2 July 2024

Ethnic minority voters are leaving the Tories behind


While Thursday’s general election feels very much like a formality – likely resulting in a so-called Labour ‘supermajority’ and one of the worst performances for the Conservative Party in its history – there could be interesting trends which emerge from Britain’s ever-growing ethnic minority population.

Fresh polling by YouGov suggests that while Labour is expected to win most ethnic-minority votes cast, there are racial and ethnic differences which demonstrate the complicated nature of Britain’s electoral landscape. While Pakistani-heritage and Bangladeshi-origin support for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was in the region of 90%, the YouGov poll suggests that this could drop to under half (44%).

There is little doubt that much of this is down to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s position on Israel-Gaza, where he seemed to express support for the cutting of water and electricity for the relatively youthful Gazan population following the October 7 Hamas-led terror attacks. Starmer has also landed himself in hot water with some British Bangladeshis after an interview with The Sun. When discussing illegal migration, Starmer specifically pinpointed Bangladesh as a country where migrants needed to be returned – even though Bangladeshis are rarely associated with the ongoing small-boats emergency on the English south coast (especially when compared with countries of origin such as Vietnam, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, and Kuwait).

The primary beneficiaries of the fraying of relations between Labour and the country’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities may be the Greens (who support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and are decidedly more classically left-wing in terms of economic policy). The Green Party is also able to connect with British Muslims over Islam’s emphasis on environmental stewardship (something which has been previously emphasised by King Charles III).

Labour’s support among British Indians – one of the most academically and professionally successful ethnic groups in the UK which is diverse in terms of faith but is a Hindu-plurality section of the electorate – is at 40% (with the Tories trailing on 32%). While this may not necessarily appear to be impressive, it is worth noting that this has been one of the main ethnic-minority groups (along with black Africans) who have been relatively open to giving the Tories a hearing and voting for them in past general elections. Existing studies have also suggested that Indians in the UK are the most pro-Brexit ethnic-minority group. There have also been anxieties in the past among British Indians (especially Hindus) over Labour’s fraternisation with questionable Muslim organisations under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. For the Labour Party to be ahead of the Tories by eight percentage points among British Indians is welcome news for Starmer – and may also give the Labour vote a decent push in English towns such as Swindon, Nuneaton, and Grays Thurrock.

Where Labour seems to be dominating is among British black voters, with the YouGov polling (which did not do Caribbean/African splits) suggesting that Labour is on course to win around three in four voters (72% expressing an intention to vote for the party). This wasn’t helped by the Conservatives continuing to embroil themselves in race-related controversies – including the scandal involving top Tory donor Frank Hester, who reportedly said that looking at Diane Abbott (the UK’s longest-serving black MP) made him ‘want to hate all black women’. It is worth noting that black Britons are on average not as socio-economically successful as British Indians and neither do they prioritise Israel-Gaza as a key election issue to the same degree Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities do. Therefore, Britain’s black population – especially in relatively deprived parts of south London – arguably represents the strongest electoral ground for Labour in the country.

What all of this tells us is that the electoral portrait of modern Britain is a changing and complicated one – but ultimately presents a picture of the Tories being left behind. Only one in ten black Britons intend to vote for the Conservatives, dropping even further to just 7% for British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – despite these groups including many who are deeply family-oriented, have faith at the heart of their everyday lives, and strong ties to the Commonwealth. The Tories may be a so-called party of the Right, but have extraordinarily weak ties with some of the most socially conservative voters in the country – something which needs to be addressed during its period of post-election introspection.

Crucially, the latest ethnic-minority survey once again calls for us to do away with hopeless acronyms such as ‘BAME’ and ridiculous American-origin phrases like ‘global majority’. To best understand the realities of contemporary Britain, they must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

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Dr Rakib Ehsan is an independent research consultant who specialises in British ethnic-minority political behaviour and social attitudes.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.