A recent report by the Migrants Rights Network (MRN) and the University of Manchester highlighted the strength in numbers migrants will have in the upcoming General Election. However, despite what some right-wing papers would have you believe, they are by no means a voting bloc.
The report told us that 4 million migrants are eligible to vote and will influence the outcome of 70 seats. A number of those seats are marginal, but in two of those seats, both in London – East Ham (Labour, Stephen Timms) and Brent North (Labour, Barry Gardiner) – the migrant share of the vote is 51% and 50% respectively. East Ham in polling terms is classified as ultra-safe, but Brent North is relatively safe. Outside of London, Leicester East (Labour, Keith Vaz) and Birmingham Ladywood (Labour, Shabana Mahmood) both have huge migrant populations who can vote and are regarded as generally safe for the sitting Labour MPs.
Conservatives will try to hold on to the super-marginals Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and Ealing Central & Acton (Angie Bray) in London, which have 43% and 37% migrant shares of the vote respectively. Outside of London, Reading East (Rob Wilson) will be where the most migrant voters will be living in a Conservative seat with a 20% share of the vote. Rob Wilson is relatively safe but UK Polling Report calls this seat ‘semi-marginal’, which means literally every vote will come into play on 7th May.
Liberal Democrats will need to defend outgoing Sarah Teather’s small majority in Brent Central where migrants are a hefty 44% strong. Outside of London, Bradford East MP David Ward, who has one of the smallest majorities in parliament, will be fighting for the 20% migrant share of the vote to get him over the line on Election Day. Both seats are Labour’s top targets.
It’s not surprising that the vast majority of these voters live in London and are heavily concentrated in certain cities around the UK. Economic migrants, mainly of Indian, Pakistani, and Irish heritage, make up the huge numbers on the list and find themselves dispersed across the UK.
Commonwealth migrants have, unsurprisingly, the monopoly on the overall share of the votes. Recent European migrants have started to make significant inroads into the list, although they find themselves in the minority if compared to long-term German migration as well as the cohorts of American and Chinese voters who are far larger. Even recently arrived refugee communities such as those from Somalia find themselves as influencers in certain parts of the UK.
Why these figures matter
The undeniable fact is that on 7th May the country’s future will be decided by the majority white British electorate. The strength in migrant voting numbers is significant and important but the concentration and often minority role migrants play in constituencies up and down the country will have little effect in the majority of seats across the UK.
If the migrant share of the vote was made equal in every seat, migrants would have even less influence on the outcome of elections. Having eye-catching concentrations in marginal seats across the UK will give an oft-ignored section of the UK public much needed attention; however, critics like the Daily Mail have referred to this level of influence as the Labour Party’s conspiracy to socially engineer the country in order of establishing a core voting bloc as the Party’s starting base.
That accusation is of course inaccurate and problematic. If Labour is to be accused of socially engineering the UK by allowing the new accession states in 2004 to have unrestricted access to the UK’s labour market, this could only be possible if migrants – from Poland in particular – had voting blocs concentrated in key marginals across the UK. However, the Polish contingent is very small compared to the Commonwealth migrants who have been migrating to the UK in large numbers since the Second World War. American and German migrants have larger roles to play in this election as well.
The Runneymede Trust highlighted the low traction right-wing parties have with the BAME vote, with various BAME communities around the UK voting overwhelmingly for the Labour Party, although there is little evidence of how migrant voters voted in 2010.
The Conservatives had attempted to break Labour’s stranglehold on BAME voters by parachuting in Baroness Warsi as its chair. She is of Pakistani origin, Muslim, and from the North of England. The experiment, however, failed and led to the reversion back to the white, male, middle-class, middle-aged formula that has long kept the Conservative Party pegged into the right wing of the political agenda. The Conservatives were beginning to haemorrhage voters to UKIP and as a result the Conservative modernisation project, which included establishing a greater appeal to ethnic minorities, LGBT people, and women, has had to be postponed until the threat of UKIP is stemmed.
Labour’s Achilles heel is immigration. Labour has to come up with a policy programme which is attractive to the large migrant population whilst also appealing to the disaffected angry older demography who have deeply entrenched sceptical views about migration and specific migrant groups, an unenviable and difficult task.
30 Mar 2015 – 19:30
Bloomsbury Theatre 15 Gordon Street London, WC1H 0AH
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Awale Olad is the Public & Parliamentary Affairs Officer at MRN (@migrants_rights), coordinating the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, supporting parliamentarians and policy makers on establishing a cross-party consensus on immigration policy. He is also a local Councillor in the London Borough of Camden and takes part in local decision making and campaigning.
The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.
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Articles published in the Other politics series so far:
- Introduction: Small Politics Kiri Kankhwende
- The Suffocation of British Muslim Civil Society Space Omayma El Ella
- Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most Maya Goodfellow
- “It’s an exciting time to be a politician”: Interview with Reema Patel (Labour Councillor)
- The Conservative Party is a broad church” Interview with Walaa Idris