by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 20
July 2022
Explainer
07:00

Why Conservatives are blind to race

The Tory leadership race has settled one argument beyond doubt
by Yuan Yi Zhu
Of the 11 declared candidates, six are ethnic minorities. Credit: Getty

In the 1990s and 2000s, the paucity of ethnic minority Members of Parliament was sometimes explained through the theory of “imputed racism”. According to this theory, party selectorates — the anonymous busybodies who sit on constituency associations, in this case — would reject ethnic minority candidates not because they were themselves racist, but because they thought the local voters were racist and therefore would not vote for them. High-profile defeats in supposedly safe seats, such as that of the Conservative candidate John Taylor (who later became an expense-fiddling peer) in Cheltenham in 1992, reinforced the belief among many.

Thirty years on, one of the striking features about the Conservative leadership contest is how race does, and does not, figure. Of the 11 declared candidates, six are ethnic minorities, including Rishi Sunak, the current front-runner. With Tom Tugendhat’s exit from the race, it is now a certainty that whoever becomes the next prime minister will not be a white man, something which has been accepted with great equanimity by the party membership, comprised to a great extent of, well, older white men.

Nor can there be much talk of Conservative constituency associations imputing racism to their voters. Sunak sits for Richmond (Yorks), Badenoch for Saffron Walden, and Suella Braverman for Fareham, none of which is particularly known for their ‘vibrancy’, as the euphemism once went. All of this is even more striking given the fact that before 2010, the Conservative Party had had exactly four non-white MPs in its entire history.

Imputed racism still exists within the Conservative Party, but is today entirely directed against Labour, as in “Labour is the real racist party!” or variants thereof. Even those on the Right of the party will gleefully point out that Labour has never had an ethnic minority (or indeed a woman) leader. As Charles Moore, the prose poet of the traditional Tory base, recently wrote, “Older white people feel an almost indecent thrill to hear their own views reflected in a younger generation by people of different races.” The temptation to “own the libs” in this manner is simply too great.

But there are unspoken rules among Conservatives about how to approach race. For instance, it is fine for a candidate to talk about their family’s immigrant story, but arguing that they have a special claim to preferment because of their complexion is an automatic disqualifier. Race blindness, once a hallmark of progressive thought, now finds some of its strongest defenders on the political Right. It helps that no one thinks Boris Johnson promoted so many ethnic minority ministers because he wanted to engage in a bit of affirmative action, as opposed to the fact that they were all solid Brexiteers.

At the beginning of the leadership contest, the disgraceful Jo Maugham QC rhetorically asked Rishi Sunak in a now-deleted tweet: “Do you think the members of your Party are ready to select a brown man?” It was a shameful tweet for many reasons, but it also betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the modern Conservative Party. Not only are they ready to select a brown man (or a black woman, for that matter), but they will take great pleasure in rubbing it in against people like Maugham and the Labour Party. It’s not quite post-racialism, but it is something.

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
20 days ago

Conservatives are focused on what someone thinks not on what the particular shade of their skin is. That is sensible. Labour are still focused on the shade of someone’s skin with a weird desire to promote this as an important factor in choosing someone for a job. This is what is known as racism a poisonous and divisive doctrine.

Terry M
Terry M
20 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Racism, and reverse racism have become common weapons in politics, sadly. And in society more widely.
Since real racism has declined dramatically, examples are rare, and are thus desperately sought out and highlighted by those wishing to exploit them (race hustlers). And ‘fake’ racism is created, such as ‘systemic racism’ or racism due to things like logic, mathematics, punctuality, etc that are ‘acting white.’ We live in an Orwellian time indeed.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
19 days ago
Reply to  Terry M

Racism is common to all humans with regard to different ethnicities. There is no such thing as “reverse racism” unless you think it is primarily the prejudice of one race.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
19 days ago

I agree there is no such thing as reverse racism unless you buy into the idea promoted by anti-white racists that only whites can be racist – a concept that is clearly racist.

