Why Baroness Warsi resignation poses questions for policy and presentation
Peer’s move to step down from government amid Gaza crisis presents David Cameron with urgent electoral challenges to solve in the run up to 2015
This week, Baroness Warsi stood down from the government in response to its “morally indefensible” position on the Gaza crisis. Her tweeted resignation announcement, and George Osborne’s reaction that it was “disappointing and unnecessary”, has raised questions over foreign policy and led to difficult headlines for the government. Its knock-on impact is to take away a visible and tangible demonstration of the party’s desire to be diverse and inclusive: an important element of the party’s efforts to broaden its appeal among ethnic-minority voters.
The Tories have historically struggled to attract votes from ethnic minority groups. As a proud northerner and the daughter of two Pakistani immigrants, Baroness Warsi’s ascent to government office embodied the argument that background was no impediment in the Conservative Party. At a time when the Etonian roots of the Cabinet suggested a party in the grip of a white, public-school elite, the image of Baroness Warsi strolling to Downing Street for her first cabinet meeting in a Salwar Kameez was a potent symbol.
Whether ethnic minority representation in a political party is a direct cause of voting behaviour is a moot point. But it is difficult to see anything but bad news for the Conservatives in this, arriving as it does on the back of some worrying statistics.
At the last election, the Conservatives won just 16% of the minority ethnic vote. Research from Policy Exchange shows that Indians are the most likely minority to vote Conservative, but just 17% of this group identify with the party. The numbers are even lower for other minorities: 9% of Pakistanis, 8% of Bangladeshis, 7% of Black Caribbean and 4% of black Africans identify with the Tories. If this doesn’t set off cold sweats among party staff, then the statistics for growth in immigrant populations and the resulting impact on the electorate most certainly should.
A quarter of children under 10 are from an ethnic-minority background, compared to just 5% of those over 60. A report from Operation Black Vote has shown that changing British demographics could lead to the ethnic minority vote determining the result of the 2015 election. In 168 marginal seats, the Black and Minority Ethnic electorate is larger than the majority of the sitting MP. This isn’t confined to inner-city regions, but is true of seats in places such as Oxford, Northampton and Ipswich.
Professor Anthony Heath of Oxford University, who has studied the ethnic shift in British demographics and its influence on politics, has calculated that it might be too late for the Tories in the upcoming election. He has predicted a loss of between 20 and 40 seats, owing to their lack of popularity with minority voters.
So, David Cameron has two pressing issues in his summer in-tray. In the short term, he needs to convince the nation that his government’s stance on the tragedy in Gaza is the right one. Longer term, he needs a fresh response to accusations that his party doesn’t represent the people of his country any more.
Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications
For more on the issues raised in this article, check out the details on this forthcoming CMI seminar Equality, Diversity & Inclusion: Making the Business Case, scheduled to take place in London on 2 October.
Image of Baroness Warsi courtesy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office flickr, via Wikipedia