Britain’s most influential Asian politician has said his Conservative party should do more to attract ethnic voters, as new research reveals that migrants could decide who wins the May general election.
Culture secretary Sajid Javid, the first Asian secretary of state, told the BBC last Sunday (1) that the Tories had a “perception problem” built “over decades” and that it will “take time to shift”.
New research suggests that the migrant electorate could have decisive power in a range of key marginal seats across England and Wales.
The study, by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at the University of Manchester and the Migrants’ Rights Network, estimates that just under four million foreign-born voters across England and Wales will be eligible to vote in the general election, with the majority of voters tracing their origins to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Javid admitted on the Sunday Politics show that attracting migrant voters was a “problem”.
“In the last election, 16 per cent from ethnic minority backgrounds voted Tory and it’s clearly not good enough. You have to look at the reasons over a number of years. I think the biggest issue has been a perception problem for the Conservatives. It’s not a policy problem.”
He explained how his own father voted for Labour when he first came to the country.
“He felt it was the only party in the 60s that was standing up for working people and standing up for equal rights. Of course, that’s changed completely.”
Javid added: “When I became a member of parliament, my father told me that most of his friends would congratulate me on coming into parliament, but they would automatically think I was a Labour member of parliament, and that shows you how big this problem is.”
At least 70 key outer London and Midlands marginal seats have a migrant share of the electorate, twice as large as the current majority share of the incumbent party.
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow London minister, told Eastern Eye that the votes of ethnic minority Britons will be “more important than ever before” at this general election. He insisted that Labour “will never take them for granted”.
“We want our politicians to look like the communities we represent and we will always speak up for the interests of those communities. That’s why the first ethnic minority MPs of the modern era were Labour and why we are still by far the most representative party at every level of government,” Khan said.
He added: “I would ask everyone to check they are registered to vote. Ethnic minority voters are far less likely to be on the electoral register than other communities. And if you’re not registered, you don’t get a say.”
Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps said they were working harder to become more attractive to people from different backgrounds.
“They recognise we stand up for the values of so many families who want to work hard and get on in life,” he told EE.
Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham and the prime minister’s India diaspora champion, said the party was working hard to campaign for issues which affect ethnic communities.
“We are taking action like limiting the use of stop and search so everyone can have confidence in the police; speaking out about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka that are a particular concern to our Tamil community; and defending the religious slaughter of animals that means Jews and Muslims are free to follow their religions.
“On immigration, our policy is an effective sy-stem of controlled migration. The problems of a failing immigration system affect everyone and can particularly affect ethnic minority communities and recent migrants.”
Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambrid-ge, and justice minister, added that prime minister David Cameron’s leadership has hel-ped the party reach out to the Asian community more than ever before.
“We have made real progress which the community can clearly see. It is also worth remembering that many in the community recognise the importance of having a tough immigration policy and they also appreciate Conservative policies in trying to restore Britain’s economy,” he said.
Researchers, however, believe the party’s stance on immigration could cost them votes.
Ruth Grove-White, the report’s co-author from the Migrants Rights Network, said: “The electoral voice of migrants themselves has been largely overlooked. This new data shows just how important it is to speak to this constituency.
“The risk facing the parties today is that their current fierce rhetoric over immigration will have a lasting impact on the political orientations of the new migrant electorate.
“While we know migrant voters do not form a voting bloc, voting patterns suggest that migrant voters are likely to prefer parties they view as positive about race equality and immigration issues.”