British Indians are the most populous minority in Britain. With a total of 1.4 million scattered throughout our democracy, they play a significant part electorally. However, in the past 10 years there has been a significant change in the voting behaviour of these British Indians. Whilst before 2010 Labour controlled this minority, they have started to switch to the Conservatives.
Although the number of opinion polls undertaken specifically for British Indians is limited, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the swing. Firstly, the optimist and YouGov poll in 2019 from the Labour Party declined 12 points among British Indians since 2017. Furthermore, a Runnymede poll found that in 2010, 30% of British Indians voted for the Conservatives and this was at 40% by 2017. This is all evidence of the Conservatives managing to engage this minority and steadily change their voting behaviour.
While these statistics are densely populated it shows a general trend of British Indians voting more for the Conservative party. Personally, I have experience of this; I am a British Indian. I see my immediate and wider family being drawn to the Conservative Party and have watched these changes in my community take place.
The Labour Party have damaged their relationship with Indian communities; primarily due to their handling of the Kashmir issue. Jeremy Corbyn has regularly commented upon Kashmir which has frustrated the Indian Government and many British Indian voters. Kashmir is seen as internal issue for India and Pakistan to resolve. They believe it does not fall within the remit of the international community. The Labour Party Conference in 2019 saw the “Kashmir Motion” call for international investigators to be allowed in to Kashmir.
Some people have viewed this as an attempt to interfere in Kashmir which is against the wishes of the Indian Government. Whilst it did not disillusion all Indian voters many did feel like the Labour Party had let them down, and the Guardian acknowledged this in an article describing the backlash by the British Indian Community. Jeremy Corbyn has also been a vocal critic of Narendra Modi’s policies.
For those Indians who disagree with Modi it has been positive for the Labour party, but those who agree with Modi have turned away. The statistics imply that many have agreed with Modi and hence Corbyn lost these voters. Modi is a generally popular Prime Minister in India and to many Indians. The Labour Party must acknowledge that some British Indians, including many in my family, have been alienated and frustrated by them.
However, the Conservative party also ought to be praised for their action on this issue. Lord Dollar Popat is a key figure throughout this. He transformed the party’s efforts to work with the British Indian community and learnt what is important to them. He created the CFI- Conservative Friends of India. The CFI works to engage the British Indian community and the party. It has had superb results.
This has broken down many barriers between the party and the community. However, he's also worked hard to engage David Cameron and Theresa May with what mattered to the community. They were both pictured attending religious festivals including Diwali. A significant moment was David Cameron in 2014 attending the London Diwali Fest. Many British Indians saw this as crucial to them- he really did engage with the community.
Other events have also been crucial. Firstly, Narendra Modi gave a speech at Wembley Stadium with David Cameron as the warm up act! This blossoming relationship again connected with British Indians. Finally the Conservative Party commissioned a special song for British Indians- “Neela Hai Aasma.” This means Blue Sky in Hindi and went viral over the internet. This was incredibly significant in further building a relationship the community.
One party has managed to alienate its voters and the other have worked hard to draw them in. It tells a story within itself; however, policy has also played a key part. British Indians have been rising the classes throughout the past 20 years and have got the highest earnings out of any ethnic minority on average.
Hence, they have been drawn to the Conservative low taxes. They also as a minority were the most likely to vote for Brexit and hence are again drawn. It is not just down to the work of David Cameron and Lord Dollar Popat, but also down the policy of the party.
British Indians are no longer consistently voting Labour. Put simply, Labour took them for granted as a “block vote.” This ineptitude and arrogance has cost them the initiative. The Conservative party have been rewarded for these efforts and has upped their vote share.
However, what is key is that ethnic minorities now don’t always vote Labour. British Indians are the trendsetters here for other ethnic minorities to move away from block voting. This is crucial as it has the power to fundamentally change electoral assumptions, for now and the future.