Mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith has defended his campaign literature after a Conservative councillor warned it risked being seen as “stereotypical and patronising”.
Over the past few weeks Goldsmith’s team has delivered thousands of leaflets with messages crafted to address what they claim to be concerns within London’s BME communities.
These include highlighting that Goldsmith was one of the dignitaries who welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UK last year and warning voters in some areas that Labour rival Sadiq Khan wants to tax family heirlooms, including jewellery.
The leaflets have been mocked on social media and criticised by political opponents who say they are racially divisive.
On Wednesday Conservative councillor Binita Mehta, Conservative Group Leader at Watford Council, joined those criticising Goldsmith’s campaign, warning that they risked patronising BME voters and damaging the Tory brand.
Writing in the Telegraph, Cllr Mehta said: “In pursuing the suburban Indian vote, for example, it must be recognised that a blanket approach can seem stereotypical and patronising, and will certainly turn people off.
“I hate to have to say this but obviously we “BMEs” are much more sophisticated than these targeted letters suggest.”
Mehta stresses that she “sincerely” hopes Goldsmith becomes mayor and accepts “it is important to target messages” but warns there is no “homogenous block” of voters within each community, adding: “there are – literally – “many shades” of us “BME” voters.”
“It is important to show understanding of different communities but we must be mindful that not every British Indian cares about the same thing, just as every Scot or Mancunian wouldn’t. Common sense can go a long way and the evident backlash in the Indian press shows that slip-ups will not go unnoticed!”
She concludes: “Conservatives need to continue to reach out to ethnic minority voters, especially where Labour has taken support for granted, but mustn’t talk down to us. More faces like mine overseeing these political strategies will help achieve this but, above all, our colour, religion or country of origin doesn’t define us.”
Mehta says she has raised her concerns with Goldsmith’s campaign manager.
Labour say her intervention is proof that “Zac Goldsmith is running a relentlessly negative and unpleasant campaign”.
The party’s Tulip Siddiq MP claimed Goldsmith “simply has no positive ideas for improving our city,” adding: “These leaflets were patronising, unpleasant and divisive – and even senior Tory councillors agree.”
A spokesman for Zac Goldsmith said: “Khan experimented with Corbyn and helped elect a Labour leadership who want a new tax on family heirlooms, including jewellery – if he is allowed to experiment with London from City Hall he represents a threat to the economic security of every family in our City.”
They also highlighted comments made at the Asian Business Awards last week where he said: “my job over the next 48 days is to reach out to every single part of London, and that means reaching out to every part of the community within London”.
Londoners will elect a new Mayor and the 25 members of the London Assembly on May 5th. Candidates for Mayor include Conservative Zac Goldsmith, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, the Green party’s Sian Berry and UKIP’s Peter Whittle.