By Rehman Chishti, Vice-chairman of the Conservative party for communities
THE Conservative party is the party of aspiration. It is the party that, in the prime minister’s own words, believes that where you end up in life shouldn’t depend on where you are born, who your parents are or where you went to school. It should depend on talent and hard work.
It is this party which has given the son of an Imam the chance to represent my home town of Gillingham in parliament and now serve it at its highest level as vice-chairman. Having come to our great country at the age of six from Pakistan, I was not able to speak a word of English when I first attended Richmond Infant School in Gillingham. Hard work, determination, self-belief and aspiration are at the heart of our party values. It is these values which helped me to be the first in my family to go to university and then to become a barrister before I entered parliament.
It’s something I passionately agree with and I’m proud to represent a party that champions equality of opportunity. We are, after all, the first, and only, party which has had not one but two female prime ministers.
Theresa May has a strong record of supporting diverse communities. Under the Conservatives, more young people from BAME backgrounds are starting apprenticeships and going to university than ever before. And in the recent reshuffle, we saw the number of government ministers from BAME backgrounds double.
We have invested £9.5 million in supporting communities with significant religious diversity, helping to run projects which will bring about lasting benefits to their neighbourhoods. For example, our ‘Near Neighbours’ programme supports projects that build stronger local ties and promote mutual respect, making our neighbourhoods even better places to live. In London, this funding has supported the activities of an organisation in east London that works with refugee women, and a church in east London developing community activities, including a ‘borrowing shop’ for household items, and a community cinema club.
We’ve also worked hard to ensure that women have equal opportunities, not only in the workplace, but also in their daily lives. There are a million more women in work since 2010 and for those women in work, the gender pay gap is at its lowest level on record – and we’re taking action to drive it down further. We brought in legislation requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees on their websites. We will publish a league table of the pay gap by sector to shine a spotlight on sectors not closing the gap.
But there is more to do.
As well as continuing to deliver on our commitments to all in our society, I’m keen to ensure that we spread the message that we are here and we are listening. I was delighted last week to be appointed as one of two vice-chairmen of the Conservative party with responsibility for communities, alongside Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone. Helen and I will be travelling across the country meeting our diverse range of communities and feeding back their concerns to Theresa May and her team.
In my seven years in parliament, I have worked closely with the Asian community. As Eastern Eye readers will know, when I travelled up and down the country for our last prime minister David Cameron, I listened to communities and successfully got the government to adopt the correct terminology ‘Daesh’ when referring to the terrorist death cult in Syria and Iraq, thereby not linking its evil acts to people’s faith. I am also proud that I successfully got the government to adopt name-blind job applications to prevent discrimination.
During my time in parliament, I also set up and chair the APPG on Community Engagement, which seeks to ensure that the views of all sections of our society are taken into account when looking at setting policy legislation. I have been constantly pushing for greater representation from BAME communities on the board of FTSE 100 companies. I have been working with the prime minister to look at ensuring correct procedures are in places to tackle any discrimination at border controls across the world. I have also been committed to protecting those hardworking small business across the country, including many BAME business, on illicit tobacco damaging their local business.
I will be building on this work and the relationships I have forged as I take on this role. I look forward to working closely with community groups as I take on this challenge.
Every year and at every election cycle, we continue to increase our efforts to reach out to diverse communities across the country. Only by making sure everyone is equally represented, both locally and at Westminster, can we build a democracy that works for everyone. And I’m thrilled to be at the forefront of these efforts.