The Conservative Party has come a long way in its relationship to issues of race and identity – both in terms of internal attitudes and approach and in terms of policy. The ‘A-list’ of candidates treated the relative lack of BME Conservative candidates as a serious issue and attempted to identify and select more people from diverse backgrounds. Meanwhile, it has been party policy not to wholly undo Labour’s legislation prohibiting discrimination on racial, ethnic and religious grounds and the Conservative Party has been robust in dealing with members and candidates who have expressed racist opinions. There has, in short, been progress to throw off the impression of Conservatism as being synonymous with quiet racism.
But the widespread rejection of racism within the Conservative Party does not equal an acceptance of the Left’s approach on issues of race and identity. Multiculturalism remains a problematic concept for many British Conservatives. Many conservatives simply do not accept the underlying assumptions upon which it is premised, as evidenced by efforts from Conservative backbenchers to legislate against the Burqa and by the present Government’s rejection of the language of multiculturalism in favour of ‘integration’. Furthermore, so called ‘positive action’ is widely rejected by Conservatives. The measures introduced in the Equalities Bill – to allow for positive discrimination in heavily targeted areas – will be undone by the Coalition Government as part of a range of measures designed to weaken the more ‘invasive’ aspects of Labour’s equalities agenda.
Now that the Conservative Party is in Government – having campaigned as ‘progressive conservatives’ and governing alongside Liberal Democrats – it is vital that we discuss where progressive conservatives envisage the race agenda moving. If multiculturalism is no longer the defining conceptual framework of our approach to racial and ethnic diversity, then what is? If positive action is not the solution to continued entrenched disadvantage, then what might be? And if we accept that there is, despite huge progress, prejudice and discrimination in our society then how would a Conservative aim to resolve it? The key, first principles question, is ‘are we there yet?’ – do conservatives really believe that race equality has been solved or do we, in fact, acknowledge that there is some way to go? And if we have not yet resolved the complex issues around race in the UK then what – if anything – would conservatives do to resolve them?
For more information about this project, get in touch with Max Wind-Cowie.
A collection of essays that explores some of central questions around the Conservative party’s race agenda.