To gain trust of minorities, parties must look to policy

Article originally published on 29th November 2019 in the Evening Standard

Anyone from a Jewish or Muslim background will be finding this election very difficult. With both Labour and the Conservatives mired in racism crises, it is clear that more needs to be done to win back the trust of both these communities, as well as the trust of other black and ethnic minority groups across the country — and a start to this is to have a Parliament that reflects the society we live in.

Within the Tory Party it is well known that more needs to be done to engage with minority communities. During his time as party chairman, Lord Feldman was seen at nearly every BAME dinner there was. He was not only aiming to pick up support, but, in his own words, “increasing his waist size” along the way.  

Despite great strides, the steps forward turned into steps back under Theresa May’s leadership, resulting in diverse communities punishing the Tories at the polling stations in the 2017 election.

In his first act as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson appointed the most diverse Cabinet in British political history, to match the most diverse Parliament that has ever been elected. 

True to his commitment to make the Conservative Party reflect modern Britain, Johnson, with the support of party chairman James Cleverly, is fielding a record 74 BAME prospective parliamentary candidates — a 68 per cent increase from 2017. 

More importantly, out of these, three candidates from immigrant working-class backgrounds will be competing in “safe seats”.

The last general election saw Labour end up the party with the most BAME MPs — 12 per cent of their intake. They are looking to increase this again: 42 per cent of their last round of candidates selected since the party’s conference have been from BAME backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are fielding a record 54 BAME candidates, with at least one competing in a “safe seat”.

These are welcome commitments, but they are nowhere near enough. Whatever changes the parties are making in Parliament, outside Westminster  minorities are feeling more and more excluded from party politics.

Parties will not gain the trust of these voters just by boosting the diversity of their membership and MPs, but by devising truly reformist policies and making a serious pledge  to root out any and all forms of discrimination within their own ranks. All parties are having to grapple with these issues, and all, therefore, have a chance to show leadership with sincere and direct action.

The question is: will Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, if either is elected prime minister on December 12, continue to bring about positive change in our politics — change that can help bring our communities together — following the most diverse list of candidates ever assembled, by implementing a reforming policy agenda to match?