by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff @charliebcuff
First published Mon 25 May 2015
The Conservatives managed to win over 33% of BAME voters at the election. Was a little cultural sensitivity all it took?
Historically, the Tories haven’t done much to court the favour of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters in general elections. The Conservative stance on immigration alone may be enough to put many voters off – remember the 2013 “Go home or face arrest” posters? But figures released yesterday by British Future show that, for the first time in history, the Conservatives received 1 million BAME votes, working out at 33% of their demographic.
So why have the Tories scooped up so many ballots? Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, might have played a role. He gave canvassers something akin to etiquette lessons on how to treat BAME voters before letting them loose on the streets.
“In the run up to the election we were in on the ground, canvassing in key marginal seats,” he says. “Sometimes the candidates would have us canvassing randomly and in certain cases the candidates would send us out to specifically canvass ethnic minority voters.”
Amin explained to the canvassers that it “helps” if women dress modestly when approaching Muslim voters, and if they were speaking to Muslim women, they should never “stick their hand out expecting it to be shaken”.
“If the woman offers her hand to be shaken, obviously, by all means, shake it, but little things like that make a difference,” he told them.
But the biggest message Amin wanted to spread was about using inclusive language – perhaps something the Tories needed a reminder of after former Conservative adviser Derek Laud damned the party earlier this year as being “the ultimate racists because they deal in stereotypes”.
“For many years Conservative politicians, and indeed others, have used phrases like ‘your values are the same as our values’, which sound positive,” says Amin, “but, if you think about it, they are actually creating a barrier between ‘you’ and ‘us’.”
Amin believes Muslim voters are “natural Conservatives” due to their mutual focus on business, family and faith. The figures show that there was highest support for the Tories from Asian voters, compared with other ethnic minorities, although he is adamant that other BAME voters would be just as well suited to Conservative policies.
“There’s no reason why people from black, Afro-Caribbean backgrounds should have any different attitudes. They’re often very socially conservative and they believe you should stand on your own two feet,” he says.
Labour still holds on to 52% of the BAME vote, and while the Tories do seem to be on an upward trajectory, they have still got a long way to go. Amin’s long-term goal is to make BAME Conservatism “completely normal” and to set the intolerance associated with the party firmly in the past. We’ll find out in five years if he succeeds.
Operation Black Vote, encourages black communities to register to vote. It does not however, tell them who to vote for. That is left up to the individual.