How will Britain’s minorities vote?

Among certain groups, old party loyalties are beginning to shift.

Rakib Ehsan

Topics Politics UK

The UK is on the verge of yet another General Election – the third in four years.

With the UK’s relationship with the EU continuing to dominate national political discourse – nearly three-and-a-half years after the June 2016 referendum – the stakes could not be higher.

But there are other crucial factors at play, too – not least in ‘Urban England’, in which ethno-religious minorities will play an important part in deciding the outcome for certain constituencies.

Here is a round-up of the current state of affairs within a range of ethno-religious minorities, and where we may see notable shifts in party choice.

British Jews

Labour was once labelled the natural home for Britain’s Jews. But now it finds itself under investigation over allegations of institutional anti-Semitism. A raft of Jewish MPs have left the party, including Dame Louise Ellman – a party member for 55 years. A recent poll showed that 87 per cent of British Jews consider Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite. Forty-seven per cent would seriously consider relocating abroad if the Labour leader was to become PM.

Many eyes will be on the north London constituency Finchley and Golders Green, where the Liberal Democrats are hoping that recent recruit Luciana Berger, who left Labour after receiving anti-Semitic abuse, will pull off a stunning win in the heavily Jewish-concentrated seat. Figures from a recent Survation poll are encouraging for the former MP for Liverpool Wavertree.

All in all, it is looking increasingly likely that the Conservative Party will command an unprecedented level of British Jewish support – with Labour currently polling in single digits among such voters. This may prove critical in marginal Tory-held seats, such as Chipping Barnet and Hendon.

British Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims

Much has been made of the Labour Party becoming a ‘metropolitan party of north London’. As a result, commentators often rightly suggest that Labour is running the risk of losing pro-Brexit seats in its post-industrial heartlands, of northern England and the provincial Midlands.

But there are also a number of northern seats which, bar a spectacular miracle, are going to stay ‘rock red’ – such as Bradford West and Blackburn. While the Tories are likely to make headway in the provincial Midlands, eyeing up Brexit-facing marginals such as Ashfield and Newcastle-under-Lyme, Birmingham seats with a high South Asian Muslim presence (such as Hodge Hill) are expected to return Labour MPs with healthy majorities.

What’s more, while Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has announced that his party will not stand in seats won by the Tories in the last General Election, the steadfast support provided to Labour by British voters of South Asian Muslim heritage may prove crucial in Leave-leaning, Labour-held seats such as Peterborough, Keighley and Bedford (depending on the degree of the Conservative Party-Brexit Party ‘split’ of the broader pro-Leave vote).

My hometown of Luton (split into Luton North and Luton South) voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 13 percentage points. But as in other post-industrial towns with high South Asian Muslim populations, local Labour politics is strong here. Stranger things have happened, but Luton is highly unlikely to do anything other than return two Labour MPs at the next election.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has become an unapologetically pro-Palestinian force in British mainstream politics. The reality is that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sensitive issue for a great number of the UK’s South Asian Muslims. Kashmir has also emerged as a subject of great interest within the party, with many activists sharing Corbyn’s long-standing hostility towards current Indian PM Narendra Modi. They also supported a recent party conference motion criticising India over the revocation of Article 370.

British Indians

It is important to note that the ‘British Indian community’ is incredibly diverse in terms of region of origin, migratory background, and religious affiliation – with a notable proportion of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians (primarily followers of Roman Catholicism).

In terms of hourly pay, British people of Indian origin are the second-highest earners by ethnic group (coming after British people of Chinese origin). Recent evidence suggests that middle-class, upwardly mobile British Indians, who traditionally voted for Labour, are increasingly willing to give the Conservatives a hearing. Growing sections of the British Indian electorate have found themselves at odds with Corbyn-led Labour on both domestic and foreign-policy matters.

British voters of Gujarati Hindu origin – sharing the same ethno-religious heritage as home secretary Priti Patel – could provide a particularly high level of support for the Conservatives. Their relationship with Labour has further declined under Corbyn’s leadership over issues such as Kashmir and his critical stance towards Modi.

