The Tories are taking black voter concerns seriously
David Cameron says strong economy guarantees better social mobility for minorities
Elizabeth Pears, Voice Writer
IT WAS not so long ago that this newspaper asked whether black voters could ever trust the Tories.
With fewer than 100 days until Britons head to the polls to elect the next government, this question becomes even more pertinent.
As pollsters predict one of the closest races in recent history, putting the country on course for another hung parliament, every vote counts. The black vote, perhaps, even more than most.
Just ask Conservative MP for Hendon, Matthew Offord, who is defending one of London's most marginal seats with a majority of just 106 in a borough where there are 12,301 registered black voters.
In this climate, the man best equipped to answer these questions, Prime Minister David Cameron, spoke to The Voice to make the case for his party, outlining his vision for Britain and the plan to ensure black communities aren't left behind in the economic recovery.
As expected, he comes to the interview with some ammo in his arsenal: employment among BME (black and minority ethnic) communities is at a record high, data to be published later this month is expected to reveal black pupils are improving faster than any other ethnic group, with those from African backgrounds performing above the national average.
University admissions are up by nearly a third despite the unpopular increase in tuition fees (21,000 in 2008 to nearly 30,000 in 2014).
Home Secretary Theresa May has already started reforming 'stop and search' and aspiring black entrepreneurs, who may have previously struggled to access financing, are now benefitting from his government's start-up loan scheme.
Cameron has also promoted women, like sports minister Helen Grant and culture secretary Sajid Javid to top jobs. Come May, the party could have its first female Muslim member of parliament in Nusrat Ghani. A bit of a makeover, then, for the so-called 'Nasty Party' in a bid to broaden its appeal.
So, again, why should black voters, who have traditionally aligned themselves with the Labour Party, consider turning Tory?
"I hope they will vote Conservative, because the most important thing on which everything else depends is a strong economy that is generating jobs and helping people to find the financial stability and security that is the basis of a good life," Cameron told The Voice.
"We are seeing employment figures where actually, employment among BME communities has reached its record level. It has been really important to say that we do need to reform the police, of which stop and search is a part, and that has given black and ethnic minority communities heart that we take their concerns seriously."
He continued: "In the past, BME communities have looked at the Conservatives and said, 'I might believe in the values put forward', wanting a country where they get out if they put in ... . But they also have seen a party that has not represented them enough. That has changed in the last few years. Not just on the green benches, but those who are carrying the red boxes, people like Sam Gyimah and Helen Grant.
"There is also great talent coming through in Kwasi Kwarteng and Adam Afriyie. You can see this is now a party that represents all of the country."
Still Evidence Of Discrimination
But not everyone is following Cameron's example on employment. Many talented black graduates in private companies are facing a glass ceiling in terms of promotion to senior positions.
To this Cameron responds: "There is still evidence of black people being discriminated against in terms of promotions and work and here, I think, we need to keep pushing ahead with the state and the civil service being a standout employer, demonstrating the way forward, highlighting good practice, building up the importance of role models, pointing to the successful BME entrepreneurs - all these things are part of rooting out disadvantage and can make a big difference."
At the time of the interview, the prime minister was facing criticism for refusing to appear in televised leadership debates if UKIP was invited, while other 'minority parties' such as the Greens, for example, were not.
When asked if failing to appear would be a missed opportunity to speak directly to undecided voters, Cameron replied: "I've just said, if we are going to have [the debates] and have the minority parties, we should have all of them rather than just some, so, hopefully, this can be worked out.
"Whatever happens, I will try my best to communicate to everyone in the country, and black communities, about how the country is changing and the things that still need to be done."
Some have accused Cameron of trying to avoid a showdown with UKIP leader Nigel Farage, whose anti-European Union party is eating into his party's votes.
The subject of EU membership has also divided black communities. While 32 per cent dismissed the idea that competition from European migrants was having a negative impact on black workers as "xenophobic nonsense", 48 per cent agreed that it was. More than half of those who answered 'yes' admitted "feeling guilty" for saying so.
The Conservative leader said: "I hope people can see through [Farage] ... he goes round saying easy things because he does not have to make difficult choices, but the basic UKIP view that Britain would be better off if we shut ourselves from the rest of the world is trying to take a bus back to the 1950s.
"Britain is always at its best when we are open to new ideas and new talent and competing in the world, so I hope they are not seduced by that."
In terms of what he was doing to protect jobs for black workers, Cameron added: "We are putting in much tougher controls, such as if you don't have a job within six months you have to leave. We want to make sure that the people who are here have every chance to get the jobs and the opportunities that this economy is creating.
"All of these arguments about immigration come back to a welfare system that promotes work and an education system that promotes opportunity. The best way to get more black Britons into work is through better education, university and apprenticeships."
So is a Conservative and UKIP coalition completely off the table? "We are not looking for pacts or deals with anybody," the prime minister said. "The real choice of this election is you either continue with the Conservatives, who have got an economic plan, are delivering it, the jobs are coming, the growth is coming or if Scotland votes SNP (Scottish National Party), you will end up with Labour. Vote Green, you will get Labour. Vote UKIP, you will get Labour. Farage even said he could do a deal with Labour. So, it's competence with the Conservatives or chaos with Labour."
But before the United Kingdom's general election, Nigerians will be heading to the polls to choose between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and opponent Muhammadu Buhari in a battle where Boko Haram is one of the most pressing issues.
It is also a concern for Britain, Cameron emphasised. "Wherever there is conflict and ungoverned space, you will find these Islamist extremist movements that can do enormous damage to the countries concerned, but also, in time, do damage to us as well. That's why I have been working with the Nigerian government, offering military training and other support.
National Security Council Meeting
"We had a special national security council meeting very recently, which the Archbishop of Canterbury came to, so we could think what more could Britain do to help, and I discussed it with Barack Obama at some length last week. We want this country to be a success and Boko Haram are in danger of tearing the country apart."
Refusing to be drawn into Jonathan's handling of the crisis, Cameron said: "What I would say is, for whoever is running Nigeria, the most important thing for all of us is to help with the capacity of that government to deal with terrorism.
"In the end, this is a problem Nigeria has to confront itself, but old friends like Britain are there to help with military capability training, counterterrorism training or counter-radicalisation expertise. There is an enormous Nigerian diaspora in Britain and many British people live in Nigeria. We care about this country and what happens to it. We want to help and we think a good partnership between our two parties; whoever is running Nigeria or whoever is running Britain, frankly, is in our long-term interests."
Like Nigeria, Cameron revealed that he is "hugely enthusiastic" about working with countries on the entire African continent.
He added: "For years, Africa was seen as a source of difficulties and problems in the world. Now you have some of the fastest-growing countries, and some of the greatest economy opportunities are in Africa. Whether it's working with Mozambique on the importance of energy industries, our growing trade with Ghana, or whether it's the importance of building a strong and anti-corrupt government, as they have done so successfully in Botswana. Britain is one of the only countries in the world that has kept our promise on overseas aid and helping the poorest countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, so we are very well placed to partner up with African countries and face the challenges of the modern world, whether that's climate change, poverty or providing jobs and livelihoods."