There is a serious side to all this. The degree by which the Tory and Labour camps in Ealing Southall are attempting to manipulate the Sikh and other communities is truly breathtaking. More to the point, I’m not sure it is all that effective. Throughout the 80s and 90s all parties, but particularly Labour, tended to treat minority ethnic groups as handy block votes that could easily be bought and sold by offering the so-called “community leaders” morsels such as a community centre here, a link with (read: money siphoned off to) a school in Kashmir there, etc. etc. It was the height of cynicism, but it generally worked and the minority ethnic communities themselves were the worse for it because they found themselves in a perpetual state of ghettoisation, with individuals emerging as major power brokers simply because the political class felt they were useful.
This has been slowly changing however. The Iraq War was a major corrective, at least as far as Muslims were concerned, but there have been broader generational shifts. Over the past couple of years there have been a growing number of initiatives designed to counteract this corporatist approach, such as the New Generation Network.
What I seem to be seeing in Ealing Southall is Labour coming a cropper of years of adopting the old approach. The Tories’ response however seems to be to walk into the same trap at precisely the time when it ceases to be useful. How impressed will Southall’s young second and third generation Sikhs be with all these shenanigans? Tony Lit started by trying to present himself as something new and fresh, but has spent the last week embracing the old guard. This tactic would surely be useful if the Sikh community was a homogenised block, but is that true?
More to the point, is the Sikh vote that important? In Southall, sure, but across the constituency they make up just 18% of the population. Are the Tories banking on the Hindus and Muslims (who, combined, make up another fifth) following in line with their turbaned neighbours? If so, then they are dafter than I thought. And what is the majority white population making of all this effervescent silliness that the Tories seem obsessed with?
We shall see, we shall see. But I can’t help but suspect that for all their noise, the Tories may end up in not that much stronger a position in the constituency after the election than they were before it. Either way, they will have a long term price to pay.