British Election 2015

Ethnic minorities may swing British election's outcome

Black and Asian voters could for the first time decide which party wins Britain's 2015 election, and ruling Conservatives have the most to lose

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 6:26pm

A radical demographic shift means that Britain's ethnic minority vote may determine the outcome of the 2015 election, according to research.

A study by the cross-party group Operation Black Vote found the number of seats where black and Asian voters could decide the outcome had rocketed by 70 per cent compared with the 2010 election.

The study suggests that in 168 marginal seats, the ethnic minority vote is bigger than the majority of the sitting MP. The seats extend beyond inner-city areas to include smaller regional cities and towns such as Southampton, Oxford, Sherwood, Ipswich and Northampton.

The findings will be of particular concern to the ruling Conservatives, who have acknowledged that they are struggling to capture the ethnic minority vote. Experts say the trend will continue and may change the dynamics of British politics.

Simon Woolley, of Operation Black Vote, said: "The black vote has never been so powerful. This research is a political game-changer - above all, if ethnic minority communities and politicians respond positively to it, democracy wins."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, whose party is in coalition with the Tories, said: "Unless all parties and candidates engage with and seek to win BME [black and minority ethnic] support, they could be in political difficulty locally and see their general election prospects significantly set back."

According to one new estimate, the change in Britain's ethnic make-up may be enough to cost David Cameron the next election. The Conservatives' race deficit will cost them between 20 and 40 seats in 2015, according to Professor Anthony Heath, of Oxford University.

The black vote has never been so powerful. This research is a political game-changer - above all, if ethnic minority communities and politicians respond positively to it, democracy wins
Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote

In 2010, Labour polled its second worst result, but it was significantly ahead in the ethnic minority vote, with 68 per cent compared to the Tories' 16 per cent. By contrast, the Tories' polled 36 per cent of the vote overall, with 29 per cent for Labour.

Operation Black Vote estimates that the BME vote is bigger than the sitting MP's majority at the 2010 election in 99 seats, but those figures are based on the 2001 census, so probably underestimate the impact.

The Tories fell short of a majority by 20 seats. Heath, in a forthcoming book, says 10 of those were down to their race problem. "Minority voters can be won away from Labour, but only if you make active efforts, including addressing their concerns. There is little sign of long-term erosion from Labour," he said.

The Tories have introduced eye-catching measures in areas with high immigrant populations - including adverts telling illegal immigrants to go home - as they try to stop white working-class and lower middle-class voters moving to the UK Independence Party. Such measures play badly with ethnic minority voters.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Tory MP for Stratford-on-Avon, who has called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, said the findings should lead to a redoubling of efforts to attract black and Asian voters. "The party is in the midst of a debate and it is an issue which is now being taken seriously," he said.

In 2010 the Conservatives won 306 seats, 20 short of a majority, to Labour's 258, with the Lib Dems taking 57. For 2015, the Tory strategy is to hold their 40 most marginal seats and gain 40 to give them outright power.

Cameron has given Tory vice-chair Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West, the task of boosting the party's ethnic minority appeal. Sharma said: "The analysis . . . speaks for itself. But ultimately what matters to everyone who wants to work hard and get on in life, whatever their background, is fixing our economy."