Amanda Milling: How we’re going to ensure that everyone is welcome in the Conservative Party

6 Jul

Amanda Milling is the Member of Parliament for Cannock Chase and co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Six weeks ago, Professor Swaran Singh’s investigation into racism and discrimination within the Conservative Party was published.

While the report found no evidence of institutionalised racism, it set out the need for the Conservative Party to overhaul its complaints process so it was more transparent, and to simplify our Code of Conduct to ensure members have a fuller understanding of the standards expected of them.

The report set out 27 recommendations for the party to accept so we can begin to tackle these issues.

The first step in this process is the publication of an Action Plan setting out how we will implement the recommendations. Today we are publishing this plan – which you can read in full here.

The Conservative Party has always been a trailblazer when it comes to breaking through barriers, and it is core to our identity as a party that no one should be held back or discriminated against for any reason.

Regardless of race, background, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation or anything else, everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, and everyone should be welcome in the Conservative Party.

As Co-Chairman of the Party I am determined to fix the problems that the Singh investigation shone a light on because, for me, one case of discrimination is one too many.

This Action Plan is the first stepping stone in tackling where we have fallen short and ensuring we put things right.

This Action Plan sets out how over the next year we will update our Code of Conduct so everyone is aware of the behaviour we expect of them. We will be improving our communication to members and training our Party officers to enable them to investigate and address issues effectively. And we will be clarifying how the complaints process works and what actions we will be taking at every step of that process.

Within the same timeframe as publishing the Action Plan the recommendations required us to review and clarify our Social Media Complaints Rules – this work has already been done and approved by the Board and will be further reviewed with the fuller review of the Code of Conduct.

As Co-Chairman, I am also aware of some of the frustrations and distress our process has, at times, caused to both the accused and the victims. We are determined to provide our complaints team with the resources to investigate and resolve these issues in a timely manner. Some cases are incredibly complex and rightly need a thorough investigation.

However as part of the recommendations, and as part of my determination to provide a better system, we will be introducing clear guidelines and expectations on how long we might reasonably expect cases to be investigated.

As part of these recommendations, we were asked to improve the transparency of our complaints system including notifying respondents about the identity of members of the panel that’s assessing their case. These processes are now in place increasing confidence for those going through the complaints system.

The Action Plan sets out a clear path over the next year for the Party to put right the findings of Professor Singh’s investigation.

There’s no denying these recommendations are challenging. It requires the whole Conservative Party family – members, Associations, elected representatives and Conservative Campaign Headquarters – to work together to implement these recommendations.

We will all need to get to grips with a clearer Code of Conduct. Associations Officers will need to set aside time for training on the complaints process to ensure all complaints are handled to the highest standard. CCHQ will be working with the voluntary party to deliver these changes and ensure the smooth implementation of Professor Singh’s recommendations.

This is not something that can be delivered by CCHQ alone. Over the coming weeks and months I will need your help to make these changes and I hope you will work with us to improve our Party for the better.

It’s only by reviewing our Code of Conduct, implementing training, and improving transparency that we can ensure our complaints process can root out racism and discrimination while ensuring it’s fair and easy for those that need it.

At every step of the way we will be working with you, the Conservative Party family, to ensure we are held accountable to delivering these recommendations and sticking to the timeline set out in the Action Plan.

The recommendations set out by Professor Singh require the Party to provide an update on its progress in delivering the Action Plan. You have my full commitment that the Party will update you on that progress in six months time.

Let’s use this Action Plan as a way of ensuring we right the wrongs of the past, and build on being a Party of aspiration and opportunity to all.

Ben Obese-Jecty: As an ethnic minority party member, my experiences have been positive. But Singh’s report shows room for growth.

27 May

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

The publication of Dr Swaran Singh’s independent investigation into alleged discrimination within the Conservative Party has made for interesting and at times tough reading for Conservative members.

Allegations of discrimination, particularly racial and specifically Islamophobic, have dogged the party in recent years, and while this report offers a welcome degree of closure to the issue, it also offers a robust and granular view of where there is significant scope to address current failings.

My own experience as a party member spans across multiple associations, as an association executive officer and even as a prospective parliamentary candidate, but across these varied groups I am yet to experience, or indeed encounter, any racism. Even within the febrile atmosphere of social media, particularly Twitter, I am yet to experience any intra-party bigotry.