I am not sure racism is common to all although most of us work on the basis of stereotypes. A BBC journalist , for example, is likely to believe all immigrants with dark skins must be left wing simply because these are the sort of people they mix with so it seems to them odd when they come across conservatives with dark skins, of who there are in fact plenty. This is stereotype thinking rather than racism.

Last edited 19 days ago by Jeremy Bray
Richard Parker
Richard Parker
17 days ago

Thank you for beating me to making that point: only commenting because I can’t give two “recommends”.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
17 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Yup. That’s one of the main reasons I re-appraised my stance and swapped ends to join the grown ups. The state of the PLP is a disgrace and I no longer wish any truck with them.

David McKee
David McKee
20 days ago

“It is fine for a candidate to talk about their family’s immigrant story, but arguing that they have a special claim to preferment because of their complexion is an automatic disqualifier.”
And quite right too. If you pick and choose people on the basis of their skin colour, that’s racism. It doesn’t matter if you are discriminating against black people or white people, it’s still racism. Oh, racism exists in our society, all right (just ask the Jews). But the answer is not, and never can be, its mirror image.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
20 days ago

True. And I recall my first exposure to Asian right-wing views in the early 1990s, in West London. A friend’s parents were from Sri Lanka (there had been some sort of coup, I think, and they had been driven off their tea plantation). I was invited to my friend’s parents’ house for dinner. Terrific spread, but I almost choked on the food when my friend’s Mum, a black lady, asked me: “What do you think of all this immigration? All these coloured scroungers coming in here!” I remember being dumbfounded, and my friend trying to stifle giggles as she kicked my shin under the table, with a look that said – “don’t bother getting into an argument with my very right-wing Mum”. Small incident, but I never forgot it. My lazy assumption had been that black or Asian people might be more inclined towards liberal / left wing views. In fact, many Asians in particular are more conservative than an average white. person.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
19 days ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Inexplicably, your typical BBC interviewer will take it as axiomatic that someone who was once an immigrant, or whose ancestors were, will be in dead against any restriction on immigration, not realising that such people may come to the same conclusions as anyone based on observation that continuing an increase in population will inevitably add to strain on services, and a housing shortage, efforts to cure which lead to building on agricultural land.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
19 days ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Thus recreating the exact same circumstances they emigrated from.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
19 days ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Yes I’ve experienced that too – the right wing views of immigrants can be quite shocking. But I love the fact they so identify with this country that they don’t see themselves as immigrants any longer.

Peter B
Peter B
19 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

In what respect are their views “shocking” ? It’s a free country and they are entitled to whatever views they choose. And it is no business of ours – or anyone else’s – to try to police what they think or say.

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
19 days ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

In addition, those who immigrated legally–often waiting a long time and jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops–naturally have little sympathy for those who jumped the queue by entering illegally.

Peter B
Peter B
19 days ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

Absolutely. Doing things by the rules is expensive, slow and frustrating and the home office are extremely unhelpful. Oddly, those constraints do not seem to apply to illegal immigrants.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
15 days ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

And British folk hate queue-jumpers

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
17 days ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Yeah, a Caribbean friend in Manchester was fond of inveighing against the Pakistani community there, which was an eye opener. In the end we agreed to differ, of course, but it was an eye opener to a naive lad coming from Hull!

Last edited 17 days ago by Richard Parker
Mel Shaw
Mel Shaw
20 days ago

You could hardly expect Jolyon Maugham to be right about anything given the track record of the so called Good Law Project that he fronts. He is good at raking in donations from gullible supporters, though.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
20 days ago

And they should indeed “rub the Left’s noses in diversity” to paraphrase Gordon Brown until the BBC et al wake up to who the real racists are. They are nowhere near doing so yet.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
19 days ago

It’s been quite funny to see the perplexity of left wing parties as they come across minorities with the ‘wrong’ views; and then horrifying when they use racial insults to invalidate their positions – choc ice, coconut, etc. All allowed on the left (just like TERF).
The same thing seems to be happening in the USA with increasing numbers of Hispanics , Asians and Blacks supporting the Republican Party. Latinx eh?

