Britain

South Asians could hold balance of power in key marginal seats

South Asians no longer voting as a bloc could hold the balance of power in key marginal seats in the general election.

Maria Sobolewska, an expert in voting behaviour at the University of Manchester, has researched voting patterns in ethnic groups and found the community elders' grip on Asian voting habits is losing its force.

She said: "South Asians are behaving more and more like a white British voter in a sense that they shop around for a political party.

"A lot of Asian-origin and minority-origin voters want to vote on economic competence, on the NHS, on education.

"In a handful of marginal constituencies, the British Asians could hold the balance of power if the Conservatives manage to successfully appeal to them."

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In Pendle, Lancashire, one in five people come from a South Asian background – almost three times the national average.

The majority of them are Pakistani Muslims, brought to the UK by the owners of cotton mills needing cheap labour in the 1960s.

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For years, this group has voted en masse for the Labour Party, but modern politics and the fall-out from the EU referendum are dividing these communities and their families.

Image: Misbah Rani describes herself as Labour through and through

Misbah Rani is Lancashire born and bred. She describes herself as Labour through and through, mainly because of the influence of her family and the community.

She said: "Everybody votes Labour. Your friends and your family – families are very loyal. The Conservatives' reputation is making the rich richer and the poor poorer".

But her husband, Muhammad Hussnain, voted Conservative at the last election – mainly due to their promise of free childcare, a decision at the ballot box his wife jokingly called "betrayal".

Their political views were divided by the EU referendum: Misbah supported Remain, while her husband voted Leave. He said: "Would I vote Leave again? Would I heck. But if I'm being really honest, whoever promises to get Brexit done will win this seat."

Mohammed Hussnein
Image: Misbah's husband voted Conservative at the last election

Misbah admits she's forced to re-examine her political opinions every day, due to the pressures of the Asian community. She said elder members of Asian society, known as 'Uncles' play on family ties for her vote.

She said: "Asian Uncles knock on my door saying 'you're voting Conservative'. And I'm like, 'Am I'? They say 'yeah, I worked with your dad 40 years ago…'"

She said it's taken time for her to "pluck up the courage" to suggest she's voting on each party's policies, but that her friends who are switching sides shows disloyalty: "These are people who came to the country under a Labour government – they're the reason they're here, not the Conservatives."

At Awaaz FM, we hosted a phone-in on presenter Rabia Aziz's radio show, where all the callers were keen to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Labour.

But the constituency voted for a Conservative MP in 2017 – and it's clear the South Asian vote helped secure that victory.

Muhammad Tariq
Image: As a Leave voter, Muhammad Tariq is unconvinced by Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

Estate agent Muhammad Tariq has been a Labour Party member his whole life, until now.

As a Leave voter, he's unconvinced by Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. He said: "I've switched in a big way – in the local election last year the Tory party won because of the vast majority of Asian votes.

"If I can change my views – my very strong views where I campaigned every year – normal people can change just like that."

Another South Asian group noticeably increasing its support for the Conservative Party in both 2017 and 2015 are British Indians, in particular Sikhs and Hindus.

For many of them, this general election is about delivering the result of the EU referendum, even if that means changing lifelong voting habits.

The trend is reflected south of the Peak District in West Bromwich East, which has been Labour-held since its creation in 1974.

Again, one in five people are Asian, who strongly supported the former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson.

But 68% of the constituency voted to leave the EU, and now the Conservatives think it's winnable.

Manjit and Ravi Phull
Image: Manjit and Ravi Phull run a metalworks based in West Bromwich

Manjit and Ravi Phull run a metalworks based in West Bromwich, with a diverse workforce mainly made up of Indians. It's been a family business in the town for decades.

"I voted out", Manjit said. "And I know Conservatives want to leave now. So I have to support my vote, and I'm hapRead More – Source