Britain’s middle-class Indian Hindus may even help to shore up Tory-held seats in west London such as Harrow East. For Labour, this is a problem – failing to win Remain-leaning marginal London constituencies such as Harrow East, along with Hendon (where prominent Hindu organisation Chinmaya Mission UK is based), would signal a fairly average election night for the party.

More broadly, Indian-origin voters are also an increasingly important voter constituency in ‘swing towns’ such as Milton Keynes and Watford. And it is worth noting that British Indians were the most pro-Brexit non-white ethnic group (with particularly high levels of Euroscepticism among those of Punjabi Sikh origin).

British black Caribbeans and Africans

Despite the term ‘Black Britain’ continuing to be peddled, it is one which is very much redundant.

Britain’s black Caribbeans are the most established non-white ethnic-minority grouping in terms of settlement, with the initial stream of migrants arriving shortly after the Second World War. Black Africans, themselves an ethnically and religiously diverse group, arrived far more recently. When compared to black Caribbeans, voters of black-African origin tend to be more satisfied with how British democracy works, as well as holding higher levels of trust in institutions such as the police force.

The Tories, having young MPs of Nigerian descent such as Bim Afolami and Kemi Badenoch, may hope to make some headway within a black African group that is aspirational and tends to hold a deep attachment to religious faith. A traditional, family-friendly message could hold weight with voters of black-African origin. While only 9.6 per cent of black-Caribbean households contain a married couple with dependent children, the corresponding figure for black-African households is 20.3 per cent.

For the past three General Elections, the Conservative share of support among black Caribbeans was lower than the share among black Africans. The Windrush scandal, including the death of Dexter Bristol, is likely to have further hardened relations between the Conservatives and the broader black-Caribbean community. Meanwhile, Labour’s vocal opposition to the perceived abuse of police procedures such as stop-and-search means it is well-positioned with black Caribbeans, who suffer from particularly acute forms of political disaffection, and hold historically poor levels of trust in the police. This is largely a legacy of the London Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.


Certain parts of the wider British ethnic-minority population are increasingly up for grabs in an unpredictable and fragmented electoral marketplace.

What’s more, while domestic policies remain the bread and butter of UK General Elections, ethnic and religious diversity means that the impact of international geopolitics on national voter considerations should not be underestimated.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a spiked columnist. His PhD specialised in British ethnic-minority sociopolitical attitudes and behaviour. Views expressed in this article are solely representative of the author.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Kevin Neil

13th November 2019 at 7:11 pm

Meanwhile, in Leicester East – a constituency with one of the highest Indian demographics in the country – Labour has selected a white female candidate who just happened to chair Labour’s National Conference when it passed an anti-India motion!
To say it has not gone down well locally would be an understatement!!!
Will be interesting to see how that one plays out!

Marvin Jones

13th November 2019 at 2:49 pm

Mention Israel and Palestine, and 99% Moslems will vote for the LP. Purely because of their naïve and ignorant allegiance to one faction, their own, no matter in what circumstances. What is baffling are the Jews. Especially the one’s who still show support and allegiance to labour regardless of the hatred they covertly show for them. Shocking how those Jews are also so ignorant and naïve.

Gerard Barry

14th November 2019 at 9:02 am

Across Western countries, most people from ethnic minorities tend to vote left, partly because they buy into the identity politics that such parties peddle. The ironic thing that in their countries of origin most of them vote(d) right-wing conservatice. Take the Turks in Germany: they tend to vote for the SPD in Germany and for Erdogan back in Turkey.

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Ven Oods

12th November 2019 at 1:29 pm

I have to admit that, interesting though I found the article, the subject of the author’s PhD reminded me of why the UK’s universities fill me with foreboding. Whither education? (Or should that be ‘wither’?)

Gerard Barry

12th November 2019 at 11:17 am

“The reality is that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sensitive issue for a great number of the UK’s South Asian Muslims.”

I’ve always found it odd, and actually quite disturbing, how Muslims the world over seem the take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so personally. Why? As a Catholic, I would never take a conflict involving other Catholics in, say, South America, personally. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict really only affects Israel, Palestine and those countries’ neighbours.

Neil John

12th November 2019 at 2:09 pm

The issue has become a lever for the Muslim clerics and a means to push a harder line, Israel is held up as a sign of A’s discontent with Muslims drifting away from M’s teachings.

