Warsi is right: Lack of ethnic minority support could cost Tories the election

Baroness Warsi is out with a couple of newspapers interviews today, all guns blazing. She's clearly trying to cement a reputation as a plain-speaking authentic voice in the Conservative party, standing up to the public school boys who've briefed against her since she resigned last week.

And she's developed a couple of nice turns of phrase, including:

"I am a brown, working-class woman from the north. People have been telling me I'm not good enough since the day I was born."


"Some of the bitchiest women I've ever met in my life are the men in politics."

But at the heart of Warsi's message in the Sunday Times and the Independent on Sunday is a simple truth: the Tories' complete lack of interest in ethnic minority voters will cost them future elections.

"The electoral reality is that we will not win outright Conservative majorities until we start attracting more of the ethnic vote. This issue is not linked to a particular ethnic vote. It is a broader issue about the party being open to a broader range of views and experiences."

Warsi is right. The Tories won 36% of the vote in 2010, but just 16% of the ethnic minority vote. Cameron could have won a majority if ethnic minority voters had supported the Tories in equal numbers to their white counterparts.

A study by Operation Black Vote found there are more ethnic minorities than the majority of the incumbent MP in 168 constituencies – up from 99 in 2010.

Black and Asian voters can swing elections. Middle-sized urban constituencies like Southampton, Oxford, Sherwood, Ipswich and Northampton are vulnerable to ethnic minority voters. And at each election, the strength of the vote will increase. Ethnic minorities will make up a third of the British population by 2050.

A quarter of children aged under ten are from ethnic minorities. By contrast, 95% of people aged over 60 are white. The average British Bangladeshi is 22 years old but among white Brits the median age is 39.

Ethnic minority voters are rightly suspicious of the Conservative party. As Conservative pollster Michael Ashcroft said:

"Among ethnic minority voters the Conservatives' brand problem exists in a more intense form. For many of our participants – by no means all, it is important to state – there was an extra barrier between them and the Conservative party directly related to their ethnic background."

Indians are the most likely to lend the Conservatives their support but even then only 17% of them identify with the party. They are joined by nine per cent of Pakistanis, eight per cent of Bangladeshis, seven per cent of black Caribbeans and four per cent of black Africans.

Asian voters should be ripe pickings for the Tory party. They are socially conservative, often suspicious of welfare and big believers in pulling yourself up by your boot straps and working hard. But Labour won 68% support among ethnic minority voters in 2010. This is not just a matter of people or policies. This is about a firm sense that the Tory party is not for people like them.

Cameron won the Conservative leadership with a pledge to diversify the party's image. But nine years later it feels as if Aiden Burley's description of the Olympic opening ceremony as "multicultural crap" summarises the Tories' views of modern Britain better than Cameron's upbeat message in opposition.

Warsi said:

"When he went to Blackpool to make his speech to become leader, he first came to Dewsbury to a social action project I was running. We then went to Blackpool and I introduced the speech. I am absolutely part of the Cameron era and compassionate Conservatism. I thought this is a guy who gets today's Britain. He's a new kind of Conservative. He was really clear that values were values that included all of Britain.

"[But] I think the party has shifted. The party leadership has shifted since then. I think over time it will be a regressive move because we have to appeal to all of Britain, not just because morally it's the right thing to do, but because it's an electoral reality.

"I was party chairman for two and a half years, and one of the biggest things for me was to recruit people with different backgrounds. We started an internship scheme and we started Conservative friends of India, Conservative friends of Pakistan. We brought the BME groups into the mainstream campaign. Some of that has been lost, which is a shame."

Cameron is a public school boy who surrounds himself with people who look and speak like him. As Shaun Bailey, one of his only black advisers, who was demoted to a part-time job in the Cabinet Office, said:

"The Conservatives haven't been brilliant around race. They've had questions to [answer] and many of the questions they haven't answered."

This is the same old Cameron story: all surface, no substance. He took the Tory leadership promising to detoxify the brand, but all he did was give it a wipe – not disinfect it. He talks a good game on diversity, but it is not evident by the people he puts around him or the policies he adopts.

Many ethnic minority voters are worried about immigration, like their white counterparts, but they are much more sensitive to some of the more draconian elements of the system, which have been allowed to run amok as the Tories try to invite Ukip voters back to the party.

Pakistani voters are frequently unable to invite family members to visit them. Imagine the emotional impact of growing up in this country and then having your family denied a tourist visa for your wedding. This is politics as personal experience – the absence of which is a luxury most white voters do not even know they enjoy.

Any Brit marrying someone from outside the EU is forced to show they are earning £18,600 before they are allowed to live together. Of course this impacts many white Brits, but it has an even harsher impact on many ethnic minorities.

Campaigns like the 'Go Home' vans or spot checks at London Tube station – or Cameron's photo opportunity with immigration officers in the home of an alleged undocumented immigrant – go down like a bucket of sick with ethnic minority voters. Even Theresa May's efforts to reform of the police's power to stop-and-search, which disgracefully has become something of a rite of passage for black kids, have been held up by Downing Street.

The British political establishment – including journalists – also underestimate the extent to which ethnic minority voters, especially Muslims, can be motivated by foreign policy. It's typically assumed that no election has ever been lost on the basis of a foreign policy decision. After all, even Tony Blair's disastrous and unpopular decision to go to war in Iraq did not stop him winning a third election term. But there are plenty of middle class Muslim voters in constituencies north of London who are livid at Cameron's refusal to condemn Israel's actions in Gaza. Downing Street ignores them at its peril.

As Warsi said:

"One of the arguments I've heard from people is: 'Why don't you criticise Assad?' Well, we did. 'Why don't you criticise Isis?' Well we did. 'Why don't you criticise Iran?' We did. 'Why don't you criticise Putin?' We did. 'Why don't you criticise Israel?' Well, we didn't. That's the difference. It is about an inconsistent approach to our foreign policy. It is an inconsistency about our application of our values."

Journalists and politicians underestimate the extent of the anger and disilusionment which comes from this moral relativism.

One very frequently hears Tory MPs talk about how 'real people' are talking in an imaginary 'dog and duck' pub. Invariably they are referring to older voters in shire constituencies. This is the target demographic of Ukip: old, pessimistic, feels the country has gone to the dogs, anti-immigrant and anti-Europe.

In trying to appeal exclusively to this group, the Tories will lose out on ethnic minorities and the young. It is a core vote strategy and a tacit admission of weakness. It prioritises short-term gains at the expense of long-term ones.

The Tory party is the great survivor of parliamentary democracy. One day it will elect a leader who recognises the need to make the party tolerable to the real Great Britain, not just the whims of the shires. Until it does, it will keep on failing to win elections.