8 Apr 2015

Election 2015: ethnic voters – disconnected or disregarded?

Home Affairs Correspondent

Birmingham-born musician Apache Indian tells Darshna Soni that the complacency of political parties towards ethnic voters is “an election crisis”, as he urges young people to go out and vote.

“It’s called an election…you know, you go and vote for who will be Prime Minister?”

He is surrounded by a large crowd of young people, trying to explain what’s happening in May. Wherever we go in Handsworth, Apache Indian is mobbed by people wanting to talk to him.

The self-styled bhangra ragamuffin is one of Handsworth’s most famous sons, who enjoyed a string of hits in the 80s including Boom-shac-a-lac. Most people want to pose for a picture and talk to him about music.

But he has other matters on his mind. “Are you going to vote, yeah? Are you even registered?” Apache (real name Steven Kapur) isn’t standing for election. But he is out canvassing against what he calls an election crisis.

Apache Indian being interviewed by Darshna Soni (Channel 4 News)

He tells me “Look, so many people here are feeling really disconnected. They want to vote, but they don’t know who to vote for. They’re feeling like nobody is representing them. Even myself, I haven’t got a clue who I’ll be supporting.”

In a large room within Handsworth College, Apache runs a music academy.

It’s one of the few youth centres left in the area, and attracts young people from different backgrounds. I meet them as they rehearse their music.

They are enthusiastic, fun and interested in why we’re filming. And yet, none of them are interested in the election. “I don’t see the point in voting. Nothing round here every changes. none of the parties are doing anything for young people.” 22-year-old Sabah tells me.

When a Jamaican friend stood as a Tory councillor, we were horrified!

Many of their parents settled here in Handsworth in the 50s and 60s, mainly from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian continent. It’s one of the most diverse communities in the country and the ethnic population here is well over 70 per cent.

Traditionally, they have tended to vote for Labour – but that’s changing.

At his busy car garage, I met Ken Ivey. He settled here from Jamaica when he was 12. Mr Ivey told me his community always saw Labour as the natural party for working class immigrants.

Complacency

The party won nearly 70 per cent of the black and ethnic vote at the last election, compared to 16 per cent for the Tories. But there is a warning for Labour – do not be complacent.

“I think Labour are taking us for granted,” Mr Ivey said. “In years gone by, my community was all Labour, Labour, Labour.

“In fact when a Jamaican friend stood as a Tory councillor, we were horrified! But not any more. Now we are all looking around to see who will best represent us and meet our needs as business owners.”

Many people here told me they don’t see themselves reflected in parliament – there are currently 27 black and Asian MPs – but if that truly represented the population, there would be between 65 and 90, according to research by Operation Black Vote.

Beauty salon owner Gurdip Saund (Channel 4 News)

Gurdip Saund owns and manages a beauty salon. He has always lived and worked locally. The area has been safely Labour since the 1970s.

But Mr Saund says because of that poltiicians no longer bother canvasing here. “We never see them.

“Even after the riots here (in 2011), they promised this and that, but they didn’t deliver.”

Mr Saund wants to see parties focusing on issues like regeneration. Instead, he says, the rhetoric has been all about immigration because of a perceived threat from UKIP. And that’s playing badly here.

Britain’s ethnic voters could determine the outcome in nearly 170 seats in next month’s election – and yet all parties are accused of failing to respond.

Of course, this group is not the only one politicians will have to respond to. But they could be the most important.

If the Conservatives had done better at reaching out to them in 2010, they could have won with an overall majority.