Albie Amankona and Sally-Ann Hart: Levelling up must work for ethnic minorities – not just the white working class

22 Jun

Albie Amankona is co-founder of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality (CARFE). Sally-Ann Hart is MP for Hastings and Rye, and Deputy Chair of CARFE.

This year’s Windrush Day presents an opportunity for us Conservatives to highlight an issue that is difficult to discuss – but must be addressed. Namely, the accelerating anti-racism movement, and our engagement with it.

At Conservatives Against Racism for Equality (CARFE), we are taking the lead on building our Conservative approach to anti-racism. Members are tackling ‘the war on woke’, and developing the terminology and phrases that will equip our Party’s elected representatives and activists with the tools to engage on the issue properly.  But we also believe that a more strategic and thoughtful view is needed.

The UK is a great place to live, work and prosper. Though we should alo feel pride over the success of our multi-ethnic society compared to our American and European counterparts: after all, it was such British MEPs as Syed Kamall, Nosheena Mobarik, Nirj Deva and others who brought the lion’s share of diversity to an otherwise homogeneous EU parliament.

Racism still blights the lives of too many in our United Kingdom. We need to be aware of prejudice, and all play our part to eliminate it from our society. It would be a good start were we all treat to everyone as we would like to be treated ourselves. A successful society depends on harmonious co-existence, which means that we must not only treat all people equally, but also think of people as of equal value. Everyone must be entitled to equal opportunity, no matter what their background, colour of skin, religion or politics.

There is a big opportunity for the Conservatives to win non-white voters simply by treating them like everyone else: as aspirational people. However, we must wake up to the reality that racial inequality has become a priority for the fastest-growing parts of the electorate. Polling from Engage Britain finds that addressing racial inequality ranks higher than unemployment for the young and Britain’s ethnic minorities. For ethnic minorities, addressing racial inequalities was a priority over education and the environment.

Despite a track record of two female Prime Ministers, two British-Asian Chancellors, Home Secretaries, the first black Secretary of State and the most diverse Cabinet ever, ethnic minority support has dwindled for the Conservatives.

We have allowed the narrative about racism to be dominated by the Left. Ipsos MORI estimates that, in 2015, the Conservatives won one in four ethnic minority votes, but that in 2017 and 2019, this proportion was down to one in five.

It is a similar picture from the pollster for young voters.  In, 2015 and 2017 the Conservatives won 27 per cent of young voters but, in 2019, this fell to 19 per cent. Coupled with Oxford University’s forecast that our nation’s ethnic minority population may account for 38 per cent of the population by 2050, our popularity or lack thereof with this demographic may, on this trajectory, become a threat to electoral success.

So while we may look like a party of modern Britain, we do not yet speak to all of modern Britain. Racism is not a left-wing issue. Conservatives need to promote what we truly believe in: real equality of opportunity for all.

Taking an effective Conservative stance on anti-racism means delivering true change, with a levelling-up agenda at its heart. That means one for ethnic minorities in our inner-cities as well as white working-classes in our Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

There cannot be a perception that the compass of government points more in the direction of the latter than the former, when many of the problems faced by these groups are similar: poor healthcare, housing, education and employment outcomes, alongside broader lack of opportunity outside the more prosperous pockets of Britain.

We Conservatives must present a positive vision of where Britain is going, as a world-beating multi-ethnic democracy, one that realises it has some way to go before there is true equality of opportunity, regardless of race or place of birth. Our vision cannot indulge in superficial culture wars or woke-bashing which benefit no one. Too much oxygen is given to squabbles over inanimate objects such as statues, symbolic gestures such as taking the knee and decade-old social media posts.

It was 2016 when students at Cape Town and Oxford Universities started the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, and when Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, took the knee for the first time at an NFL game. Today, Parliamentarians debate these non-issues in the same breath as the vaccine rollout and the end of lockdown. Some in the anti-racist lobby see this as progres – but they are misguided, as politicians battle over these gestures instead of engaging with the real reasons why people are driven to such measures.

This obsession with the superficial was evident during the release of Tony Sewell’s Race Report. There was debate over claims the Report made about institutional racism, but little about the Report’s substantial recommendations which, if implemented, will have a profoundly positive impact on the lives of Britain’s ethnic minority citizens.

We need to focus on what matters: improving opportunity for those with the least and providing all parts of the country with foundations on which prosperity can be built. Not on philosophical arguments about issues that have no impact on the here, now and future.

Conservatives can succeed in some of the most diverse seats in the country, both in terms of age and race. We have the right ideas, illustrated by Sewell’s recommendations, but when it comes to communication there is much room for improvement (as illustrated by the release of the same report).

Such as politicians as Steve Baker, Andy Street and our Prime Minister have proved that Conservatives can speak in a way that appeals to ethnic minorities, and win votes. To replicate this success across the country, we need to pioneer an approach that will win over younger and more ethnically diverse voters at the next general election – in the same way, we won over the Red Wall in 2019.

The left and its unquestioning support for all Black Lives Matter organisations, including the insurgent UK BLM which is anti-capitalist, anti-police and anti-British, has left the door open for us Conservatives to do what we do best: find rational, common-sense and effective solutions to the people’s priorities.

As our recent wins at the local elections and Hartlepool by-election demonstrate, when we deliver on our promises, as with Brexit and the vaccine rollout, votes follow. We must apply our winning formula to anti-racism and take the lead on fighting racism in a way that  Conservatives of all colours can get behind. A schedule for the swift implementation of our Government-commissioned Sewell report recommendations would be a fine place to start.