BRITAIN’S Asian communities were at the centre of the battle for votes in this week’s general election, as the major parties pulled out all the stops to secure their support.
From the release of a campaign song singing the praises of prime minister David Cameron in Hindi to visits to gurdwaras and temples across Britain, politicians tried their best to woo the three million British- Asian voters in the UK. Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan was roped in by the longestserving Asian MP, Keith Vaz, who attracted large crowds in his constituency of Leicester East, recently.
Last weekend, Cameron visited the Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, north London, in the final run up to the election on Thursday (7) to appeal to the British Hindu community.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband, accompanied by his wife Justine dressed in a salwar kameez, tried to charm Asians at the Swaminarayan temple in Willesden Green last month where he received special blessings from the temple’s priest.
On Tuesday (5), deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg paid a visit to a Bengali restaurant in Cardiff and tried his hand at making curry for his party members on the campaign trail.
Sunder Katwala, director of independent thinktank British Future, told Eastern Eye that it was good to see parties “waking up” to the importance of ethnic minority voters in this election.
“In such a tight race, Asian voters in marginal seats like Harrow, Ealing and Keighley could decide the overall result on Thursday.
“Our analysis found David Cameron would have won a majority in 2010 if he had improved the Conservatives’ limited appeal to non-white voters.
“There’s been a risk that Tories were seeing minority voters as beyond their reach, while Labour was taking their votes for granted. That’s bad for ethnic minorities and for our democracy. I hope that’s changing and these important votes are seen as up for grabs.”
New analysis of data from the British Election Study last week showed Labour leader Miliband was on course to get just 47 per cent of the black and Asian vote – down from the 69 per cent of the ethnic vote that ex-Labour prime minister Gordon Brown captured in 2010. Meanwhile, the proportion of Asians voting for the Conservatives has increased from 16 per cent five years ago to around 23 per cent now.
BBC Newsnight’s pollster Chris Hanretty however predicts that six Conservative seats in London could go red due to a strong performance from Labour among BME voters.
Katwala said younger voters will be able to see through some of the tactics employed by parties to lure them in – arguing parties had to show them policies that connected with them in order to win their vote.
“I wonder if minority voters, especially younger voters, are really interested now in photocalls at temples and statues of Gandhi. I think it’s probably time for something more substantive – finding out what policies and messages connect with ethnic minority voters and which are a turn-off,” said Katwala.
Thinktank Policy Exchange found last year that minorites could make up a third of the country’s population by 2050, making it imperative for parties to engage with them, campaigners said. A report by Operation Black Vote (OBV) in conjunction with Eastern Eye found that the BME electorate could decide over one quarter of the seats in the 2015 general election.
Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, told EE: “In such a tight election race, the BME vote has become a golden vote. “This is because it is our vote that will decide so many critical seats in London, the home counties, Midlands and the North West. Our demand has been simple: Greater race equality.”
Industrialist Lord Swraj Paul said the tactics by the parties were all attempts to sway every last vote.
“Indians look at which party does the best for the whole community. So far, the record of the Labour Party has been better. But ultimately every little helps when you are desperate, and Mr Cameron needs all the help at the moment,” he said, predicting a tough battle ahead for the ruling Conservative party.
“We are most definitely headed for a hung parliament; all that remains to be seen is which way it will all hang,” the chairman of the Caparo Group added.
According to the latest YouGov opinion poll for The Sun published on Monday (4), the Conservatives and Labour are tied at 33 percent. The poll showed Conservatives down one percentage point from last Sunday (3) versus Labour, who remained unchanged.