9 Apr 2015

Is Labour’s ethnic minority vote holding up?

The focus on ethnic minority voting trends is often on the Tories and their failure to connect with BME voters – we reported on it last year in Wolverhampton. But there are signs that all is not stable in every part of Labour’s ethnic minority vote.

Look at the graphs for voter identification and you see voters of Afro-Caribbean and African background still pretty staunchly Labour – in these communities the problem for Labour is voter registration levels.

In the Pakistani community you see a drop off in identification with Labour after the Iraq war and then a stabilsing or levelling off.

But look at the Indian community and you see a very different graph. Identification with labour drops off after 1997 and in an almost equal decline does the same again from 2010 to 2014.

This is the sort of graph you would expect to see if a core vote was showing signs of crumbling.


Talking to voters at Sikh and Hindu temples around Harrow and Brent in west London and you get a strong sense of communities that are loosening some longstanding bonds.

The older voters in the Hindu temple I visited, men and women, raise their hands in unison when I ask if they are going to vote Labour. Speaking Gujerati, older women and men voters are clear: Labour is for them, the Tories for the rich. Though one woman insisted the Tories were “always for the Muslims.”

Talk to the younger generation and you get a very different picture. One elder said his son had been badgering him at dinner the night before to leave the Labour mothership and support the Tories. Other younger members of the congregation speak of respecting their elders’ advice on how to vote but then (politely) ignoring it.

Is Labour ethnic minority vote holding up? Tweet your answers to @Channel4News #minorityverdict

Professor Maria Sobalewski of Manchester University thinks it won’t reach a decisive tipping point at this election, though she forecasts some slippage in Labour’s ethnic minority vote and some staying at home.

But for 2020 (or whenever the next election is) she believes Labour could be in for big losses in ethnic minority support and, for its own good, needs to work out how to head this off.

One of the problems Professor Sobalewski found was strikingly low rates of voter contact amongst the ethnic minorities.

White voters recorded 54 per cent voter contact – written or personal contact with a political parties; amongst ethnic minorities the number was 29 per cent.

The causes appear to be a mixture of not venturing into areas where the population might live and engaging only through elders rather than contacting the voters direct.

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