Last edited 19 days ago by Ian Stewart
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
19 days ago

How I wish there was a concrete definition of ” racism”? What does it really mean? It is grossly intellectually disingenuous and dishonest to hide behind the ‘ colour of skin’ argument… Germans are still incredibly unpopular in many parts of Greece, Italy and France because of the war…. Russians ditto to Czech, Slovakian, Polish and Hungarian peoples…. Presbyterians in Catholic areas of Ulster, not least due to their Scots origins? In all cases, nothing whatever to do with skin colour? Just watch football matches between certain African nations and the abuse that they hurl at each other? … Pakistan v India at Cricket? they have the same skin colour? Muslim and Hindu?…. Please do not insult our intelligence, and hear speaketh an Irish Italian born in England… am I as English as many? No I am not!

Don Juan
Don Juan
19 days ago

and in Colombia, where a left-wing President has recently been elected, Venezuelans fleeing left-wing President Maduro are getting pretty rough treatment as refugees. Same Latin colour mix, same language, religion, politics, region and continent.
The difference? Venezuelans are outsiders and they are poor. The Irish and the Italians were once outsiders and poor in the UK (as were my tribe, the Spanish) and suffered similar (mis)treatment. Wealth is a great leveller! We can seemingly accept an “inside’ Rishi or an “inside” Kemi but perhaps find it more difficult to accept an “outside” Pakistani (read Northern groomer), an “outside” Albanian (read people traffiker) or an “outside” Pole (read job snatcher). Skin colour is irrelevant in these examples.

Racism, to answer your question, is simply a resource-extraction label and if you can attach “structural”, “systemic” and “unconscious” to the label more resource will flow your way. Indeed, if you can elevate your label to “victim” you will have achieved tier 1 status and will get a stipend and an opinion page in the Guardian – no matter how crass your writing or ideas. Class-cism is the ugly elephant in the room. Believe me!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
19 days ago
Reply to  Don Juan

We all acquire a range of micro-prejudices depending on our cultural background as we grow up which enable us to get on better with people culturally similar to us and find it more difficult to relate to people culturally different to us and the cultures we absorb are not one dimensional but multi-dimensional depending, as you say, on class, religion, nationality, local historical prejudices etc etc.

As a white man with a professional background there are ways in which I have a stronger connection with an Indian or Pakistani doctor than with a white plumber but because of all the various inputs I can relate to people of a wide variety of background. My father-in-law who I got on well with was a shipyard welder who voted conservative and despised unions. Few of us fit neatly into any stereotype.

Race is an 18th century piece of junk science that should find no place in today’s multi-ethnic societies. Skin colour has no bearing on any important quality and should play no part in political discourse.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
19 days ago

That is because the CONCEPT of racism doesn’t exist in most countries outside of the west. It is simply an accepted fact of life and no one sees anything wrong with it, to the point whereby in many countries non-natives, or non-muslims, are treated as second class citizens by governments. But instead of being thankful for the enlightened society in which we live, being grateful to have been born or been permitted to live here and so celebrate the fact that in law racism is not allowed, in the same way all of the other minorities so vocal about their rights are similarly protected, the WOKE brigade wants to make out that never have things been so terrible here and there is a crisis. Like Kemi Badenoch said, the UK is a shining star in the world but sadly too many living in the UK today have no appreciation or understanding of just how very lucky they are be here.

Last edited 19 days ago by Sam Brown
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago

You overstate your case. Skin colour is an obvious difference, and over the generations made African slaves a visibly different caste, and indeed these differences were used to justify the inferiority of black people, even sometimes to the extent of doubting they had souls (like white people) , intelligence or even much capacity to feel pain. This was very different from slavery in Classical times, though slaves could be treated just as brutally. Anti-Semitism also became even worse when allied to a racial philosophy. Of course all the points you make about other animosities are valid, but there is unfortunately an added venom when race becomes included.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
19 days ago

I find this quite encouraging. Our shared values, culture and character are more important than a minor detail like skin colour.

