EXPERTS believe Labour’s influence over the British Asian vote is getting worse, as new research shows support for the party from ethnic communities is rapidly dwindling.
Indian voters showed the most drastic change since 1997, with just 18 per cent saying they identified with Labour in 2014 – down from 77 per cent more than a decade ago.
Research from the British Election Study also indicated that among Pakistanis, Labour was likely to be the party of choice for 57 per cent of the voters, a drop from 77 per cent previously, and within the African community too, support has dropped from 79 to 63 per cent.
Dr Maria Sobolewska, an academic from Manchester University who was involved in the Ethnic Minority British Election Study told Eastern Eye that black and ethnic minority (BME) communities had “huge” political clout, which was being wasted.
She said: “We showed in our other research that parties contacted the ethnic minority voters much less during the 2010 election campaign than they did otherwise with identical white voters.
“Now I hope my results will shake them into action.
“Ethnic minorities have a huge political power and it does often go untapped because of this issue of who else to vote for.”
She cautioned that Labour had to wake up to the collapse in their crucial ethnic minority vote, before they risk losing further support.
“Sadly I think the situation is worse for them on other fronts – like losing the white working class vote to UKIP – and they will act shortsightedly and decide to ignore the melting away of their minority core… until they start losing more than one seat here and there because of it,” she said.
“The situation will get worse as a result and maybe in 2020 they will finally wake up to it.”
It is, however, unclear which party would benefit from Labour’s loss of Asian votes, Dr Sobolewska added, but she said the Conservative Party could benefit from this if they tackled issues of discrimination and prejudice with a more head on approach.
“Their narrative on immigration would not hurt them as much as people generally think as minorities are not on the whole enormously supportive of immigration, but some of the policies and narratives would have to be softened.”
She highlighted how the controversial campaign by the coalition government which used ‘go home’ adverts on vans to urge illegal immigrants to leave Britain voluntarily, was an example of the kind of narrative on immigration that must change.
“Ethnic minority view on immigration is not much different from white English people. They oppose immigration little less however and where they differ, is that they think immigration has been a positive influence on Britain. That’s something the Conservatives really need to ram home.
“They sometimes say immigration has been good but now has to stop, but it’s not really a believable message. They have to find a way to marry these two messages because although this is how the Conservative Party thinks, I don’t think voters believe them.”
All political parties she said, were making voters feel distant in their campaigning because they were focusing too much on key target seats.
“This really is the root of a lot of problems, not just losing minority voters but even the growth of UKIP is down to the fact that people feel ignored by the main political parties,” she said.
“The problem often is the Labour Party doesn’t directly engage with minority voters, and often with Asian populations. They have to go back to basics and bring back the disaffected white voters and the slowly disaffected minority voters.”
In the previous 2010 election, the Conservatives drew 16 per cent of the ethnic vote and senior party members have acknowledged that they need more support from the Asian and black communities if they are to win in May 2015.
In October, Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged that if the party won the election next year, “in every Government Department there will be a comprehensive Race Equality Strategy to tackle those persistent inequalities that many black people face”.