LONDON mayor Boris Johnson has said the image of the Conservatives as a party for the “white and middle class only” has changed “very fast”.
Accompanied by Harrow West candidate Hannah David, whose campaign he is promoting, Johnson last Friday (10) was doing the rounds at St Ann’s Shopping centre in Harrow West, one of the capital’s most cosmopolitan areas. The constituency used to be a key Conservative seat for decades, but changed after Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997.
Gareth Thomas took control of the seat for the new party in power and has held the constituency ever since. In 2010, he won with 43.6 per cent of the vote, followed by the Conservatives on 36.8 per cent, Liberal Democrats 16.2 per cent and UKIP polling 2.1 per cent.
Eastern Eye joined Johnson, who was wearing a formal navy suit during his short tour of Harrow West. Almost everyone, from shopkeepers to the elderly and teenage girls, seized on the opportunity to take a selfie with the blondehaired politician.
One shopper, an Indian man who Johnson approached and shook hands with, was asked to vote for the Tories. He replied, “No, I’m voting Labour.”
The short conversation bought to the fore the struggle the Tory party has had in attracting ethnic minority voters. Labour has traditionally been the party of choice for Asian voters in past general elections, but Johnson told EE he believed this was changing.
When asked about the party’s “image problem”, the mayor dismissed claims that it existed any more, adding that there has been a “real turnaround” in its efforts to woo ethnic voters in recent years.
He said: “This time round it’s very likely there will be more ethnic minority candidates from the Tory party than in Labour. That (public perception) is all changing very fast. “We obviously don’t have an image problem no more because as you can tell, we have a lot of support and hopefully will get more MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds and Asian MPs than Labour.
“I think that’s a real turnaround from when I started in politics and that’s fantastic to see.” Johnson was armed with blue Conservative party leaflets which he enthusiastically handed out to bemused shoppers. The senior Tory’s presence made many passers-by take a second look as if to say: “Is that really Boris?”
As Johnson walked out of the busy shopping centre, a crowd of supporters wearing light blue T-shirts with “Hannah David” emblazoned on the front held up placards showing their support.
Away from the crowd, workers could be seen taking pictures through their shop windows to try and get a snapshot of the action and other enquiring shoppers started to form around the London mayor to see what the fuss was all about.
Johnson was assertive in saying the Conservatives were far from what critics called a party “for the rich” as he listed the proposals the Tories had to help “all” Londoners.
“We are announcing new plans to keep rail fares down for everybody and across the country as we have done in London in the last couple of years. That helps absolutely everybody on all incomes,” he said.
“Since I’ve been mayor, we’ve massively expanded the London living wage. Also you can’t support the elderly, you can’t support people on low incomes unless you have a strong economy.”
When asked about taking the top job after David Cameron said last month that he did not want to stand for a third term as prime minister, Johnson said: “No, I’m going to be mayor of London, hoping to talk to Eastern Eye for as long as at least another year. You won’t be getting rid of me that easily.”