Gerard Barry

12th November 2019 at 8:11 pm

A and M?

jessica christon

12th November 2019 at 9:39 pm

Allah and Mohammed?

Jim Lawrie

12th November 2019 at 4:57 pm

It is part of today’s seeking of vicarious grievance and victimhood.

H McLean

12th November 2019 at 8:45 pm

Gerard, the reason is the Arab Islamic concept of ‘Ummah’, which views all Muslims as part of an interconnected global community regardless of faith and ethnicity. A modern equivalent would be ‘Where We Go One, We Go All’.

Gerard Barry

13th November 2019 at 9:38 am

Given that there are nearly two billion Muslims in the world, I find the concept of “Ummah” quite worrying then. This attitude also suggests that Muslims are quite bigoted, in the sense that they don’t care what happens to Christians, Jews, etc., as long as their Muslim “brothers and sisters” are never mistreated. Maybe we in the West should start thinking along similar lines and start supporting our oppressed fellow Christians in the Middle East, for example.

T Zazoo

15th November 2019 at 8:24 pm

Yes, it is disturbing. The reason it exists is that Islam is not just a religion or a matter of personal conscience. It’s a political philosophy. They tend to identify with their co-believers all over the world in the same way that communists have an ‘International’. Catholicism used to be like this also, but it’s political power has been broken, or greatly diminished. Thank goodness.

Jim Lawrie

12th November 2019 at 10:20 am

There is a difference in voting intentions between unskilled Muslims in the North who are having a hard time of it, and the unskilled who live, say, around Heathrow and now see their sons apprenticed to trade if they are good enough, and baggage handlers/service workers like themselves if they are not.

The above article comes across as an opinion piece. It mentions a changing outlook among ethnic minorities but does not go any further.

Winston Stanley

12th November 2019 at 2:00 am

70% of J ewish voters voted TP in 2015 GE, only 22% for LP under Miliband. They were motivated not by “anti-semitism” but by the attitude of the parties to the state of I srael. Their own research shows that they tend to form a Z ionist block vote.

> Around 73 per cent of J ews said the political parties’ attitudes to I srael were “very” or “quite” important in influencing how they would vote.
The polling revealed that Mr Miliband’s approach to I srael and the Middle East is seen as toxic within the J ewish community. Just 10 per cent of people said he had the best approach, compared to 65 per cent who favoured Mr Cameron’s stance. – The JC.

Interesting, Rakib points out that perceived anti-J ewish tendencies in LP may influence J ewish votes but not that perceived anti-Muslim attitudes in the TP may influence Muslim votes. Rather he makes it about P alestine and Kashmir for Muslims and all about ethnic attitudes for J ews. He avoids the natural symmetry of the comparison, it is all about anti-ethnic attitudes for J ews and all about state politics for Muslims according to Rakib. Which is obviously and verifiably untrue. It is about both for each.

LP received 77% of all ethnic votes at the 2017 GE. More of them voted for Brexit in 2016 than for TP.

An overwhelming majority of Black Africans voted LP in 2017 (about 80%), so Rakib may not want to get his hopes up too high on that count, as did also Caribbeans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, and a majorty of Indians (about 60%).

Ethnic voters are as likely to turn out to vote as anyone else. The TP vote among Muslims is likely to head toward zero in 2019. They are likely to lose various seats over that, maybe 20.

Maybe Hindus will be motivated by Kashmir and the attitudes of the parties to Kashmir, and they will form a Hindu nationalist block to some extent, as J ews form a Z ionist block. We will have to wait and see. It will be interesting to get distinct figures on how UK Indian Muslims vote, they certainly have distinct voting patterns in India, which is hardly surprising with regard to a Hindu nationalist government there.

TP is also likely to lose all, or nearly all of Scotland. Remainer alliances have also been formed in Wales and NI which will likely lose them a few more. It may be that mainly only ethnic English (and now J ews) vote TP, which would have interesting consequences as the population continues to diversify in the coming decades. Likely Scotland and NI have already been lost to UK within the next decade, so future GEs are going to be all about England and Wales.

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