Shanuk Mediwaka is a City solicitor and an officer of Hornsey and Wood Green Conservative Association. His Twitter handle is @ShanukMediwaka.
The Left is fond of what might be termed “demographic death trap” arguments. These tend to run along the following lines: “this centre-right party is doomed in the long run because of that demographic factor”.
In the UK, we have recently heard this claim made in relation to the supposedly Conservative-proof younger generation. What this perspective ignores, of course, is the long-held ability of centre-right parties around the world to adapt as the societies which they seek to lead change.
To give an obvious example, as Britain has become more racially diverse in recent years our party has drawn on talent from a range of communities, and has claimed yet another first in choosing the first British Asian prime minister. The opportunities for Conservatives will only grow as Britain diversifies further in the years and decades ahead.
It is important not to lump all ethnic minority voters together, or to imagine that their priorities are somehow markedly different from their fellow Britons. However, due to religious faith, cultural practice and family links, many ethnic minority voters are instinctively small-c conservatives. This article offers five ways in which our party can persuade more to become Conservative voters.
Emphasising the value of hard work
Many from such a background have a clear family narrative around coming to the UK with the aim of making the most of the opportunities available here and doing well. They want work to pay and personal responsibility emphasised. We should look to build on previous reforms to the welfare system by replacing the contributory benefits system with a new social insurance scheme – an idea promoted by the Centre for Social Justice.
This scheme would be administered by employers and take the form of a ‘rainy day guarantee’, where beneficiaries would make regular payments into the scheme, which would protect against the risk of future income shocks as a result of long-term sickness or unemployment. In addition to reducing the complexity of the welfare system, such a change would reflect the principle that those who put more in should be able to take more out.
A robust approach to crime
The flip side of rewarding those who work is recognising the harm done by those who discard their responsibilities and, in some cases, turn to crime. Most ethnic minority voters have as little time for liberal views on the subject as the rest of the public do. Our party should show that the punishment must reflect the gravity of the crime. There should never have been a question mark over whether the killers of Sarah Everard and Zara Aleena would die in jail: we should make sure our sentencing regime reflects the damage done by those who terrorise women.
We should also increase minimum sentences for those who harm children – the recent release of Baby P’s mother after an unacceptably short sentence demonstrates the inadequacies of the current system. Such changes would be cheered by millions of Britons with family in countries with an extremely robust attitude to all forms of crime.
Countering illegal and irregular migration
As the Prime Minister has made clear, we should take a no-nonsense approach to illegal immigration: those who waited their turn to come to this country have no time for those who seek to jump the queue. Those who arrive by small boat from safe countries should be swiftly returned, and the Government is rightly looking at changing the legal framework to facilitate that.
We should also consider whether it might be time to look again at a national ID card system to police access to jobs and public services. As David Willetts has noted on this site, one factor which makes the UK particularly attractive to those migrating illegally is that the absence of identity cards makes it easier to get a job and housing. Tacking such unfairness in our immigration system will be welcomed by those who played by the rules.
Putting the family at the heart of policy-making
Many ethnic minority voters have been raised in particularly family-oriented cultures, tied to a tradition of immigrants coming to Britain with the hope of giving their children and grandchildren a better life. Our party should show that we understand that the family is the bedrock of Western society. This could mean helping with the pressures of raising children through offering an expanded child benefit and greater parental leave rights.
We should also make clear that, whatever the Labour Party might think, parents have the right to decide how their children are educated. Building on our work allowing free schools to open, we could further increase parental choice by allowing new selective schools to open where there is local support for them, and by bringing back a version of the Assisted Places Scheme.
Continuing to level the playing field
Finally, we should recognise that while substantial progress has been made in addressing barriers faced by minorities, there remains work to do. Very few ethnic minority voters want the focus to be on tearing down statues and renaming streets. Their priority is the educational and employment opportunities available to their children. To this end, the Conservatives should encourage more companies to adopt name-blind recruitment processes, as previously agreed with the Civil Service and some private employers – recognising that discrimination in hiring continues to exist.
And the Government should push ahead with plans to open new selective sixth forms in disadvantaged (and often very diverse) parts of Midlands and northern England – following the success of schools such as Brampton Manor and Harris Westminster in London.
Expanding these opportunities to all parts of Britain – along with recognising the value of work and strong families, and punishing bad behaviour which is damaging to society – are all entirely laudable ideas independently of their electoral appeal. Happily for the Conservatives, developing these ideas further would also serve to demonstrate how our values align with the priorities of ethnic minority voters and help our party expand its appeal further.