The findings of Singh’s investigation are thorough and sometimes scathing, pulling no punches in revealing the number of incidents of alleged discrimination and their respective outcomes. It is notable that the investigation details how the party takes an even-handed approach to the handling of all complaints, whether they are anti-Muslim in nature or otherwise. But amid the findings and recommendations it is also important to recognise that the report found no evidence of institutional racism, which is hugely welcome.

While those on the Left continue to bivouac on the moral high ground on matters of race, despite the damning EHRC report into Labour anti-Semitism only last year, the abuse I have endured during my time in politics has always come from the supposedly more “inclusive” end of the political spectrum. A narrative that often depicts black Conservatives with the ugly neo-racism of race-treachery, of “Uncle Toms” and “House Negroes” accompanied by social media memes of tap-dancing cartoon characters that play on the most racist tropes of the American Deep South. This is bigotry that largely goes unseen, or washes over those who are happy to ignore it. To hear it casually used on Good Morning Britain without an eyebrow raised by presenters is astonishing.

The Conservative Party has undoubtedly grown and changed over the course of my lifetime. Where once a non-white Conservative MP would be extremely unlikely, the contemporary party is now more diverse and more representative than at any previous point in its history. Indeed, the Conservative Party has now had double the number of ethnic minority Cabinet members that the Labour Party has had. There are currently as many British Indians around the Cabinet table as the Labour Party have had ethnic minority Cabinet members in its entire history.

Much has been written before of the diversity we have seen in the Cabinet and the great offices of state during this government. More yet has been written by those who view this as the wrong type of diversity, of brown-washing Conservative racism. Accusations that are mired in their own soft bigotry. The belief that black and brown Conservatives lack the agency to forge their own path. But the success that the party has had regarding the diversification of its MPs is indicative of an organisation that has already recognised the need to evolve and is doing so with aplomb.

No political party can claim to be completely free of those with prejudices, be they overt or more pernicious, any large organisation can expect to contain those with unsavoury views. But removing those whose bigotry is known before it can be allowed to fester and spread is a key step to assuaging fears and convincing sceptics that it is an issue being taken seriously.

That the party leadership has committed its time to being subjected to this level of scrutiny should provide a degree of reassurance in that regard, and the fact it has agreed to implement all of Singh’s recommendations in full shows the party’s commitment to improving things where there have been failures.

The findings from the Singh investigation propose deep reforms and provide a welcome chance for the party to assess how best to adapt and address the opportunity to make it a political home for all those who wish to be a part of it. As a party we should welcome measures that can help address existing shortcomings, transform the way the party works and broaden its appeal beyond its core voter base.

While the Conservative Party has not traditionally been seen as a natural home for voters from Britain’s ethnic minority populations, there is no reason why an ideology that speaks to personal responsibility, hard work and aspiration cannot continue to win support from those who feel that they are values which represent them. With the party committed to a levelling up agenda across the country, why shouldn’t a place where talented individuals are able to thrive no matter their background be the most attractive proposition?

Dean Godson: It’s easier for the right to a left on economics than for the left to move right on culture. That’s a plus for Johnson.

21 Nov

Dean Godson is the Director of Policy Exchange.

“You have limited time, limited capacity, and limited choices. Where does your focus lie?” asks Rachel Wolf on this site last week. Well, the Conservative Party has been walking and chewing gum since Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act — and there is no reason why the “reset” triggered by the departure of Dominic Cummings should change that.

Representing a critical mass of both the prosperous and the “Just About Managing” classes and parts of the country is what all successful political parties do in democracies. Since the Tory party became the party of Brexit and expanded – or maybe one should say rediscovered parts of its working class base – it is certainly true that the heterogenous coalition which it represents has spoken with a somewhat different accent.

Indeed, a case can be made that the part of the political class that ascended to power after December 2019 represents a significant break with all governments since the fall of Margaret Thatcher. The governments of John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May (though less so the latter) tended to put global integration before national sovereignty, the metropolitan before the provincial, higher education before further education, trains and planes before buses, diversity before cohesion, the cognitive classes before the artisanal ones.

Their version of the national interest broadly reflected the priorities of what my colleague David Goodhart, who was interviewed recently by this site, has called the people who see the world from Anywhere. And in his most recent book Head, Hand Heart, he describes a narrowing definition of a successful life, as seen by Anywhere Britain, based around academic success, a university education and entry into high-status professional employment. This is the world of the big cities, the university towns and much of the middle and upper public sector, (and certainly of wide swathes of the senior civil service which were at daggers drawn with Dominic Cummings).

