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Failure to win over ethnic minority voters could cost Tories or Labour the election

20 April 2015


Increasing their party's appeal to ethnic minority voters could help decide whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband emerges as Prime Minister, according to our report Race and Elections released 20 April 2015.

David Cameron faces a crucial battle to hold on to nine of the most ethnically diverse Conservative seats - according to constituency polls and election analysis. Whether he or Ed Miliband comes through in these seats could determine who governs Britain, giving the large ethnic minority populations in those seats an increasingly powerful voice in British democracy. 

The report Race and Elections, covers ethnic minority voters, candidates, the far right, UKIP, religious mobilisation, registration and BME groups in Scotland. It reveals that the parties were only half as likely to contact ethnic minority as white British voters in 2010. They need to close that gap this month, or they may be losing votes that could make all the difference.

Dr Omar Khan, Director of the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, which produced the report, said: 

“In coming elections the younger BME population will be a rising share of voters from Edinburgh to Exeter, meaning that all MPs must learn how to respond to the ethnic minority concerns highlighted in this report. The major political parties are all worried about the threat of UKIP to their electoral vote share and have re-shaped their messages and policies, particularly around immigration, accordingly. But look at the key marginal seats and it becomes clear this no longer makes electoral sense as a strategy in the Britain of 2015 – and if parties don’t speed up their response to ethnic minority voters they could pay an ever heavier price in a changing Britain in 2020 and 2025.

Together the contributions indicate the increasing importance of the BME vote, and how all the major political parties are struggling to respond to demographic change in 21st century Britain. There were 5 million more BME people reported in the 2011 Census as compared to 1991. The UK’s ethnic minority population now represents 8 million people: roughly the combined population of Scotland and Wales.

The report’s demographic analysis sets out why the ethnic minority vote will be an increasingly important part of the election battle – showing how Britain’s diversity is not only growing, it is spreading out across the country from the inner cities to a great many more marginal seats across the suburbs and market towns.

In 1992 when John Major delivered the last Conservative majority, there were only 7 seats with more than 40% BME population, and the majority of seats had less than 2% BME population. Today there are around 50 seats with a 40% BME population and the majority of seats are more than 5% BME.

The Conservatives today hold four seats over this 40% threshold, and another five seats where BME residents are a third of the population. Whether or not the Conservatives can hold on to these nine seats including Harrow East, Hendon and Croydon Central, or whether Labour can hold on to its leads locally in the final weeks, will be crucial to deciding who governs.

However it’s not just in London, Birmingham and Bradford where the BME vote is now significant, but Cheadle, Cambridge and Ipswich. The increasing dispersal of BME voters to the suburbs and towns mean that the ‘typical’ English seat, particularly in the Southeast, will be much more diverse than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Conservatives last won parliamentary majorities. By 2021, even Tunbridge Wells and Thanet will have BME populations that approach 8-10%.

Labour should not be complacent, however. If they had retained their support from BME voters from the 1980s and 1990s they might have won a dozen more seats in 2010, and they should be concerned that as BME voters, particularly Indians, become better off, they are more likely to support the Conservatives. And just as working class and Scottish voters are no longer solidly Labour supporting, so too might younger ethnic minority voters turn elsewhere as they are much less likely to identify with Labour than their parents. While Labour has a stronger historical record in passing major race relations legislation, and is without the baggage of Enoch Powell, ethnic inequalities persisted throughout the Blair/Brown years and remain a prominent feature of our classrooms, boardrooms, and hospitals, and in our wider culture, media and sport.

The contributions to Race and Elections show the complexity of the issues involved in ethnic minority voting, issues that are rarely addressed in an evidence-based manner. Overall the report shows that race and ethnicity can no longer be viewed as a ‘minority’ concern, and there are opportunities and challenges in 2015 and beyond for any politician seeking to represent modern Britain.

Download RACE AND ELECTIONS from this link.