Alok Sharma becomes Conservative Vice Chair
Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Alok Sharma as the Conservative Party Vice Chair, BME Communities.
His appointment is a small step in the right direction, after changes earlier in the month which have resulted in an all white cabinet, not seen in the UK for over a decade.
The Reading West MP, who was elected two years ago will focus on working and engaging with BME groups throughout the UK. Mr Sharma said:
It is an honour to be asked to do something like this. It’s an area I’ve had a lot of interest in and I’ve been working with party colleagues on this issue
Ultimately, it’s all about enhancing our relationship at all levels with the BME communities, whether it is community groups, in local constituencies or individual voters. BME is very strong in the UK and we will be flying the constant message and demonstrating to people that the Conservative Party does listen and does share their values.
Sharma’s role will not be an easy one. According to the Ethnic Minority British Election Study, the Conservatives received just 16% of the ethnic minority vote in 2010, to Labour’s 68 %. Within the African Caribbean community, the Conservatives received only 9% of votes and the share of votes among African voters was only 4%.
The gulf between the Conservative Party and ethnic minority voters is a well-known feature of British politics, as Conservative Peer, Lord Ashcroft sees all too clearly.
In a report published by Lord Ashcroft earlier this year, he believes that engaging with BME communities is vital for the future of the Party and for ensuring that the UK has a healthy and meaningful political system. Entitled, Degrees of Separation: Ethnic minority voters and the Conservative Party, Ashcroft argues:
that in narrow political terms, to narrow the deficit amongst BME voters is in the party’s electoral interests. The Conservative Party’s problem with ethnic minority voters is costing it seats.
This can be seen in the last general election where the average non-white population of the constituencies the Conservatives gained from Labour was 6 %. In the twenty of Labour’s one hundred most vulnerable marginals that the Conservatives failed to win, the average non-white population was 15 %. Moreover in the five of those that were in London, it was 28%.
Ashcroft believes that engaging BME voters is not simply about self interest. He says:
it is just not right that in contemporary Britain a large part of the population should feel that a mainstream party of government – which aspires to represent every part of society and govern in the whole country’s interest – has nothing to say to them.
As Sharma begins this important role, OBV welcomes the appointment, which provides some reassurance that race equality will not be dropped from the government's political priorities.