But what of that part of the population that cannot achieve or does not want to achieve this version of success? They still want recognition, and to feel able to contribute to the national story and the Brexit vote provided the opportunity for many of them to say ‘no’ to much of that governing class consensus.

The Vote Leave strand of the Johnson Government sought to represent and appeal to this part of the electorate – summed up in the phrase “Levelling up” – in a way that no government, let alone a Conservative government, has done for decades. That has, unavoidably, created tensions with many powerful interests and beliefs, including inside the Tory Party itself, many of which came to be focused on the pugnacious personality of Dominic Cummings.

A more emollient tone can be struck – but to abandon what was termed “Erdington modernisation” (after Nick Timothy’s Birmingham roots) and return to the necessary but not sufficient Notting Hill modernisation (in which the party made its peace with much of modern liberalism) is now very hard.

This is the case for electoral reasons as much as any other – with both Keir Starmer and Nigel Farage both praying for a return to Cameron-Osborne era Conservatism with its implicit assumption that the common good can be achieved through a kind of trickle-down from the most successful and dynamic parts of our society.

There are other reasons for thinking that it would be foolish to switch back now. Politics for most of the post-war period has been dominated by economics. And, of course, a thriving economy is still a sine qua non for any government. But economics is a means not an end, and the economistic bias of the Anywheres gave us the failed cost-benefit analysis of the Remain campaign.

Today’s much higher profile for the security and identity cultural issues ought to be a boon to the centre-right because, as has been pointed out, it is easier for the right to move a bit to the left on economics (as it certainly has done) than for the left to move right on cultural issues (as Starmer would no doubt like to do, but will find his path blocked).

This does not require an aggressive culture war from the right. The cultural offensive has been coming mainly from the left – as exemplified by the controversies over statues and the decolonisation of museums. The right needs to stand up for common sense, and for the large majority who accept the equalities of modern liberalism but do not want their sensibilities constantly undermined.

Conservatives should be the party of value diversity. Go back to the 1950s and the country was often dominated by a conformist, traditional culture that stunted the lives of many people and often punished those who deviated. Over many decades, much higher levels of choice and freedom for women and minorities of various kinds have been achieved.

Part of the Left now wants to impose a degree of progressive conformity comparable to the traditional conformity of earlier decades. Tolerance and pluralism should be the watchwords in these matters — with a strong bed-rock of rights and anti-discrimination legislation, but also an understanding that rights and values often clash and the ratchet should not only turn in a progressive direction.

That all said, walking and chewing gum is possible, and there is space, post-Cummings, for a new tone and a new stress on policy bridges that seek common ground between Anywhere and Somewhere priorities.

The green industrial revolution is clearly one of those policy areas, and should not be seen as a soft bourgeois indulgence. As the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, it is places like Teesside, Port Talbot and Merseyside that are now centres of green technology and jobs. Ben Houchen, the mayor of Tees Valley, underlined the same point in the introduction to Policy Exchange’s recent report on The Future of the North Sea, and on ConservativeHome earlier this week. Research we will soon be publishing on redesigning the national grid should also generate many good, skilled jobs in areas that are sometimes seen as “left behind”.

The re-set seems more likely to be a milder form of reboot. Without Cummings, some of the urgency will go out of parts of the recent agenda, particularly the machinery of government and data in government focus. But many of the priorities of the new conservatism—Brexit, levelling up, higher spending on the NHS and police, social care, boosting further education, immigration reform, restoring some bustle and pride to Britain’s often unloved towns—are owned by a broad range of the people that matter.

The Red Wall voters are likely to prove more complex beasts than in the Vote Leave or Remain caricatures – and no political strategy can focus too much on just one slice of the population but without producing visible, tangible improvements to the lives of people in places like Stoke and Leigh before the next election the Conservatives will not be returned in 2024.

Discrimination in the Conservative Party – a call for evidence

10 Oct

The independent investigation into discrimination within the Conservative Party, led by Professor Swaran Preet Singh, has reached its second phrase, in which it is calling for new information. He says:

“We are now calling for further evidence that we may not already have seen to ensure that we are aware, as far as realistically possible, of all evidence relating to alleged discrimination within the Party. We need to determine whether all important evidence of discrimination has been considered in the framework of the Party’s existing complaints process.”

Here’s a link to the call for evidence and a submission form.  The deadline for submissions is a week today, Saturday October 17, at 16.00.  For further information, please contact contact@singhinvestigation.co.uk.