I’m afraid that I can’t help but feel some of the comments left responding to this post go some way towards answering a question Daniel Hannan asked recently: why do right-wing parties struggle to win support from immigrants?
After all, and as Mr Hannan notes, emigration is an entrepreneurial act and immigrants tend to be thrifty, hard-working types. This should, all things being equal, be fertile territory for conservatives. Except, as we know, not all things are equal and they’re certainly not equal in this case.
The truth of the matter is that the conservative movement – whether in the United Kingdom or the United States – still has a race problem. In the United States is manifests itself in the party of Lincoln’s appalling inability to appeal to black voters and, alas and increasingly, latino voters too. In the United Kingdom it’s made apparent in the Tory party’s struggle to win black or asian votes. All this despite much good and well-intentioned work to persuade minority voters they are welcome inside the party.
The GOP, actually, has a better record on these matters than is sometimes appreciated. At a state level, anyway. Even so, if you imagined yourself a black voter in, say, South Carolina I don’t think it takes much imagination to convince yourself you’d more probably be a Democrat these days than a Republican. (These days is important, of course.) And this is so even though plenty of other Democratic voters are less than “progressive” on racial matters.
Much the same could be said in Britain. The BNP and their little, distant cousins in UKIP (related on immigration anyway) draw some of their support from the left. Equally, spend time in any working-class pub in Britain and you’ll discover that illiberal attitudes on immigration (and, for that matter, race) are hardly confined to people who vote for right-wing parties.
Nevertheless, it is the perspective of the black, asian or immigrant voter that counts here. And while, again, there may be plenty of people on the left hostile to their interests that hostility is not ingrained in the official party DNA to anything like it is on the right.
The Tories have come a long way from the Monday Club but, in the end, the Monday Club’s legacy lingers. It is not so very long ago that a significant proportion of the parliamentary conservative party favoured repatriating large numbers of non-white Britons. You don’t need to be very clever to see why a hefty share of the black or asian vote might be unimpressed by this. And so might their children.
Because that’s the problem with this stuff. It lingers for a long time and retains its contaminating power for longer than you might wish. Again, this is not entirely fair. Nor is it unreasonable for Tories to wonder about the impact of immigration on individual communities. Nevertheless it is important to couch those concerns in sensible, even sensitive, terms. Too often, however, I think it plain that many black or asian voters (or, in the US, latinos) hear something else. What they hear is this: These people still don’t like people like us. They think we should not be hear. They do not believe this is really our country.
Again, this is not the sort of thing that David Cameron or Boris Johnson believes. But the idea that conservatism is a cold house for immigrants or ethnic minorities persists nonetheless. And of course it persists. Of course it sticks around. Why would you expect it to go away? Not when the party’s official immigration policy suggests there are too many foreigners living in Britain. Not when leading columnists in mainstream right-of-centre newspapers consider Britain’s “way of life” under siege or fret about the country’s Emerging Islamic Majority or, more generally, suggest that though, don’t get me wrong, yer individual immigrant might be a decent enough bloke there are, in general and this is god’s-honest-troof, just far too many of them.
Well, when that immigrant or that son or daughter of immigrants reads this stuff how do you think they are going to react? How would you react if that were you? I suspect you might think that you’re not going to vote for the party associated with these people and these sentiments and you’re still not going to even if you think the Tory party preferable to the alternatives on more than 80% of the other issues. That’s how toxic this kind of contamination can be.
So, sure, it’s not fair that even left-wing racists (or those giving a good impression of being so) cost right-wing parties votes but that is, I’m afraid, the way it is. It’s a matter of confirming or reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes and, in these areas anyway, that means the right is on the receiving end. Sometimes, of course, the right deserves to be on the receiving end. There’s a thin line between heaven and hell and an even thinner one between conservative and reactionary.
There’s a Just One Drop theory here. That is, it only takes a single drop of stupidity or prejudice on the right to spoil these waters for everyone on the right. But if you play a form of identity politics of your own (you think majorities are above that sort of thing? Please think again) then don’t be surprised when those you say do not belong conclude that your party (or parties) is (or are) hostile to their interests and, actually, even their presence on this sodden archipelago. If you don’t ask people to belong and promise them a welcome they may not always trust your motives.
And, this being so, they won’t vote for you even if, in other respects they should be well-disposed towards your policies. So, yes, Dan Hannan is right to say that it will take the Tories yet more years and much more hard work to persuade minorities to vote for them. As he says, it has “already lost an entire generation of immigrant voters”. But it was the right that lost them, no-one else. And it lost them because it was not sufficiently interested in winning them. Even here, politics is a matter of caring.