By Mark Pritchard MP - 3rd January 2013
Tory MP Mark Pritchard says it would be misguided if his party's hierarchy were again tempted to 'set itself on a collision course with Conservative Associations' by trying to fast-track ethnic minority candidates.
The Conservative parliamentary party should be more representative of the population. It is good news that in recent years the Conservative Party has made steady progress in increasing the number of its ethnic MPs. In 2005 just two Conservative MPs were from Britain’s ethnic minorities, in 2010 the figure had risen to eleven. This increase is a trend that is likely to continue as the high calibre of these MPs is appreciated by Conservative Associations, many of whom will soon be replacing their retiring MPs with new parliamentary candidates.
However, the final choice of Parliamentary candidates should be for Conservative Associations alone. It would be misguided if the Party hierarchy were again tempted to set itself on a collision course with Conservative Associations by attempting to fast-track favoured ethnic minority candidates over equally talented white-British candidates. Conservative Associations rightly value their independence and ‘right to choose’ their prospective parliamentary candidates. Any outside interference is rightly and fiercely resisted. Number 10 must learn the lessons from the failed ‘A list’ experiment.
It is also politically naive to think that by merely increasing ethnic representation within the Parliamentary Party and rushing to diversify the ethnicity of government Ministers that Asian and Afro-Caribbean voters across Britain will experience some sort of ‘political epiphany’ and suddenly begin voting Conservative. It is also patronising. I never met anyone on any doorstep from any ethnic group who has said they were more likely to vote Conservative if they saw more Black or Asian faces sat on Conservative benches. The Conservative Party needs to communicate in the social and economic languages of Britain’s ethnic minorities not fret about learning a myriad of mother tongues.
Tokenism has always been politically lazy. It can also go disastrously wrong as different religions, sects, and schisms within the same ethnic communities emerge over an election campaign. It is also worth remembering that whilst more MPs from Britain’s ethnic minorities would be a good thing, the majority of the electorate still rightly place more value on the calibre of a candidate rather than the colour of a candidate. Most want a candidate who share their values and are willing to fight their corner – irrespective of gender, race, or religion.
In reality voters from all ethnic backgrounds mostly share the same ‘needs and wants’ as one another. Their primary concerns are keeping a roof over their heads, putting food on the table, a safe neighbourhood, decent schools, and the prospect of a more prosperous future. The Conservative Party must not embark on an ethnic beauty parade but instead showcase trans-community principles and policies that unite the nation, appeal across every ethnic group, irrespective of background, religion, North South geography, gender, or income. This is true One Nation conservatism; inclusive, binding, cohesive, no one left behind; the British Dream, real equality.
The government could also do more to reduce Britain’s high numbers of migrants and immigrants. Whilst not exclusively, it is invariably Britain’s ethnic minorities, living in crowded urban areas, who often feel the first impact of Britain’s open borders. It is they, along with their white-British working neighbours, who compete for housing, school places, local health services, and a seat on the bus. Government action to extend border controls preventing a new wave of migration from Romania and Bulgaria in 2014 would be as welcomed by Britain’s ethnic minorities as it would by everyone else.
The Party could also shelve its misconceived same-sex marriage plans. Apart from antagonising the Tory grassroots and traditional Conservative voters, Number 10’s decision to press ahead with a Bill is likely to alienate large parts of the very same ethnic and religious groups the Party says it needs to attract to win the next general election. The Bill is self-defeating, divisive, and could inadvertently breed intolerance. To proceed regardless would show the Conservative Party as out of touch with many in the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities – many of whom are Asian and Afro-Caribbean.
The political thinking in Number 10 might be that any political fallout from the Bill will be conveniently neutralised given Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg also support same-sex marriage. This would be a miscalculation. There is only one Prime Minister, not three, and it is he alone, a Conservative Prime Minister, who will be seen as the chief architect of the Bill. It is the Conservative Party who will reap the political consequences.
The Conservative Party continues to be the natural political home for the innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, and those prepared to study and work hard. That is why with the right policies and quality candidates not quota candidates the Conservative Party can still appeal to Britain’s ethnic minorities and the wider electorate and go onto to win the next general election. It is never too late. However, minorities will not be attracted to a Conservative Party which abandons the principle of meritocracy - and merely views the electoral support of Britain’s ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, as a political numeric.
Like the majority, Britain’s ethnic minorities want to support a Conservative Party that champions the hope that their tomorrow can be better than their today, that their children’s future will be more prosperous and secure than their own, and that talent always triumphs over tokenism. They want Conservative policies that reach out to people’s hearts and minds, that enthuse and inspire them, and a Party of values not transient vanities. The Conservative Party needs to continue to modernise - but in changing its practices it must not jettison its long-proven principles.