David Cameron on Monday called for more British Indians to aim for the highest echelons of British society as the party leaders began a massive charm offensive to win over ethnic voters as the countdown began for what is set to be the most divisive British election in recent memory.
The Prime Minister made his appeal during the annual Diwali party at 10 Downing Street with more than 200 invitees representing the community in attendance.
The event took place just a few streets away from where Labour Party leader Ed Milliband was hosting his party’s annual Diwali party.
“It is great that when we look around politics we see people like Shailesh Vara, Dolar Popat, Alok Sharma, and Keith Vaz.
“We see people at the top of our politics, but I want to see more British Indians in the House of Commons, in the House of Lords, in our judiciary, our military, playing the fullest possible part in British life. But you are certainly making a huge contribution, and it’s a contribution that we should celebrate tonight.”
The British Asian vote is seen as a key driver for all the major political parties in next year’s general election given the fact that the electorate is more divided than ever before, particularly as a result of the dramatic recent successes enjoyed by the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Whilst many ethnic minority voters have publicly declared their abhorrence of UKIP’s anti-immigrant message, many others who have traditionally supported the Conservatives and the Labour Party have been angered by the immigration-related rhetoric emanating from the two frontline parties.
Many feel that migrants from outside the European Union – particularly students and business visitors from South Asia and Africa – have been unfairly penalized as Mr Cameron strives to meet not only his party’s net migration targets but Britain’s obligations towards the European Union whilst some within the historically immigration-friendly Labour party have stepped up their efforts to toughen its stance on the issue.
Whilst acknowledging community concerns, Mr Cameron defended his government’s record on immigration.
“A country needs to have controlled and fair immigration. I believe that settled communities of British Asians want that as well. You can only do that if you control properly and fairly immigration from outside and inside the European Union.
“I think it’s important that we do that. If you look at the student visa system for instance, there is no limit on the number of students who can come in, as long as they have an English language qualification. Business visitors from South Asia are increasing. Again there’s work to be done but we are determined to make it fairer both within and outside Europe.”
This year’s Diwali celebrations at the Conservative Prime Minister’s official residence had added significance as it came fifty years after a Conservative MP successfully exploited racist attitudes towards South Asian and West Indian immigrants to win the West Midlands constituency of Smethwick.
Mr Cameron said that the British Asian community and Britain as a whole had come a long way since those bigoted days.
“I think it says a lot about the change that Britain has gone through and it’s a positive change. We have become a very successful multi-racial country. And if you look at the contributions that British Indians have made right across the piece, one of their biggest contributions has been to make Britain a tolerant, compassionate and more open country”, the PM said.
“Those are values that you bring to Britain, values we need more of in our country”, he added.
Mr Cameron also spoke about the unique values of Diwali and the importance of those values for future generations.
“I was looking at the values that Hindus celebrate and the goals of life, and it’s such a good way to bring up your children. Talking of dharma, virtue and duty, not always as present as it should be in public life, but it is present and it must be. Thinking of karma, pleasure and fulfilment; thinking of moksha, liberation and release. And thinking of artha – thinking about your career, your skills. Thinking of those things together, good, strong values that we should teach our children, and so often when we look at each other’s religions we can find values and lessons and morals that are so valuable for our children, for our future.”