Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has described immigrants as ‘natural’ Conservatives who should be praised for having the “guts” to go halfway across the world to create a better life for themselves.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Reflections’ programme, Mr Major also said that not all immigrants came to Britain to exploit this country’s generous welfare state.
Recalling his personal experiences of immigrants while growing up in South London, Mr Major said: “They shared my house. They were my neighbours. I played with them as boys. I didn’t see people who had come here just to benefit from our social system.
“I saw people with guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families. And I think that is a very Conservative instinct.”
Mr Major’s comments come just days after Baroness Warsi, the British Pakistani peer who resigned from the Foreign Office last week, said the Conservative Party would struggle to win ethnic minority votes at the general election next year.
Baroness Warsi said that whilst Mr Cameron “gets” today’s multi-cultural Britain, the rest of the party had “lost touch”, and had even become “regressive”.
“The electoral reality is that we will not win outright Conservative majorities until we start attracting more of the ethnic vote”, Ms Warsi said.
“We’ve probably left it a little too late to take this part of the electorate seriously.”
The Conservatives won a 36% share of the vote at the last election, but gained the support of just 16% of ethnic minority voters.
Mr Major’s comments were part of an interview with historian Peter Hennessy for Reflections, which will be broadcast tonight at 21.30 BST.