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Labour have traditionally counted on around 80% of the black vote, but Michael Howard’s party now hope to steal Labour’s clothes by representing black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.
The Tories could have five new minority ethnic MP’s at the next general election. Two of them, Adam Afriyie and Shailesh Vara, have been chosen to fight seats currently held by the Conservatives which they are unlikely to lose, in Windsor and North West Cambridgeshire respectively. Both have been tipped as future Tory Prime Ministers.
The Conservatives have also selected three BME candidates in winnable seats – Haroon Rashid in Bradford West, Sandip Verma in Wolverhampton South West, and Ali Miraj in Watford. There are three other Tory BME hopefuls standing in seats with a large Labour majorities.
Dominic Grieve MP, Conservative community cohesion spokesman, admitted that his party still had ‘some way to go’, but hailed the eight new BME candidates as a breakthrough.
He said: “We’ve set ourselves the task of representing ethnic minority communities, and a lot of effort has been made to provide support to able candidates on the list. The moment the logjam is broken everyone starts taking notice of good black and ethnic minority candidates.”
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The Tories’ five BME candidates in safe or winnable seats, in contrast with Labours’ two – Sadiq Khan in Tooting, and Yasmin Qureshi in Brent East.
James Cleverly, 34, who only stands an outside chance of winning back Lewisham East for the Tories, said: “It does look like a massive change. The reality that what’s been going on for a while has now broken to the surface.
“At the general election it’s going to be much more obvious there is support for the Conservative Party amongst people like myself. The black community has previously voted Labour and I don’t think Labour has done anything to deserve that support.”
But Labour pointed to their 12 sitting minority ethnic MP’s, compared to the Tories and Liberal Democrats who have none. Labour also stressed they were still at a very early stage in their selection process and said they do not go around boasting of the progress they had made on diversity in their party.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party is proud of our record on selections, for example, the only black and Asian MPs in the House of Commons sit on the Labour benches, and this Labour Government has seen the first black Cabinet Ministers appointed.”
However Conservative Central Office insiders have expressed glee at the progress they have made in selecting a more diverse set of candidates. Strategists hope they can shake off their reputation as the ‘nasty party’ who harbour a racist element in their ranks.
Party leader Michael Howard’s decisive action in withdrawing the whip from Tory MP Ann Winterton after she made a sick joke about the Chinese cockle-picker tragedy, won cross-party support and could help persuade undecided black and Asian voters that the Tories are taking a zero tolerance line against racism.
Haroon Rashid, 32, who is standing for the Tories in Bradford West, said: “The party itself is coming to terms with the fact that they have to be fully representative of the society that we’re living in.
“We are getting good calibre candidates coming through now, a lot of black and ethnic minority candidates. The party is now changing. Traditionally the ethnic minority vote has been Labour but now they’ve experienced Labour’s policies that’s really put them off. They are looking for change.”
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