happen… to Black people. Black people bore the burden of unemployment during the pandemic. Black unemployment, which has traditionally hovered around the rate of double that of white unemployment, rose disproportionately. The government was unable to explain why this was happening or the impact of their own policies.
A retrospective of the last 11 years of Tory rule shows just how harsh things have been at times: the hostile environment which paved the way for the Windrush Scandal, sending “Go-Home” vans circling areas of high ethnic diversity, stop and search powers expanded (despite the fact the technique is proven to be ineffective and inflammatory), the pitting of white people who happen to be working class against Black people who are disproportionately working class, the dismissal of race, sexuality and gender equality as “fashionable”, the aforementioned discredited Commission on Race and Ethnicity Disparities report, etc. And then there is the “war on woke”. Black people have very good reason to worry.
Low-hanging fruit popular policies the Conservative Party should be offering Black communities are missing. Case in point: the link between poverty and crime is as clear as the link between prosperity and business. Why the party of business has not invested in a full steam business drive in Black communities (which are often over-represented in crime stats and under-represented in prosperity stats) is difficult to comprehend. Premises assistance, low-interest loans, business mentors could help transform the community and, by extension, the community’s relationship with the Conservative Party.
A June 2020 CNN/Savanta ComRes poll found that 58 per cent of Black people consider the Conservative Party to be institutionally racist. Considering this, and all of the above, prayer is perhaps where the party of the “Throne, Altar and Cottage” have their strongest hand to play. The fact that the Labour Party is swiftly losing the faith of Black voters suggests their prayers may already be being answered.
The iron could not and possibly will not ever be hotter for the Tories to strike in terms of attracting ethnic minority voters. By reigning in the culture warriors and doing exactly what governments are supposed to do – roll out policies that will help solve problems and improve lives– the Black wall could fall in the same way the red wall did. The Tories could help make Britain a true democracy for Black people by opening their votes up to intense competition.
Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder if the Conservative Party considers Black people more valuable as props to boost their “anti woke” credentials than they do as voters… and fellow great Britons.