Michael J
Michael J
20 days ago

We now know that Cameron did indeed deliberately promote ethnic minority candidates in the party. He said as much in the Times a few days ago. So the claim to be blind to race rings somewhat hollow.
Also the Tory members will not pick Sunak. It will be Truss. And she will be the third English woman to be leader.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago
Reply to  Michael J

You’ll have to define “woman” gor me before I accept that statement! Lol.

R S Foster
R S Foster
19 days ago
Reply to  Michael J

…may be true, but only because the MPs organised themselves to exclude Kemi Badenoch…who would have won amongst the membership by a country mile, and against all-comers…

Peter B
Peter B
19 days ago
Reply to  Michael J

Let’s wait and see the results before jumping to conclusions here. The past week has already shown just how fluid support for candidates is.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
15 days ago
Reply to  Michael J

Cameron also had a close friend he went fox-hunting with who was a rich black African

Sean McGrath
Sean McGrath
19 days ago

As Kemi Badenoch has pointed out the worst racism she has faced in the UK has come from the Left who have attacked her for being black and a Conservative. She takes none of their nonsense.
I hope Rishi gets in as PM at the end of this process not because he is a brown man but because he’s the better of the two candidates, he speaks with authority and from recent experience as our chancellor in the most difficult of times.
But it will be absolutely delicious that the new leader of the UK Conservative and Unionist party will be a British/Indian man. The Left, pale and stale, will splutter and harrumph .. just like old Tories used to do back in the dark ages. .

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago

I guess anyone from any ethic background is acceptable to a Tory but only provided they walk and talk like a Tory and have a good bit of dosh (so they’re not bleeding the social services). It might be different if Kemi spoke with an African accent and Rishi with an Indian accent or wore a turban and both were skint? But maybe I’m wrong? I hope I am wrong.
Of course there is degree of racism in all of us no matter how hard we try to rid ourselves of primal, tribal prejudices.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
19 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

But is not anyone from any ethnic background is acceptable to a Tory but only provided they walk and talk like a Tory means that a person who is a Tory is acceptable to other Torys?
And the walk and talk that other Torys see, is summed up by Older white people feel an almost indecent thrill to hear their own views reflected in a younger generation by people of different races. That is, in terms of a criteria hierarchy for measuring in group membership, a person’s ethnicity is below that of the type of views (I read values) that a person holds.
I don’t subscribe to the exhaustive, universalising attribution of racism in the last paragraph.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
19 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

There are cultural prejudices in all of us as you suggest but they don’t now have much to do with race in the 18th century division of people into different races based on skin colour.

This is only something that is exploited by Labour now that they have ceased to represent the interests of the working classes. We have a Nigerian friend who has a very thick accent but it doesn’t affect the way she is perceived by those she encounters. The quality of her character is what is appreciated.

Sadly it tends to be the sort of socialist that “has never kissed a Tory” that clings in a bigoted fashion to the old stereotypes.

Simon Coulthard
Simon Coulthard
19 days ago

Good article, though I don’t think it’s the multicultural vibrancy of constituencies that dictate opinions. Whiter parts of the country can have stronger views compared with those in mixed areas

M. M.
M. M.
20 days ago

Yuan Yi Zhu wrote, “For instance, it is fine for a candidate to talk about their family’s immigrant story, but arguing that they have a special claim to preferment because of their complexion is an automatic disqualifier.”

That is the opposite of what exists in the United States.

In the United States, the dominant non-European group is Hispanics from Latin America. They expect, demand, and receive preferential treatment from most administrators, bureaucrats, and politicians.

