The General Election saw a resounding victory for the Conservative Party across the country, but of the few areas that remained resolutely red, there was one in particular that refused to drift with the national tide, London.
Amidst a febrile atmosphere in Labour-run areas that sees the Conservative Party portrayed as the enemy, and non-white Conservatives portrayed as traitors, how can we make inroads into gaining support from London’s ethnic minority communities?
The forthcoming London Mayoral and London Assembly elections are likely to come too soon for any material change to have been implemented, but with a BAME candidate in Shaun Bailey who understands and has personal experience of the issues upon which he’s campaigning, there is an opportunity for the Conservative message to fall upon ears that have been deaf until now.
Having seen the Red Wall collapse, how will the Conservatives knock down the London Wall?
If the resounding rejection of the Conservative Party by the BAME community during the General Election were not comprehensive enough, rather than plot a corrective course in the weeks that have followed, the Party has taken a number of decisions and mis-steps that have compounded previous errors. It is fair to say the Party is on the cusp of writing off a significant swathe of London’s population as potential voters.
Labour have been imperious in their stranglehold on the most diverse areas of London. It is no coincidence that many of their highest profile MPs have adjacent seats inside the North Circular, some of whom have a tenure stretching back decades. However, it is Labour’s failure to make discernible improvements to some of the most deprived areas in London that has been defining.
In October 2019, the Index of Multiple Deprivation revealed that nine of the ten most deprived London Boroughs were under Labour control. All ten had a Labour MP. Labour relies upon areas of significant racial diversity and lower socio-economic status to prop up ailing support; to buttress the London Wall.
What steps should the Party take to prevent a complete capitulation regarding the pursuit of winning votes from the growing number of ethnic minority voters? Which areas will alter perceptions of the Party amongst those who are adamant that racism within the Party is endemic?
It will be a long time before the Conservative Party is able to pitch to London’s black diaspora without facing immediate reference to 2017’s Windrush scandal, the “hostile environment”, and the ongoing bad feeling that has been exacerbated by the recent Jamaican deportation flight.
The scars of the Windrush scandal run deep. The Windrush report will be published shortly and the initial draft conclusion labels the Home Office as “institutionally racist”; an independent assessment of the Government which tars it as such will be as hard to remove as the metaphor implies.
The Government must be prepared to respond to accusations with a cogent explanation of its actions. Labour’s hijacking of the recent deportation flight of Foreign National Offenders is a prime example of how this manufactured victimisation is leveraged. Over the past decade the UK has deported over 54,000 Foreign National Offenders without significant objection from Labour. The impassioned grandstanding viral clip of David Lammy’s excoriating speech in the Chamber was as predictable as it was grandiloquent.
Quotes from 2002 of picaninnies and “watermelon smiles” are oft-repeated in any conversation centred upon racism and the Conservative Party, specifically in relation to the Prime Minister. Given that the original Daily Telegraph column is an 18 year old article about Tony Blair and behind a paywall, the majority of those repeating them are doing so parrot-fashion from elsewhere. We must take steps to combat the slur lest the opinion that this is the Party’s true belief becomes entrenched. The catastrophic decision to appoint Andrew Sabisky as an adviser, without realising that his comments regarding Eugenics and the intelligence of black people would reinforce suspicions that the government is racist, is yet to be explained but is there any explanation that could paint that decision positively?
The narrative that we are far right has emerged as a combination of the factors mentioned previously as well as those beyond our control. The endorsement of the Party by Katie Hopkins, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, and Paul Golding, alongside rumours that each had become members has only accelerated the accusations, despite being robustly denied publicly at the time by James Cleverly, the Party Chairman. The 2020 Hope Not Hate report refers to the threat of far-right groups diminishing, but attributes this to a shift further right by the Conservative Party. The Left’s bivouac on the moral high ground with regards to this, despite Labour’s EHRC anti-semitism investigation still pending, is increasingly looking like a permanent encampment.
However, it is not just the black population that needs to be convinced. With upwards of 80 per cent of Muslim voters opting for Labour in recent elections, the Conservatives have significant ground to make up in order to persuade potential voters that the Party has their best interests at heart. With a continuing narrative from detractors on the Left that makes reference to comments about letterboxes and bank-robbers and the spike in Islamophobic attacks that occurred thereafter rather than the existence of anti-Islamic policies, high-profile appointments to the great Offices of State are unlikely to offset the slew of negative headlines already in circulation.
Promises regarding an inquiry into Islamophobia have come to nought and so we continue to find ourselves unable to respond to criticism with a clear name. To do so would enhance efforts to foster relationships with communities that are increasingly drifting away, not towards, voting Conservative, despite being socially conservative and aspirational.
What the Conservative Party needs to be able to offer these communities is opportunity. The recent Race Inequality in the Workforce report showed that BAME millennials are 58 per cent more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. Given the concentration of the ethnic minority population in London, this merely reinforces the feeling that levelling up the areas that have been left behind doesn’t include ethnic minority communities in the capital.
With victories across the Midlands and the North-East, the Conservative Party no longer needs to win in London. Overturning Labour’s dominance in the capital, and the high-profile scalps that would accompany it, would be the jewel in the crown of the Party’s impressive upward trajectory. However, the reality is that in much the same way as those seats in the former Red Wall were gained, without decisive action, it may take a generation for the London Wall to come down.