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There’s a deep vein of racism within the Conservative Party membership

It has been a strange feeling observing last week’s UK elections and UK politics in general.

When I spent some of my early life in the UK, most of us were fairly clear about which side Indians should be on.


Labour was the party that gave India its independence over the objections of such Conservatives as Winston Churchill. The Conservatives were the party of empire and were mostly of the view that the natives were not capable of governing themselves.


   All these Conservative views were inextricably tied up with the idea of racism. Long after India became independent Indians who lived in the UK had to face more Conservative colour prejudice. Enoch Powell, the politician who made racism respectable in the 1960s and 1970s was a member of the Conservative front bench. When he made his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, the Conservatives demoted him from the front bench but were happy to let him stay on in the party where he nurtured a dedicated racist following.


   In 1972 when Idi Amin threw South Asians out of Uganda, many of those thrown out believed quite reasonably that as they had British passports they would be allowed to seek refuge in the UK. In fact, by then, the UK government had decided that giving so many passports to brown people had been a temporary error which could be easily rectified.


   A British passport did not guarantee entry into the UK, the government now said. Only certain kinds of UK passports would give you the right of residence. And most East African Asians did not have the right kinds.


   However, if you were a white person from say, Australia or South Africa, (or even East Africa) the UK would still find a way of letting you in even if you didn’t have a British passport (through a concept called Patriality).


   When global pressure caused the UK’s Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath to let brown holders of British passports in, this was seen as a great humanitarian gesture and the Conservatives patted themselves on the back.


   Fast forward from those days, when it was okay to use words like ‘wog’ and ‘paki’ in the visual and print media or to make racist jokes about ‘golliwogs’ on TV to today’s Britain and you see a country that has changed almost beyond recognition.


   It is Labour that now has relatively few black or brown people in its top ranks while the Conservatives have not just given the UK its first Asian Prime Minister but also filled such posts as Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary with people of colour.


   Many top Conservatives must take the credit for these changes. Chief among them was Margaret Thatcher who identified with the entrepreneurship and work ethic of the East African Asians (just as she did with similar qualities  among the Jews) while remaining unconcerned by the problems faced by black people (she supported the racist, apartheid regime in South Africa till the end).


   And some of the credit should go to David Cameron, who, when he was Prime Minister, made a determined effort to promote women and ethnic minorities.


   In today’s UK, many middle to upper class Indians will back the Conservatives and forget about Labour’s historical support. Though nobody is willing to say so openly, some of this has to do with Labour’s perceived pro-Muslim stances.


   The Left Wing of the Labour party, comprised mainly of woke activists and old-style Lefties like Jeremy Corbyn who are long past their sell-by-dates, sometimes club Kashmir with Gaza. It is nobody’s case that what is happening in Gaza is not terrible and of course it is wrong that Israel should be able to take the support of the West for its military operations for granted.


  "Over the last several months, a new element has been introduced into British electoral calculations: the Hindu vote."

   But it is also true that Labour’s pro-Palestinian policies slip all too easily into Anti-Semitism (especially during the Corbyn years). And there has always been a tendency to throw the Kashmir issue into all debates about universal self-determination.


   It helps the Conservatives that many of the so-called South Asians in British politics may be of Indian extraction but are basically East African Asians (Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman) and East African Asian conservatives (especially Punjabis and Gujaratis) are not only grateful to the Conservatives for letting them in 1972/3 but also subscribe to the Conservative values redefined by Margaret Thatcher (work hard, run your own business and don’t worry too much about the working classes).


   Labour, on the other hand, is the party of the working class and can count on the support of working class, especially Pakistanis who see the Conservatives as anti-Muslim and anti-Palestine. (And, of course, anti-Working Class).


   Over the last several months, a new element has been introduced into British electoral calculations: the Hindu vote. Like any upwardly mobile Wykehamist and canny investment banker, Sunak has made much of his Hindu identity, paying homage to cows and visiting Gujarati-dominated temples in Neasden and Delhi. It has won him much support among Hindutva types on Indian social media. Sadly for Sunak his new troll supporters do not vote in the UK.


   Whatever one's feelings about the current state of UK politics, it is hard to deny that what the UK has achieved is impressive by most standards. It has reversed centuries of racism at the top levels of politics while the rest of Europe is struggling with racist politics and rise of quasi-fascist parties in such countries as France and Italy.


  But while the Conservative Party boasts an impressive multi-ethnic front bench, it has problems with its ordinary members. It is often forgotten that Rishi Sunak was not elected leader of the Conservative Party by its membership. When that election was held, voters in the shires preferred Liz Truss who went on became the stupidest person even to occupy 1O Downing Street during her brief stay there. Sunak also had tough competition from Penny Mordaunt, a former magician’s assistant who entranced traditional Tory voters. When Sunak did become Prime Minister it was because of a quickie election conducted among MPs that excluded the party’s national membership who had voted for Truss. (If you are a believer in inner democracy, then consider this: Mordaunt lost her own seat as did Truss who faced the largest swing against Conservative in recent history.)


   Again, it’s one of those subjects that nobody talks about openly but there is a deep vein of racism within the Conservative Party membership. It’s one reason why politicians of colour who got out of Africa now have to sound self-righteous about sending other immigrants back to Rwanda in Africa. It started out as a campaign against illegal immigration (fair enough, I guess) but became a campaign to stop legal immigrants from bringing in their dependents.


   And though this is still largely a taboo topic, one possible reason why the Conservative vote shrunk to a historical low could be because the Conservative members in the shires who had voted against Sunak in the party leadership election, were reluctant to vote for him at a national election. The figures show that many Conservatives defected to Reform, a party where the racism emerges all too easily and too often. Its candidates have made anti-Asian and anti-black slurs and its leader Nigel Farage has been reported to have said that black people “did not understand our culture”. During the last election campaign one Reform candidate called Sunak a ‘Paki’.


   And yet, Reform grabbed a large chunk of the Conservative vote. Will those new Reform voters go back to the Conservatives if a white leader takes Sunak’s place? It could happen.


   While the relative paucity of brown faces make the racial future relatively straightforward for Labour, racial positions are more complicated for the conservatives. And unless the party moves decisively to attract more Asian votes, the ghost of Enoch Powell (who Reform candidates quote approvingly in the campaign) could still hover over the Conservative Party in the 21st Century.



Posted On: 09 Jul 2024 09:18 AM
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