20 Feb 2013

Talking in Amritsar, addressing Wolverhampton?

David Cameron has now left Amritsar after a visit, the first by a serving British Prime Minister, to the scene of the 1919 massacre. He also visited the Golden Temple, the spiritual home of the Sikh religion.

He stopped short of apologising for the massacre. But in a statement he said:

“This  was a deeply shameful event in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as ‘monstrous’.

“We must never forget what happened here. In remembering we must ensure that the United Kingdom stands up for the right to peaceful protest anywhere in the world.

David Cameron, Feb 2013.

A great grandson of one of those killed at the massacre, Sunil Kapoor, told me that wasn’t good enough and David Cameron should have delivered a full-scale apology. But as I write, careering through the Punjabi traffic to a chorus of bike and car horns, my guess is India has other things on its mind. Those that want to think well of a British PM showing his respects will do so. Opinion won’t shift much here.

But then it’s opinion elsewhere David Cameron maybe has on his mind. The polling suggests he cannot win the 2015 general election without winning support amongst ethnic minority voters. They are a key wedge of support in some marginals and, as I said yesterday, Sikhs have been identified by Team Cameron as particularly susceptible to the idea that the PM is different from crustier Tories of the past.

Seats where sikh voters could make a difference include Wolverhampton South West, Enoch Powell’s old seat now represented by Tory Paul Uppal with a wafer thin majority. Mr Uppal has been accompanying David Cameron on this trip along with Tory MPs Shailesh Varah and ethnic minority vote-winning Tsar MP Alok Sharma. They all have some very good snaps for their election literature and David Cameron has useful pictures too.

Polling suggests some ethnic minority voters want to see individuals from their own communities before they’ll truly believe the Tory Party has changed. This trip has allowed David Cameron to get some images of that in the most dramatic and evocative settings.

David Cameron said in Amritsar: “We should also celebrate the immense contribution that people from the Punjab play in Britain, the role they play, what they give to our country. What they contribute to our country is outstanding.”

“It is important to understand that, to pay respect to that and to seek a greater understanding of the Sikh religion…” – his strategists couldn’t have put it better.

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