“The Conservatives, ethnic minority voters, and the election. Next to no progress”: such was the headline we wrote for Sunder Katwala’s post-poll piece on this site in 2019. The sum of his article was that Tory hopes of a breakthrough among Indian and Chinese-origin voters had not been realised.
The party had made “only modest progress” with them, mirrored by “a modest decline” elsewere – from 24 per cent of the ethnic minority whole to 20 per cent. His piece opened with a stark sentence: “not being white remains the number one demographic predictor of not voting Conservative.”
Henry Hill’s study of the new Tory intake in the Commons painted a similar picture: “at under five per cent of the new intake, the share or black or minority MPs in the Class of 2019 is lower than 2017 or 2015, and the share elected for safe seats is a third of what it was two years ago”.
One response to that last figure might be: don’t look at the share, look at the number – which shows that 22 such MPs were elected in 2019 compared to 19 in 2017. That figure could be a starting-point for how the Conservatives might do better come the next election than “next to no progress”.
In short words, aim for evolutionary rather than radical change. Dig in at local level, deploying pavement politics to win council seats in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minority voters. Find new candidates from among them. Make progress in Mayoral contests. Build up to challenging for the local Commons seat.
Take up and campaign on causes that matter to such voters: sickle cell disease, among people of an African or Caribbean origin; religious burial among those with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background. Stress values: family, work and education.
Above all, take the Party’s approach to climate change as a model: just as it doesn’t dispute the challenge of global warming (far from it), don’t quarrel with that of institutional racism: the doctrine that institutions can be judged guilty of it even if individuals within them may not be – especially given the new context of Black Lives Matter.
And alhough while no individual within an institution may be racist, his actions can be recorded as such if they are “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. That’s the legacy of William Macpherson’s culture-shaping report in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Whatever may be said for or against such a softly-softly approach, some of the new generation of Conservative ethnic minority MPs strain against it – most notably Kemi Badenoch, whose Commons speech against critical race theory last year made waves.
And just as there is a new generation of ethnic minority MPs, so there is a new one of ethnic minority intellectuals, academics, writers, educationalists and police – in terms of approach if not always of age. One of them is Munira Mirza, Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.
Others include some of the commissioners of the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, such as Tony Sewell, its chair. Or, elsewhere, business people, like Trevor Phillips, who has contributed to this site. Or doctors such as Raghib Ali, another contributor, and an adviser to the Government on Covid and disparities.
Raghib’s thinking foreshadows that of this latest report, published yesterday. “Racism still blights too many lives today,” he wrote for ConservativeHome last year, and the Commission takes up where he left off. The first of its 24 recommendations is: “challenge racist and discriminatory actions”.
Others include “teaching an inclusive curriculum”; “investigate what causes existing ethnic pay disparities”; “create police workforces that represent the communities they serve” and “increase legitimacy and accountability of stop and search through body-worn video”.
So far, so conventional – and none the worse for it. But just as Raghib went further, acknowedging ethnic disparities but dismissing systemic racism, so this report goes further, too, as it comes to similar conclusions. The picture it presents is one of a slow, attritional but persistent advance.
Above all, it dismisses the view of ethnic minorities as always disadvantaged compared to the white majority – to be bundled together under the acronym BAME: a homogeneous lump in which the African-origin and Chinese-origin experience, say, are treated as much the same.
Here is an extract from the report which gives the flavour: “education is the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience. The Commission notes that the average GCSE Attainment 8 score for Indian, Bangladeshi and Black African pupils were above the White British average”.
No wonder, in the context of its findings as a whole, that the Commission joins the list of those who find that BAME label conceals more than it reveals: British Future, of which Sunder is the Director, says that “it is better to use words, rather than acronyms”. The Centre for Social Justice wants the term dropped.
But it goes almost without saying that opposing racism, and suggesting ways of combatting it, won’t be enough for those whose commissions, jobs, sincures and votes are founded on the doctrine of social regress, rather than social progress; on victimhood rather than agency; and on institutional racism rather than persistent racism.
There is a Victimhood Blob just as there is an Education Blob, and it fears that where new thinking goes today, the electorate will go tomorrow. No wonder the attack on the commissioners is already turning, in some quarters, personal and unscrupulous. The stakes are too high for it to be otherwise.
We wonder whether their assessment is correct. It may be that this report marks a historic turning-point in race relations in Britain, with the Tory-voting white plurality is especially receptive. Or it may be that the structural racism narrative is too well entrenched, too dug in after 25 years, to be shifted by a single Government.
Without the commitment of Mirza herself (already a target of Far Left unreason), we doubt if the report would have been commissioned. Boris Johnson’s technique is to wait for Woke to over-reach, as in the case of the Churchill statue assault, before committing himself, rather than strike questingly into its intellectual territory.
Perhaps the best way of looking at the report is to shake oneself free of these political, tactical considerations, and simply ask: is the Commission right – for example, in saying that unconscious bias training should be scrapped? In its view that all ethnic minorities don’t move forward at the same pace?
In essence, the report argues that the three biggest determinants of life chances are family, education and work. This seems to us to be so unrebuttable as, ultimately, to be certain to win through. Which doesn’t mean that the report is perfect: we are not sure that it has got to the heart of the problems for black people in relation to crime and justice.
Nor does it follow that because a report has analysed a problem accurately, the Government will act appropriately. British governments are notorious for being among the most indiiferent to families in Europe, with the noxious consequences that Miriam Cates described on ConservativeHome earlier this week.
Perhaps the “review to…take action to address the underlying issues facing families” recommended in the report will turn the tide. At the level of words, perhaps with deeds to come, this is the most consensus-challenging, bold and implication-rich Government initiative to date. We can’t help being surprised that it was allowed to happen at all.