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Indian candidates in UK poll: More of the same?

The Conservative Party’s earlier efforts to woo Indian-origin voters appears set to be diluted while the Labour Party has five sitting Indian-origin MPs who are expected to win comfortably.

world Updated: May 17, 2017 20:20 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
File photo of Virendra Sharma, the Labour Party’s candidate from Ealing Southall.
File photo of Virendra Sharma, the Labour Party’s candidate from Ealing Southall.(HT Photo)

The Conservative Party’s focus to win over Indian-origin voters under David Cameron’s leadership appears set to be diluted as it has not nominated any candidate from the community in its strongholds where sitting MPs are not contesting the June 8 election.

The party has nominated 13 candidates from the community, of whom five are sitting MPs expected to win the election comfortably. The other eight candidates have not been nominated in strongholds or “safe” seats and only two have a chance of a narrow win.

In contrast, the Labour Party has five sitting MPs who are expected to win comfortably and has nominated three Indian-origin candidates in its strongholds. This is likely to raise the number of Labour MPs from the community beyond five for the first time.

There is much disquiet within Conservative ranks that the usual selection process was cut short by Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprise mid-term election announcement, when many shortlists and candidates were imposed by the party’s central office, ignoring local claimants.

Not only has the party selected fewer Indian-origin candidates – 13 instead of 17 in the 2015 election – but there is much ennui that they have been ignored in its safe seats. Most of the candidates (non-sitting MPs) have been nominated in seats where they have no chance of winning. 

A senior community leader told HT: “The Conservative Party seems to be taking us for granted, perhaps because many abandoned Labour in recent elections and voted for the party. The candidate selection process does not match May’s feel-good words about the community.” 

Of the eight Conservative candidates (non-sitting MPs), Paul Uppal has the strongest chance of winning in Wolverhampton South West, from where he lost in 2015 by barely 800 votes. In Coventry North West, Resham Kotecha will seek to overcome Labour’s 4,509 winning margin.

Four Labour candidates (non-sitting MPs) with a significant chance of winning in what are called “marginal” seats (with small majorities in the last election) are: Kuldip Sahota in Telford (2015 Conservative win margin 730), Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi in Slough (2015 Labour win margin 7,336), Preet Kaur Gill in Birmingham Edgbaston (2015 Labour win margin 2,706), and Navin Shah in Harrow East (2015 Conservative win margin 4,757).

An interesting election sidelight is the fortunes of two unabashedly pro-India sitting MPs, Bob Blackman (Conservative, Harrow East) and Barry Gardiner (Labour, Brent North). Local leaders despair that both face two strong candidates from the community.

Blackman won in 2015 with a margin of 4,757 in the constituency with a large population of Indian-origin, but now faces Labour’s Navin Shah, the popular member of the London assembly for Harrow and Brent.

Gardiner, known for his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since his chief ministership of Gujarat, is comfortably placed with a 2015 win margin of 10,834, but faces Ameet Jogia, who has fast risen in Tory ranks and is a local councillor. 

For the Conservative Party, the 2017 election marks a change in the 2015 focus on Indian-origin voters under Cameron, who assiduously wooed the community since he became party leader in 2005, often attending Indian religious and other events. The community has since veered considerably towards the party from its traditional preference for Labour.

The Conservative Party had selected a record 62 candidates from minority communities in the 2015 polls. As Cameron said at the time, “At this general election, there is one party fielding more black and ethnic minority candidates than any other – and that’s us, the Conservatives and in 18% of retirement seats – seats that we have more than a good chance of keeping – we have black, Asian or ethnic minority candidates.” 

The five sitting MPs each of the two parties comfortably placed are: Priti Patel, Shailesh Vara, Alok Sharma, Rishi Sunak and Suella Fernandes (Conservative), and Virendra Sharma, Keith Vaz, Valerie Vaz, Lisa Nandy and Seema Malhotra (Labour).

The 2015 election returned a record 10 Indian-origin MPs, but there is unlikely to be a spurt in the June 8 election given the number of unwinnable seats in which the Conservative Party has nominated candidates from the community. However, Labour is likely to increase its tally from five MPs from the community.

Indian-origin candidates in UK mid-term election on June 8

Conservative:

Name                                                  Constituency

Rahoul Bhansali                                  Brent Central

Suella Fernandes                               Fareham

Samir Jassal                                        Feltham and Heston

Ameet Jogia                                        Brent North

Resham Kotecha                                Coventry North East

Priti Patel                                            Witham

Reena Ranger Birmingham Hall Green

Alok Sharma                                        Reading West

Meera Sonecha                                   Leicester South

Rishi Sunak                                          Richmond

Minesh Talati                                      Barking

Paul Uppal                                           Wolverhampton South West

Shailesh Vara                                      North West Cambridgeshire

Labour:

Keith Vaz                                             Leicester East

Virendra Sharma Ealing Southall

Neeraj Patil                                         Putney

Lisa Nandy                                           Wigan

Seema Malhotra                                 Feltham and heston

Valerie Vaz                                          Walsall South

Rohit Dasgupta                                   East Hampshire

Hitesh Tailor                                       East Surrey

Navin Shah                                          Harrow East

Navendu Mishra                                 Hazel Grove

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi               Slough

Kuldip Singh Sahota                          Telford

Manjinder Kang                                  Tewkesbury

Preet Kaur Gill                                       Birmingham Edgbaston