There is no place in the Conservative Party for ethnic minorities
Just before the election, someone called Binita Mehta-Parmar, British Asian, wrote a choleric column in the Daily Telegraph. An equally irate riposte was penned in the Guardian by James Cleverly, black British, Territorial Army Officer and Tory MP for Braintree, Essex.
Both were responding to this tweet sent out by Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Only Labour can be trusted to unlock the talent of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people.’ For Mehta-Parmar, this was ‘offensive’ and an ‘old fashioned attitude towards ethnic minorities’. I didn’t know there were fashions to follow in party politics, nor that the Tories are now thought voguish and chic by smart voters of colour. But then I still wear my outmoded socialism, still believe in equality.
Cleverly, who increased his majority, also found Corbyn’s message ‘insulting’ because it ‘reeked of misplaced moral superiority’. These two reflect the views of many more minority Brits who now enthusiastically embrace Tory values. And believe Tory deceits. They exist in the here and now, without historical or political perspectives.
They are entryists who really believe that they belong in the Conservative Party because they work hard, make money, wear designer clothes, denounce those on benefits, look after their families want a small state and the lowest of taxes. Somehow these aspirational, thrusting types have missed the fact that diversity is feared and loathed by the party.
Andrew Lansley, when Health Secretary, said endemic racism was ‘in the system’. ‘Loveable’ Boris Johnson, when editor of the Spectator had to apologise for publishing columns by a right winger who claimed that Caribbeans ‘multiplied like flies’ and that blacks were less intelligent than whites. In June 2016, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, once a co-chair of the Conservative party, complained about the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink racist, xenophobic Leave campaign’. She too, once upon a time, thought she was wholly accepted by her peers.
An Asian businessman I know puts it bluntly: ‘Our people are fools. I am a fool. I gave Cameron hundreds of thousands of pounds and then realised they were using me and my cash. When I went to the party conference, some of the members treated me like I was a coolie. In a coffee queue I heard a Conservative junior minister quietly saying to a white women, there were too many Pakis in the party. I took myself and my Paki money away.’
Ok, the Corbyn tweet was condescending and a tad simplistic. But what he said was undeniably true. The first four black and Asian MPs in modern times were Labour. The party championed and delivered all the anti-discrimination laws between 1963 and 1997. Labour brought in the Human Rights Act in 1998. The Coalition government passed amendments in 2010 and 2012. All but a tiny number of conscientious Tories consistently voted against all these laws. Changes in rules have made it much harder to take race discrimination cases to industrial tribunals.
The party has always preferred to deny the injustices and instead, sing patriotic songs of praise. Most Tories today publicly stand up for the rights which their party consistently voted against. Furthermore, after the Tory/Lib Dem coalition came to power, racism – conscious and unconscious, blatant and subtle – returned to these isles. We Britons of colour felt the change. During the Brexit debates, racial and ethnic hostility flared up. We felt the burn.
Islamicist extremism and UKIP zealotry (ugly, conjoined twins) drove public debates. Emboldened bigots openly reviled migrants, minorities and multiculturalists. Conservatives joined in, albeit in more acceptable language. Anti-immigrant views, we were told, were ‘understandable’ and reflected the pain of suffering natives. Overprivileged people like Nigel Farage, Nicholas Soames and Boris Johnson became fake saviours of the white working classes. And also seemed to have swayed many black and Asian Brits by making Eastern Europeans the common enemy.
It worked. My relatives voted leave because Brexit politicians told them their relatives would get to migrate to the UK if pesky Poles could be kept out. Then there was the formidable Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development, whom Tories mock as the ‘female Norman Tebbitt’. Yet her family, like mine, came over from Uganda when Idi Amin expelled all Asians from the country. We were the unwanted migrants of the 1970s. Does she choose to forget that story? How did she end up so appallingly right wing and so anti-EU? It’s a question for many other Asian and black Britons too.
In areas with large Asian populations, such as Luton, Slough, Bradford and Hillingdon, the vote to leave was above 50%. Brexit won because of the backing of these old migrants and their families. Black Britons also voted for Brexit. As J.D Bradford wrote in Huffington Post: ‘Two of my immigrant relatives who weren’t born here but have lived here and loved Britain for the longest time, voted Leave. Because they didn’t think it was about them. When they spoke about ‘closing our borders’ they didn’t realise that they weren’t exempt, that hate doesn’t work like that. Nobody is going to look at them and say ‘You’ve been here for a while, you’re not the ones we want rid of’.’
When the British empire was at its zenith, its army was the smallest in Europe. The enterprise was sustained and maintained by millions of willing, obliging natives. In India they were known as ‘brown sahibs’, in East Africa as ‘black mzungus ( meaning white people)’, elsewhere as ‘colonial collaborators’. Nations fought hard for independence but it seems freeing the mind takes a lot longer. Brexit and the last election showed up the descendants of the colonised who have become the willing and obliging of today.
Theresa May’s hard Brexit will mean even more hard times for the minorities. Visas will not be handed out like sweeties to Indians, Africans and others. We will suffer more discrimination. The Tory party’s nationalism does not have space for us. Most of their members dream of returning the dull, monocultural 1950s. What will it take for deluded black and Asian Tories to understand that?
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is an author, columnist and broadcaster