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Indian support for Labour falls, but still favourite

world Updated: Apr 28, 2015 00:08 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
UK elections

As several research reports predict that the Indian community’s vote will be decisive in at least 50 of the 650 constituencies, figures show that its historical support for the Labour party has fallen considerably, but the party remains its favourite.

The 2011 Census estimates the strength of the Indian community at 1.6 million. The estimated number of 700,000 voters from the community are spread over various constituencies, with significant concentrations in areas in and around London, Leicester, Manchester and Birmingham.

Visits to gurdwaras and temples have become essential in tour itineraries of top leaders such as David Cameron (Conservative) and Ed Miliband (Labour). Cameron has consistently wooed the Indian community since he was elected party leader in 2005.

Miliband has been touring temples and joining Indian events in a bid to overturn the perception that Labour is taking the Indian and other ‘ethnic’ communities for granted, after research indicated a major drop in support.

From a high of 77 per cent support from the Indian community in 1997, when Tony Blair led Labour to victory, only 43 per cent supported the party in the 2010 elections. However, it remains the most popular party in the community, as recent trends indicate the community is no longer beholden to it.

Says Maria Sobolewska, an academic on the British Election Study (BES): "Labour is not really sitting pretty on ethnic minorities anymore and in fact it wasn't in 2010 either... we can already see that a lot of the ethnic minority groups, in fact all of the ethnic minority groups supported Labour a lot less even in 2010, but this did not yet make Labour worried…The percentage of people who identify with the Labour party is falling very fast."

However, a BES report suggests that the Conservative party has not really benefited from the growing ennui with the Labour party, despite efforts by Cameron to woo the Indian community.

The forthcoming elections are expected to have the largest representation of Indian and other non-white MPs, with parties fielding more candidates from these communities than ever before.

According to think-tank British Future, a record number of ethnic minority MPs – over 40 – will be elected in 2015. If each seat is won by the candidate who is currently favourite, 44 non-white MPs will be elected in May, a 60% increase on the record 27 ethnic minority MPs elected in 2010.

“The Conservatives have been most likely to select new non-white candidates for safe seats. The party could well secure the most newly elected ‘class of 2015’ non-white MPs. If the Conservatives were to win an overall majority, we project that they would also overtake Labour to have most of the ethnic minority MPs in the Commons, with seven of the eleven new ‘class of 2015’ ethnic minority MPs being Tories”.

One of the Indian-origin candidates put up by the Conservative party is Rishi Sunak, the 34-year-old businessman son-in-law of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, from Richmond in Yorkshire, which is currently held by senior party leader William Hague, who is quitting politics.