BAME Tories speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event yesterday revealed what many have always said about the party: it’s got a big problem with diversity.

A debate was held by the Modern Britain campaign group, which seeks to increase support for the Tories among ethnic minorities. During it, party members described the views of their peers that have helped cement the image that the Tory party is not for ethnic minorities.

“Safe seats for darkies”

Syed Kamall MEP talked about the sorts of things he has heard when previous initiatives to attract black voters have been discussed.

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I’ve heard it over and over again. I hope this one is different. I hope this is not a campaign for safe seats for darkies.

Kulveer Ranger and Binita Mehta-Parmar, directors of Modern Britain, described in an op-ed for The Telegraph how that kind of attitude within the party has impacted its reach.

the Conservative Party has never succeeded in winning a significant proportion of Britain’s ethnic vote.

To many immigrants and their families, they say, the Tory party has seemed “at best indifferent and at worst hostile”. This has ensured Labour is their default choice.

According to Ranger and Mehta-Parmar, this is increasingly not the case. They cite statistics suggesting that over the past 20 years, the percentage of Black African and Indian voters who identify with Labour has fallen to 58% and 45% respectively.

For this reason, they set up Modern Britain with the aim to take advantage of this opening. But they know they’re going to have their work cut out.

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‘Damage done’

Speaking at the fringe event, Helen Grant, the first black female Conservative MP, cited the EU referendum as an example of friction between the Tories and BAME voters.

The relationship wasn’t brilliant before the referendum campaign but the damage done during that campaign and following that campaign should not be underestimated.

The climate in the UK became markedly more hostile towards those perceived to be immigrants during and after the referendum campaign, with a spike in reported hate crimes.

Grant also referenced Zac Goldsmith’s “embarrassing” campaign for London Mayor. Goldsmith and his team attempted to link his opponent Sadiq Khan to terrorism. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron even smeared Suliman Gani, a man who had shared a stage with Khan, as a supporter of Islamic State.

In actual fact, he was a Conservative supporter with no links to terrorism.

‘Badly targeted’

Goldsmith’s team were also found to be sending out leaflets to British Tamils suggesting that voting Khan would place a “wealth tax” on their family heirlooms, and that he did not support the Indian Prime Minister Modi.

Kamall said of the campaign:

How we tried to address and get into the different ethnic minority communities [was bad]. And actually it was quite badly targeted in many ways.

He also recounted a story about Goldsmith’s campaign team organising in Tower Hamlets without consulting the councillors there, which led to events where “it looked great that they had a room full of dark people but actually these were people who were never going to vote for us in the first place”.

‘Trust is very difficult to regain’

Mehta-Parma said that the damage done by this kind of campaigning will be hard to recover from.

I went to Watford Gurdwara and it was mentioned by one of the speakers there who was apolitical.

Clearly, Mehta-Parma and all those involved in Modern Britain believe that this distrust can be overcome, but it runs deep.

Whether or not the individuals within the party who made the “safe seats for darkies” comments are still around is probably going to play a big part, too.

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