As the Hispanic electorate grows in size (due to open borders), Hispanic demands for preferential treatment grow in intensity. Watch the video that shows Hispanics’ cursing Nancy Pelosi for failing to immediately give preferential treatment to Hispanic illegal aliens.

By 2040, the United States will cease being a Western nation and will become a Hispanic nation due to its open borders. Hispanic culture will dominate, and Western culture will be rejected by a majority of Americans. (In California, most residents already reject identification with Western culture.)

Currently, Hispanic political might prevents establishing English as the official language of the United States.

Get more info about this issue.

Terry M
Terry M
20 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

That is exaggerated. Latin American immigrants blend into the culture in a generation or two, just as Irish, Italian, Polish, German, and others have. NYC, for example, has many communities that speak other than English at home. So what – they all use English eventually.
Nevertheless, the leftists who invite in a tsunami of illegal immigrants will get their comeuppance. Latin immigrants are much more culturally conservative than Democrats w/r/t abortion, gay marriage, religion, immigration, and other issues, and are trending Republican very rapidly.

M. M.
M. M.
20 days ago
Reply to  Terry M

Hispanic culture is quite different from Western culture.

For example, Hispanics expect, demand, and receive preferential treatment.

Hispanics commit murder at 3 times and 6 times the rate at which Americans of European ancestry or Asian ancestry, respectively, commit murder. Get more info about this issue.

Hispanics refuse to assimilate into Western society. They deliberately refuse to study English to the same extent to which Asian-Americans study English.

According to a report by NPR, “students whose home language was Spanish were considerably less likely to reach [English] proficiency than any other subgroup. And, on the extreme end, Spanish speakers were almost half as likely as Chinese speakers to cross the proficiency threshold. … It’s no surprise that researchers studying this trend in the past have used income-based controls — such as whether a child qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Those researchers have still found Spanish speakers lagging [their peers (in other ethnic groups) with similar economic status].” Get more info about this issue.

Consequently, Hispanics are over-represented among students who fail a literacy test for employment as a teacher in elementary and secondary schools. Under pressure from Hispanic organizations, the Board of Regents of New York terminated the use of the literacy test. Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 20 days ago by Matthew M.
Patrick Ruark
Patrick Ruark
19 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

Wow, an American goes onto a thoughtful conservative forum based in the UK and spits out unmitigated bigoted canards, while hiding behind his or her identity behind the initials of M.M. That is a profile in courage!

Terry M
Terry M
19 days ago
Reply to  Patrick Ruark

It is also full of rubbish. MM says Hispanics stay separate – well there are little Italy’s, Chinatowns, etc in most large American cities where there is a rump group of people enjoying their native culture. So what.
MM quotes :”According to a report by NPR, “students whose home language was Spanish were considerably less likely to reach [English] proficiency than any other subgroup.”
Most Hispanics have been in the US only a short time – 1st generation – so, of course, their language skills will lag. Much the same as has been seen for most European immigrants before English became the language of business and science worldwide after WW2. Spanish speaking countries do not teach English as much as W European countries, so most Hispanics are starting at zero. Some groups – Chinese – are very ambitious about learning English and were taught English in China/Taiwan (and education in general) and adapt more quickly.
Patrick, I apologize for the “ugly American” MM.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
19 days ago
Reply to  Terry M

By 2040, the United States will cease being a Western nation and will become a Hispanic nation due to its open borders. Hispanic culture will dominate, and Western culture will be rejected by a majority of Americans.
There is a conflation of “nation” and “culture”. Is not the measure of a nation to be found in its founding documents and codified laws that reflect Western cultural values of a specific time?
In order to reject “Western Culture” there must be a wholesale rejection of founding documents and codified laws that instantiate Western values and axioms.

Last edited 19 days ago by michael stanwick
Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
19 days ago
Reply to  Terry M

Little Saigon in Westminster OC California
majority don’t speak English but vote Conservative
Funny this article started out praising conservative immigrant Tories then catapulted into fear & hate of newcomers .

