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It is almost 45 years since the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech given by Enoch Powell on 20 April 1968 which undermined the image of the Tory Party in the eyes of ethnic minorities in Britain and abroad. To this day the stigma attached has not diminished; in fact many would say that in each and every decade since, some element of the Tory Party has always added fuel to the fire that they so desperately want to put out.
Over the past few decades it has managed to increase its ethnic minority members marginally, as it has done with the votes secured during elections. However many wonder why the Indian community that appears to share some of the Tory Party values still seem to be alienated to the extent that no matter what the Tories do – the votes just don’t come in.
They have even tried to secure the services of some high profile wealthy Indians to advise them as well as trying to get a few more candidates selected in readiness for the next election. And yet, even all of this has failed to grab the attention of our community.
Since David Cameron took over he does appear to have made an effort to connect with our community by hosting events at Number 10, by his visits to India, the support for Hindu Schools and so on. Frankly even with all of this effort it seems the ordinary Indian voter is still not convinced that the Tories have moved on from the days of Enoch. The Tory back benchers don’t help either, sometimes you wonder if they wilfully raise extreme race issues just to undermine their chance of getting the ethnic vote.
Labour on the other hand has not exactly done much to warrant the votes it secures from our community. Remember they were in power for 13 years and during that time the perception given was of a Party whose interest lay in securing the Muslim vote at any cost (no doubt the discerning reader will remember Ken Livingstone’s attempt to secure the Muslim vote in London). I have often heard some very senior Labour Party individuals who have said that there was no need to worry about the Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and others given they had nowhere else to go but to vote for Labour. Therefore their concentration has been on the rapidly increasing Muslim population that tends to vote en masse, and could also be directed to do so more easily.
So where do we all stand now? Should the community blindly vote for Labour regardless of the contempt that they often show to our needs? Or does the community need to re-align itself with what other parties are actually offering and make an informed judgement? It seems that our community has got values that transcend all the three main parties. As a friend of mine said to me once, ‘we are neither wholly Labour nor Tory – but we have bits of each in us – and we still search for a day when we will feel truly at home in one of these political parties.’ Well that sums up the problem nicely.
It’s clear to me that if the Tories went through their own reformation, moved firmly to the centre ground and ditched the condescending attitude to immigration and ethnic minorities – they may well begin to have the basic structure to attract our votes on a grander scale than hitherto. Will they do that? I know they want to, but the advisers close to the Prime Minister are simply useless – and the right wing of the Party does not help either. The average voter from our community is not a high profile multi millionaire with honours bestowed – most of us are somewhere in the middle and we need a party that resonates with our plight and daily experience.
I cannot see any circumstance in which the mass of the Muslim community will ever vote for the Tory Party for at least the next few decades. I can see a proportion of the Afro-Caribbean community giving them a chance under the right circumstances. The Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others – if we see positive genuine steps towards us, then there is scope that it would be reciprocated to some degree. However, it is for the whole Tory Party to come together and make a genuine effort and show they mean what they say by their thoughts, their deeds and of course by their actions. All too often one part of the Party will do some good only to find another part has let the side down. There is no coherency to what they wish to do and the means by which they wish to get there. The overall voter base for the Tories is diminishing and unless it does something dramatic and with genuine intent, it does leave the door wide open for Labour to secure power easily in 2015.
So what will ‘Tories + Indians’ really equate to in 2015? That my friends is the $64000 question the Tory leadership is asking. And the beauty of it all – only you have the answer.