April 2015 \ Cover Story \ Cover Story - UK Elections
Indian Voters Can Make a Big Difference

By Kul Bhushan and Shamlal Puri
  • Top British leaders including Prime Minister David Cameron have come to understand the importance of British Indian votes

“If you could pick one politician apart from yourself to win, who would it be and why?” asked Reema, a ten-year-old Indian origin girl from Salford, Greater Manchester to the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

He failed to come up with an answer saying, “I am afraid it is too difficult to say I would like someone else to win other than me or I wouldn’t be here, and I am quite keen on winning.”

But the results for the general elections on 7 May could be different. Instead of the traditional two political parties – Conservatives and Labour – at least four main parties are contesting. Interestingly, the vote of the three-million Indian diaspora has become crucial. In fact, the minority voters are a hefty six million. No wonder all parties are trying to woo them.

The Indian diaspora form 5 per cent of the total population and their votes can make a difference between winning and losing in some strong Asian strong-holds in the country.

Traditionally, Labour has enjoyed the vehement support of the Asian community – Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis - but this plummeted in the last election because of failures this party’s marked failures. Largely prosperous and upward mobile, Asian voters turned up in big numbers to support the Conservatives led by David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats by Nick Clegg in the last election, shaking Labour’s traditional stranglehold on Asian voters. Though only 16 per cent ethnic minority voters balloted for the Conservatives and 18 per cent for Lib-Dems, it still shook the Labour Party.

The pattern among Britain’s Indian voters shows a very clear and consistent support for Labour much more than their white counterparts but in the long run, the new generations of Asians will be losing their traditional support for Labour.

The 2010 election showed that an overwhelming 74 per cent Muslims supported Labour followed by 73 per cent Sikhs, 51 per cent Hindus and 39 per cent East African Asians whereas only 31 per cent whites supported this Party.

This gives weight to the argument that a section of East African Asians – Hindus and Sikhs – fed up with the failures of the Labour Party, voted for the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems in the 2010 polls. This year, however, the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) has waded into the fray. This party is perceived to be anti-immigration has gained popularity with the whites but is less endeared by the Asians and ethnic minorities.

This four-way fight is bound to split the vote between Labour, Conservatives, the Lib-Dems and UKIP.

Both Labour and the Conservatives can draw comfort from the fact that Asians will largely choose between them. UKIP, the right-wing populist party led by Nigel Farage did well in the last Local Government elections but Farage’s party spits toxic immigration venom on the multi-ethnic society. It relies heavily on disgruntled white voters fed up of the immigration policies of the heavy-weights and constant bickering on the future of Britain’s position in the EU.

A growing number of Indian origin MPs in the current British Parliament include the longest serving Keith Vaz, Alok Sharma, Paul Uppal, Priti Patel, Seema Malhotra, Shailesh Vara, Valerie Vaz and Virendra Sharma.

Recent opinion polls show that the Conservatives and Labour are neck to neck and the election result could be a cliff-hanger. There are 160 marginal seats in the UK where the Asian and other ethnic minority vote could decide who is in power. But dissatisfied with what they perceive as ‘economic failures’ and austerity measures by David Cameron, the pendulum could swing back in favour of Labour. The much-anticipated pro-Labour swing among Asian voters may consequently spell winning marginal seats for Ed Miliband, the Labour leader.