The Telegraph ran a disingenuous article early this week citing a Demos report with the headline – ‘Middle class Indians could help the Tories win the General Election’. The Demos report, by Trevor Phillips and Richard Webber, was released on Friday and shows quite clearly that in fact, British Indians could help Labour win the general election.
Number one, ethnicity as well as class affects voting patterns and continues to do so even if in more unpredictable ways with successive waves of migration and ‘integration’.
Number two, that a person is ‘BME’ doesn’t tell you much about their voting patterns and behaviour – which is likely to depend on other factors as well.
Certain parts of the BME vote are noted in the report as being much more resilient than others. The report shows that if you’re African-Caribbean, or British Muslim your vote is much more likely to come out for Labour. And the Labour vote is more resilient in areas where there are clusters of BME voters of a particular community.
The vote for Labour becomes less resilient when we encounter BME individuals who are in mixed communities, and also when we look beyond the ‘catch-all’ term ‘BME’ to the diversity that this term masks.
British Indians, the report says – are least likely of minority ethnic communities to vote Labour (Labour’s lead with British Indian voters here is cut from 30.9% down to 13.3%).
But – and this is my ‘number three’ point – that the vote is less resilient doesn’t make it less important, or mean we should write it off as important to Labour’s electoral prospects. Quite the opposite.
What this does mean is that a new battleground is emerging in key marginal constituencies, as the patterns of migration mean that second and third generation BME communities move out of ‘cluster’ areas into ‘non-cluster’ areas which have always more traditionally voted Conservative or LibDem. This matters – particularly in London – where considerations of ethnic, familial, social loyalties and political loyalties have the potential to muddy the waters, and where outer London seats display extraordinary levels of split voting at the GLA level.
This is likely to have most effect in traditionally ‘Tory-voting’ and marginal areas that were once seen as no-go areas for Labour. We see this with parts of the Jewish left leaning vote in marginal constituencies (Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green) where those who are Jewish (and a socially-mobile British Indian electorate) are more likely to vote Labour than their income and wealth levels may otherwise indicate.
Interestingly the Demos report touches on an important point which is then dropped later on in the narrative. What matters in an election for a marginal seat isn’t just appeal, but also appeal to those who turn out and can be turned out to vote. The Obama campaign, which was extremely successful with minority ethnic voters (who were still very much a ‘minority’ in straightforward numerical terms) has shown that it is often effective to target a ‘GOTV’ campaign at minority ethnic households. For these reasons I would have liked to have seen more research on the tendency of specific BME groups to ‘turn out’ as well as information on likelihood to respond to a GOTV campaign. One for subsequent Demos reports, I suspect.
The report also suggests as an afterthought (disappointingly) that British Indian voters are likelier to vote on issues and questions of the economy and taxation rather than on questions of society. This is a rather generic statement that doesn’t really dig into what appeals to the specific group.
Of course we need to get the messaging right on both the economy and taxation, but also look beyond these core issues towards added value and a sharper focus on other specific issues likely to appeal to those we are communicating with and to connect those with core Labour values. These include an emphasis on better education, improved schools, a better National Health Service, our support for SMEs and improved working conditions for the self-employed. Labour’s record on equalities is second-to-none and we should trumpet that more clearly.
For many British Indian working women, a solid offer on childcare and on other matters that make a balance of working and domestic life possible for families will also resonate.
Overall, the Demos report is excellent – I’ve not read anything as nuanced as this on the ‘BME vote’ issue for quite some time – it too often is lumped into a homogenous mass and dismissed as ‘safe Labour’ by commentators on both the right and the left. It’s good these assumptions are being eroded.
What we as a Labour Party, need to take away from this report are key lessons which – if applied, could make the difference in winning Labour several key London marginals.
In short – British Indians could help Labour – not the Tories – win the General Election.