Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cynical, moi?

I may have mentioned my suspicion that Paul Uppal MP's shameless pandering to religious groups over the past couple of years is nothing more than a cynical and racist election strategy. The alternative, of course, is that he actually believes religious people are superior to the rest of us. I'm not sure what's worse.

Anyway, I have this feeling that Paul was picked because the Tory party knew it had a problem appealing to ethnic minority voters, and that the Conservative Party believe (as have other parties) that voters will turn out along party lines. Shamefully, the Labour Party has on occasion behaved the same way. And it's certainly true that in some places, at some times, the electorate appears to voted along racial lines. It is also true that at times of racial tension, elected representatives who have experienced the discrimination and hostility which goes on might reassure under-represented communities that their specific needs will be addressed. Not in this case, however. Despite being Enoch Powell's old stamping ground back in the day, this city is remarkably free of the racial tensions which blight other places. The Labour Party and other groups have done a great job in tackling racial discrimination while insisting that we citizens are united by our political requirements and ideals, whatever our ethnic origins. The Conservative Party, sadly, wants to undo the bonds we've forged across these borders.

Me, I'm not racist. Not even a little bit. I don't think that this city's Sikh community, or any other ethnic group, will look at Paul and say 'hey, he might be a weaselly, craven and self-interested bigot who doesn't like to talk about his millions of pounds acquired through socially-destructive speculation, but he looks like us!'. They will weigh up the man's merits and that of his party, then decide on those lines. Some will vote for him, some will vote against him.

Political parties in the 90s have taken a nasty, disturbing turn towards bloc politics. The Labour Party in the 1990s, led by people who'd never met the working-classes, let alone emerged from them, assumed that poor whites were racist xenophobes, and played on their supposed fears, pushed by Michael Howard's nakedly vicious 'are you thinking what we're thinking?' campaign (we weren't). But away from the headlines, there's a dangerous move away from politics (what do we want government to do? How shall we pay for it?) to identity.

Which leads me to Gary Gibbon's blog. Gary is a rather good Channel 4 journalist who's currently out in India covering the Prime Minister's arms sales trip. Who has caught his eye? Why, it's Paul Uppal MP! Why's he there? His family were refugees from Uganda, not immigrants from India. Well, it's all about the visuals:

The polling suggests he cannot win the 2015 general election without winning support amongst ethnic minority voters. They are a key wedge of support in some marginals and, as I said yesterday, Sikhs have been identified by Team Cameron as particularly susceptible to the idea that the PM is different from crustier Tories of the past.
Seats where Sikh voters could make a difference include Wolverhampton South West, Enoch Powell’s old seat now represented by Tory Paul Uppal with a wafer thin majority. Mr Uppal has been accompanying David Cameron on this trip along with Tory MPs Shailesh Varah and ethnic minority vote-winning Tsar MP Alok Sharma. They all have some very good snaps for their election literature and David Cameron has useful pictures too.
Polling suggests some ethnic minority voters want to see individuals from their own communities before they’ll truly believe the Tory Party has changed.
The BNP asks white people to vote for it because they're white. How is this stunt different? It's deeply cynical – a way of brushing the awkward arguments under the carpet: the EU, education, health, the deficit, welfare cuts, the lot: including the way ethnic minorities suffer the worst cuts and blows from this appalling government. Instead, Uppal's basing his appeal solely on his skin colour.

We don't have enough political representatives from ethnic minorities, or females. I firmly believe parties should be searching for good candidates. But putting them up for election only in places with large ethnic votes is simply a thinly-disguised acceptance of racism. It tacitly admits that white people won't vote for minority candidates and minority communities will vote for someone who looks like them over someone who doesn't. I think British people are much more mature than that, but when the parties behave in this way, it authorises racialised discourse. The BNP must be loving this because it perfectly suits their agenda. And of course it's the curse of Northern Ireland: in an upcoming by-election, the major unionist parties are trying to find a single candidate so that they can get Protestants to vote for a Protestant and win rather than dividing the vote between political parties with differing political beliefs. Never mind the principles, they're saying, be tribal.

Finally, this disgusting strategy won't work. The inhabitants of this benighted city voted in Paul Uppal by a majority of only 691, running against a Labour MP representing the most reviled and exhausted government in decades. The voters have already had a chance to divide along racial lines and they didn't take it. They're better than that, and they won't be fooled by a few pictures of Cameron and Uppal wearing bindis and admiring the Taj Mahal.


Anonymous said...

The start of your blog is incorrect .that the tories selected paul uppal ! to clean up its racist image and gain ethnic votes! Paul was selected by a open primary! by the people of Woverhampton and not by david cameron or tory spin. The labour party on the other hand do deal with ethnic community leaders to vote bank by offering local counvillor seats to ethnic communities. Thats racist in my books .

The Plashing Vole said...

Nice punctuation.
I've been a keen observer of the local political scene and certainly didn't get an invitation to the open primary! I wonder how many non-Tories were present.