|Picture of Conservative representatives from Operation Black Vote C/O OBV Website|
As someone who comes from a minority background and having experienced my own fair share of discrimination, challenges and barriers in life and having over come many of them to achieve what I have today, I understand and can relate closely to the experiences of many black and minority ethnic (BME) voters in the UK. I also spend my life reaching out to different communities developing engagement with organisations that have traditionally failed to engage people from a variety of backgrounds and empowering people to take control and hold their local services to account.
This is why as a Conservative I feel passionately in us holding open permanently our doors to all communities in the UK and letting anyone who supports the values of hard work, aspiration and success walk through knowing that they are welcomed and are helping to shape the direction of the party, their community and ultimately the country we all are proud to call our home.
If we look across the sea to the USA the Republican Party have consistently failed to engage and reflect the diverse communities that now exist across the USA and as a result have struggled to maintain a winning vote share at the last two presidential elections which have seen the Democrats take the electoral prize. This isnt because BME communities in the USA dont believe in many of the traditional values of the Republican Party but that they see a party that have traditionally opposed many of freedoms that they now have to over come barriers they faced from discrimination and social injustice and who have failed to be a party that actively looks to reflect the communities it claims to represent.
In 2010 the Conservative Party managed to convince just 16% of all BME voters to trust us with their votes, this compares to 68% of BME Voters choosing to vote for the Labour Party. This is an example of the dangerous curve the party is on that reflects the situation that has already played out across the pond in the USA.
Its not that because of your ethnic background your more likely to be a socialist or less likely to support business or believe in traditional conservative either social or economic values. In fact in most polling many voters from BME communities do have traditional social and or economical conservative values much more aligned with a Conservative ideology than that of a Socialist one. However over the years just like in the USA communities have seen the "Conservative Party" oppose many of the progressive advances in equality legislation and seen unhelpful rhetoric when discussing topics about immigration that have at times fell into the realm of race rather than robust policy and reason. This perception and dialogue of policy is one which it is hard to challenge and over come and one which can be a self perpetuating vicious circle with less BME faces out discussing the party the image of a White internally focused out of touch with cultural issues is one we have to accept as Conservatives some BME voters have of the party, rightly or wrongly if we are to move forward we need to accept the perception and views that are out there and challenge them with the actual party that exists and that I am proud to be a member of today.
As Conservatives we shouldn't be afraid to look at the issues and challenges many people in BME communities still face: higher than average deprivation, higher levels of unemployment, hate crime, impact of failed multiculturalism policies and need for integration. These aren't political correct madness or minority issues of little importance but are the key if we are to show how Conservative values are values that can give success to all communities in the UK and that as a party we are working to empower communities to help develop solutions to the challenges they face. This will take more than nice words and friendly faces like mine reaching out to different groups. What is needed is real policy engaging communities, the third sector and key stakeholders to develop actions that can help individuals facing the barriers and challenges I've highlighted, empowering them to reach the success they deserve regardless of their background.
Policies and actions need to be local and national its no good parties simply doing what we have always done before coffee mornings and other standard local association events (although of course we should continue to run these events as well) but we should be looking to attend events organised by third sector or community organisations in BME communities whether they are traditional Tory heartlands or not. We should be inviting key stakeholders onto conservative social action planning groups again whether they are already conservative members or not and we should be making sure messages we develop are not "This is what we will do for you" but "This is what we can do together".
Im Proud to be a member of a Conservative Party that is evolving and moving forward in 2013 a party that is proud of its traditions and believes its values of aspiration hard work and success are ones which are not only for one community but for ALL communities.
Now its time to get out there and truly show we are all in this together.