Last edited 19 days ago by colr
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
19 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

You really do not like Hispanic people, do you?

Don Juan
Don Juan
20 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

Spitting is rude – please desist – may I politely point out that “Hispanic culture” in California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas – amongst other US states sequestered in a massive land-grab as the “Union” flexed southwards and westwards in the early/mid 19th century- predated that of white Europeans. “Hispanics”, as you spit out with evident distaste, are simply returning home.
p.s. and before the (spit) Hispanics (unspit) there were the indigenous people in the said “Land of the Free” but that’s another story.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
20 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

OMG you describe Hispanic as non Western! What? Mexican (and other ethnically Spanish: and Portuguese) are non Western? What? I think you’re confusing the term “Western” with White Supremacy. Typical US racism!

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
19 days ago
Reply to  M. M.

This is just wrong on so many levels, it’s difficult to say where to begin. I will say this idea actually mostly started to gain traction on the right with a stupid 2012 report which concluded the need for the Republicans to appeal to minority voters, which itself leaned heavily on older ideas common to identity politics through the 90s and 2000s that claimed Democrats would ultimately control an uncontestable supermajority by way of their dominance amongst young people and ‘minority’ voters as old white Republicans died off. Obviously, that hasn’t come to pass, and it won’t, but a few actually racist idiots won’t let it go. The people who made that report are mostly gone or changed their tune considerably when Trump upended the party and then the country in 2016. The logic itself was always rather shallow and patronizing. People, minority or otherwise are not that simple. They have minds and beliefs and can think and change like anyone else. M.M. seems to paint both minorities, and himself, as silly racist caricatures. Ugly American indeed.
Oh and English isn’t the national language because there isn’t one, and never has been. It’s not in the Constitution and through 200+ years no Congress has seen the need to pass such a law. Learn your history.

Last edited 19 days ago by Steve Jolly
Tideswellman .
Tideswellman .
19 days ago

The very point of this article was to “parrot” the latest rhetoric, that the Tories are not racist. Yet the majority of the article’s content demonstrates that they clearly are. The author points out the temptation to combat a jibe levelled against them is far greater than the desire to deliver equality to the electorate.
The symbolism of having brown or black candidates supposedly neutralises claims of institutional racism. Yet in reality, Tory policies have historically delivered inequality every day. Immigration laws, Rwanda, SUS laws, dodgy enquiries, Rwanda policy, custody deaths, the list goes on.
As an ethnic minority myself, I am glad that the political parties have minority candidates…but as the author pointed out, many of them are parachutists. Not having a real connection to their constituencies.
thus validating the claim that they are in fact “useful props”.
Yes, Dorris He may be a “P/N” but he’/shes our P/N. Useful idiots who will do anything for a taste of limelight and power, even endorse policies that actively work against their own people.
Which is why I’d rather see Truss or Mordant win, at least you know what to expect. More of the same.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
19 days ago
Reply to  Tideswellman .

By referring to “policies working against their own people” you proclaim yourself a racist by assuming that a man or woman’s skin colour should dictate the policies they adopt. You would, no doubt, be the first to denounce a white “Britain First” supporter complaining that policies worked against the interests of “our people” as a vile racist. Yet you can’t see the racism in your own words.

Peter B
Peter B
19 days ago
Reply to  Tideswellman .

It is arrogant and patronising in the extreme to suppose that the Tory ethnic minority candidates have “their own people” or to assume that every ethnic minority group does or should behave and vote in the same way.
This is precisely the sort of thinking that alienated the majority of people in the UK and helped secure Brexit. And it appears that those who endorse such patronising and frankly mistaken views have still learnt nothing.
Keep making the same mistakes then. Keep losing.

Adrian Greene
Adrian Greene
20 days ago

The Great Replacement in full view.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
19 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Greene

The current number one song in the US is ‘Un Verano Sin Ti’ by Bad Bunny all in Spanish and it is Good !