Cllr Ameet Jogia has been a councillor in Harrow since 2014. He is also the Co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of India.
Overnight Harrow became the flagship council for the Conservatives in London – becoming the only Conservative gain across the country. Having been overlooked for years, the Party tended to look up to other London councils as beacons of inspiration which best reflected Tory values. However, the recent local elections changed the political landscape in London, with Harrow having one of the largest Conservative majorities in the capital.
This is therefore a pivotal time for the Party in London and across the country to understand how and why trends are changing, and what we can do to stay ahead of the game. The results in Harrow were not a pleasant coincidence or freak of nature. They were the result of a number of factors, which I am sure Harrow Conservatives would be happy to share to multiply similar success across the country.
Harrow is one of the country’s most diverse areas. Our victory in Harrow is a great success story for our Party, reflective of our engagement with diverse communities. A story which reflects our ability to champion our Conservative values which we are so proud of, and successfully convey our message to different faith and cultural groups.
Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party Chairman, has been pivotal in championing our approach to engaging with faith communities. This has been witnessed by members who have seen him engage with ethnic minorities up and down the country – including twice in Harrow during the campaign trail!
Having grown up in a diverse place such as Harrow, I have always been a believer that ethnic minority communities are naturally conservative communities. People who have come to this country for a better start in life, who aspire to get on, work hard and act as advocates for education, family, entrepreneurship, and law and order. These are Conservative shared values.
Engaging with ethnic minorities should not be divisive. Instead, the focus should be on uniting communities through shared values. In this case, shared Conservative values. The focus of the debate should therefore be on effectively communicating our message to all ethnic minority communities, as opposed to introducing different policies for different communities.
Naturally, our engagement with various communities is at different stages. The recent local election results reflected this, especially our success in Harrow, home to the largest British Indian community in the country. Support from the British Indian community has been growing considerably for the Conservatives in recent years, which has been spurred on by Labour’s increasing anti-India stance.
The key is therefore accessing communities and relaying our message successfully. Finding supportive voices and candidates within communities is therefore essential in accessing communities. In Harrow, having community leaders standing as candidates was extremely effective in getting our message across on mass to communities.
Visibility is essential. This means active engagement with communities, visiting churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. High profile visits, such as Home Secretary Priti Patel’s recent visit to a local Temple was very effective in galvanising the local community.
Engagement and alignment is also needed on an international level. In Harrow, the Prime Minister’s recent visit to India was a great hit with the borough’s large British Indian community. The Prime Minister’s trip to the Indian state of Gujarat – the ancestral home of the largest proportion of British Indians – resonated particularly with Harrow’s Gujarat community – the largest in the UK.
Diversity also needs to be reflected nationally. Our engagement drive is shown on the top table where the highest offices of state are held by – Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Suella Braverman, and Kwasi Kwarteng. This is an incredible achievement and a dream come true for many Conservatives. This Cabinet table is more diverse than all Labour cabinets put together. This diversity and inclusiveness has played a key role in portraying that the Party is the natural home for ethnic minorities.
There is of course no substitute for hard work, and this has been demonstrated by our excellent MP Bob Blackman who pounds the streets of Harrow every single weekend meeting local residents. He is an excellent example to councillors and activists who he encourages to join in engaging with the local community.
Harrow’s victory is a template for good community engagement in other seats with large ethnic minorities such as Leicester East, Brent, Bedford, Coventry North West, Oldham East and Saddleworth and other key marginals.
For us, it is therefore no coincidence that the ethnic minorities in Harrow – particularly the British Indian community – are voting Conservative. It was destined to happen because of the shared values of the community and the Party. The Conservative vote share has seen a steady increase in recent years in both the national and Mayoral elections. This was due to Harrow Conservatives focusing on local messaging – not in response to national polling – but to play on our strengths, that only Conservative councils can deliver a cost-effective and highly deliverable council services.
Perhaps this is something which other councils felt too obvious to mention. However, in Harrow the local messaging was hammered that only Conservatives had a plan to budget effectively rather than raise taxes, and focus on everyday priorities which matter to people, such as street cleaning, combatting fly-tipping and filling potholes, rather than wasting money on pointless schemes such as Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes.
It was therefore no surprise that Harrow buckled the national trend in the recent local elections. Harrow was a great success story locally with important lessons we can use nationally. Let us replicate Harrow’s success across the country in what we do best – standing up for conservative values. After all, this should always be our greatest strength.