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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Cam's Indian Opportunity

Last week, David Cameron attended the launch of the new Conservative Friends of India group.

More than a thousand people turned up at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Vincent Square for the lavish bash, complete with Indian nibbles. Cabinet Ministers were in attendance as well as the PM.

The group is a reincarnation of the former British-Asian Conservative Link and is to be joined by a Conservative Friends of Pakistan and of Bangladesh in due course.

But despite the fanfare, some in the party feel that this is the 'same old, same old' approach to an ethnic minority vote that is increasingly important.

As Paul Goodman's recent astute analysis of Lord Ashcroft's recent polling of the ethnic vote showed, the Conservatives continue to have a serious problem in attracting Asian voters.

No.10's pollster Andrew Cooper is more aware than most of the dire figures. So too is Baroness Warsi.

But as the Ashcroft research found, talking about the 'Asian' vote is too simplistic. In fact Stephen Gilbert, the PM's political secretary, recently highlighted figures showing that while only 12% of voters of Pakistani heritage were Tory voters, 24% of voters of Indian heritage were Tories.

It is claimed that 47% of Indian voters sympathise with Tory values on thrift, family and welfare - even if they don't call themselves Tories.

It is also claimed that unlike Muslim voters, Hindu voters are much less likely to be poorly-educated and embroiled in the 'community politics' that has led to many problems for Labour. Many are well-educated and self-employed. Many are responsible for demographic swings to Labour in areas like Harrow.

Critics say that Sayeeda Warsi frequently refers to the 'Asian' vote before then concentrating on Muslims. It is claimed that in her two big speeches on religion, she made 12 references to Muslims, 1 to Christians and 1 to Jews. And none to Hindus.

The PM could argue that he has batted hard for India, particularly on his trip to New Delhi when he attacked Pakistan's record of succour for terrorism.

Yet some say that that instead of shaking hands, attending Diwali ceremonies and creating new annual gatherings of Indian voters, the PM would have much more impact if he had some Indian faces around him at PMQs - and on the box promoting Government policy.

"We need more than a 'hi-bye' messsage once a year. We need day-in, day-out visibility," says one critic.

Labour has Diane Abbott, Sadiq Khan and Chuka Umunna pictured regularly next to Ed Miliband, but there is no similar visible support around the PM, one MP says. "There is not a single non-white spokesman at the despatch box," another tells me. "And it shows".

There are four Indian heritage MPs who could be promoted: Paul Uppal, Alok Sharma, Priti Patel and Shailesh Vara.

There's plenty of talk of promoting women in the reshuffle (Maria Miller was the latest name touted this weekend).

But with Thursday's elections looming, and the importance of the ethnic vote set to be underlined again, will the PM hear the calls to action when the time comes to hand out ministerial jobs?

The PM told last Tuesday's gathering in Victoria that the first British Indian PM will be a Tory:

"We were the first party to have a woman Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher], we were the first party in [Benjamin] Disraeli to have a Jewish Prime Minister and when I look at the talent behind me I think we are going to be the first party to have a British Indian Prime Minister."

His words, tellingly, were reported only in the Indian press, not the British.

More importantly, he won't get a British Indian PM without first appointing some British Indian ministers.

 

 

UPDATE: In today's Times, Adam Afriyie has given an interesting interview. He was one of the few non-white shadow ministers in the Cameron team but lost out when the Coalition was formed. Still, he seems to harbour ambitions for a very big job indeed:

"What I would relish at the moment is being chairman of the Conservative Party. Because whether it [the coalition] splits six months before the election or 18 months before the election, the Conservative Party needs to be there very firm, very clear and ready with their policies when the coalition splits… I would relish that role of rallying the party round.”

Just as noteworthy is Afriyie’s disagreement with the Chancellor over tax avoidance:

“If there are a few hundred people who are — what’s the term? — ‘aggressively’ avoiding tax, they are not ‘morally repugnant’. The blame should fall firmly on our shoulders — the lawmakers — for allowing that behaviour to take place.”

That’s what many of his backbench colleagues think in private, but will his remarks now be seized on by Labour as the utterings of yet another millionaire Tory (albeit a self-made one)?

 

 

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