Comment: Obama victory shows why politicians must embrace multiculturalism

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Ian Dunt: 'Britain has a smaller percentage of immigrant groups than the US but the direction of travel is the same.'
Ian Dunt: 'Britain has a smaller percentage of immigrant groups than the US but the direction of travel is the same.'

Barack Obama's victory is testament to what can happen when a political leader embraces ethnic minorities rather than smearing them.

Obama lost support among white males without college qualifications, but he stayed in power because he maintained a remarkable coalition of minorities, women and young people.

From a British perspective, it's interesting quite how divided the Americans are on age and gender. The gender gap was 20 points wide, with Republican challenger Mitt Romney leading by eight per cent among men to Obama's 12% lead among women. In Britain, YouGov polling found just a single percentage point difference.

The generation gap across the Atlantic is 54 points wide, with Obama leading 30% among under-30s and Romney leading by 24% among over-65s. A similar trend applies in the UK, although it is far less severe. Labour is 19% ahead with under-30s but the Tory lead with over-65s is just four per cent.

But among immigrant groups, the similarities between the UK and the US outweigh the differences.

According to 2010 census data, Latinos account for half the US population growth. In the south, the demographic grew by 57% between 2000 and 2010. Obama's lead among this group was impressive. An average of the final eight national US polls showed him ahead among Latinos by a margin of 48-points (70% to 22%). A Latino Decisions tracking poll on Monday showed him enjoying a lead of 73% to the Republicans' 24%. His lead among black voters was even wider.

The Republicans are staring at simple electoral maths. In 2008, Latinos constituted nine per cent of the electorate and backed Obama 67% to 31%. In 2012 they constitute ten per cent and backed Obama 69% to 30%.

Britain has a smaller percentage of immigrant groups, but the direction of travel is the same. Last year, the children of women who were born abroad constituted nearly a quarter of the babies born in the UK. The number of babies born to mothers born in the UK barely changed in the five years leading up to 2011, rising marginally from 603,000 to 612,000. Migrant births increased by 16% over the five years, from 169,000 to 196,000.

In 2001, ethnic minorities made up under one in ten of the population.  By 2050 they will make up a fifth of the population.

Figures by the Runneymede trust suggest the Tories have a major problem with immigrant groups. In 2010, they won 36% of the national vote but just 16% of the ethnic minority vote. Research by Michael Ashcroft shows the Tory brand problem is at its most severe among immigrant groups. They hold the same suspicions as the rest of the country ('a party for the rich') but they hold them more deeply. They also have a few suspicions of the party of their own.

But the problem the Tory party has with ethnic minorities is not necessarily about being right-wing. The five leading countries foreign-born mothers came from were Poland, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nigeria. These are not socially liberal, welfare state nations. Many Poles or Indians respond positively to socially and economically conservative politics. Almost a quarter of Indian-origin voters currently vote Tory.

The Conservatives' failure among ethnic minorities does not have to continue. Minorities base their support on policies. George Bush, for instance, polled very well among Latinos because he appealed to their conservative social instincts while trying (and failing) to reform the US' broken immigration system.

The key to securing ethnic minority support is to end the war on multiculturalism. The Conservatives' obsessive focus on this issue – together with many in the media – is interpreted as a direct attack by ethnic minorities. Labour has occasionally dabbled in these attacks too, but its efforts are unconvincing. It is lip service – unwelcome but forgettable. The Tory war on multiculturalism is sustained and ideological. Its current leading exponents on the Tory front bench are Eric Pickles and, ironically, Sayeeda Warsi. But any politician who bangs on about 'accepting our values' in an appeal for tabloid coverage is guilty of it.

As I've said before, multiculturalism is a reality, not an argument. It is already here. It is happening. The sooner British political parties make their peace with it, the sooner they can reap the electoral rewards.

This message is particularly important for the Conservatives. There are plenty of potential supporters out there waiting for the party to stop sneering at them.

The message for Labour is simple. Ignore the siren voices from right and left demanding more attacks on immigration and more populist rhetoric on integration. The future of progressive politics can be built on an alliance of groups, including women, young people and graduates, with ethnic minorities at its heart.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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