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Tories playing ‘catch up’ on race issues

FEELING POSITIVE: New sports minister Helen Grant said the Conservatives have improved their record on race (PIC CREDIT: PA)

THE TORIES need to do more than produce guides on minority communities to win over black and ethnic minority (BME) voters, a democracy campaign group has said.

Operation Black Vote (OBV), which works to get BME voters involved in politics, was responding to news that the Conservative Party was giving its members tips on how to engage with Britain’s diverse electorate.

The lobby group applauded the move as a “positive step” but urged the party to focus on the deeper issues affecting the community.

Francine Fernandes, OBV’s general manager, said:  “The guides on their own is a bit of a piecemeal effort, but if it was part of a broader package and results in greater political representation and cultural understanding of BME voters then I think it’s something that can be welcomed.”

The first four-page “community engagement guides”, aimed at improving relations with Bangladeshi, Chinese, Pakistani and Indian voters, outline information about where the communities are based and their cultural values.


It also contains details of basic etiquette such as: “If eating with chopsticks, please be aware it is impolite to skewer food, to gesture or point” and “please be aware that some Muslim women may not wish to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.”

Conservative MP Helen Grant said she welcomed the initiative.

The newly-appointed sports minister, who is half Nigerian, said: “I am proud that the modern Conservative Party is taking action to improve its relationship with BME communities, and under David Cameron’s leadership, the pace of change has accelerated.

“This is evident through increasing our parliamentary representation, with the number of Conservative MPs from black or ethnic minority backgrounds up from two to 11 in the space of five years.”

But Labour MP Seema Malhotra said the party is still playing catch-up.

She said: “A political party sending out [something like] this is an admission that they haven’t had as much cultural understanding as they needed to. On the other hand, it is an admission that they don’t have enough diversity in their membership base. It is also a positive step, because anything that could be done to improve understanding is very welcomed.”

The guides came after an OBV and Runnymede Trust study, sponsored by The Voice, found that Britain's ethnic minority vote may determine the outcome of the 2015 election.

Fernandes said:  “BME communities need equality and good jobs and employment prospects for our kids and whichever party is going to recognise and address these issues is the party that will win the votes.”

Grant admitted that the government has had to make some difficult decisions “particularly around public spending,” but she pointed out that they are now reaping benefits as the economy recovers.

She added: “But it is not just the economy, but the health of our communities – under this government crime is down, and stop and search, a major concern for many, is finally being reviewed.”

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