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New Delhi: The British Indian community may be the swing factor in the next general elections in the UK, due in 2024, but the state of UK-India ties will not be a significant factor in determining voting preference, as per a survey released on Thursday, November 19.
The report, “Britain’s New Swing Voters? A Survey of British Indian Attitudes”, is based on an online survey of 792 British Indian voters conducted in July and August this year. The survey was conducted by Carnegie Endowment and analytics firm You Gov.
The survey claims that while the British Indian community – the largest immigrant group in the UK – has traditionally voted for the Left-oriented Labour Party, there has been a slight shift in voting preferences in favour of the right-of-centre Conservative Party.
The next elections are scheduled to be held in May 2024, when a more significant number of British Indian voters may still be undecided, compared to the larger population – and provide an opportunity for active wooing by political parties.
Influence of UK-India ties
From CAA to the farmers’ protests, the British Indian diaspora’s reaction has been minutely scrutinised in India, which has led to these issues even figuring in bilateral talks between the two governments.
In December 2020, then UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab had told reporters that farms laws, India’s internal matter, had come to the diplomatic platform as Indian politics had a resonance in the UK due to the diaspora.
“Of course, (farm laws) they have elicited the protests that you refer to, and your politics – in some sense – because of the Indian diaspora in Britain, is our politics,” Raab had said.
In March this year, the ministry of external affairs summoned the British envoy over “gross interference” in India’s internal affairs after the UK parliament held a debate on farmers protests.
But, as per the latest survey, the UK government’s handling of relations with India is not a factor when it comes to voting in the UK elections.
“Contrary to the prevailing understanding, when it comes to matters of foreign policy, British Indians do not view UK-India relations as a pressing electoral concern and relatively few identify it as a key shaper of their party identification,” said the report.
For the respondents in the survey, economy (24%) is the number one issue of concern in UK politics, followed by healthcare at 19%. UK-Indian relations is not a top concern, with only 3% listing it as a foremost issue.
To another question on how important a party’s position on India is for vote choice, only 37% state it is either somewhat or very important, as per the survey.
Interestingly, a larger number of British Indians (31%) think that both parties do an equally good job of managing bilateral ties with India, followed by the Conservatives at 24%.
Further, there is a near clean split on how the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is perceived to be handling ties with India. Incidentally, British Indians are mainly unsatisfied with Johnson overall, with just 37% approving of his performance as prime minister.
Impact of Indian politics
The survey also asked for a response to the involvement of British groups affiliated with Indian political parties in UK politics. The backdrop was the role of diaspora organisations, linked to BJP, who actively campaigned on behalf of Conservative candidates in the 2019 UK general elections against the Labour party, which British Hindus perceive as being closer to the Muslim community, according to the survey.
“These campaign activities earned significant media attention, opening a contentious debate about whether such actions on the part of external party affiliates constituted foreign interference in British elections,” observed the report.
46% of the survey respondents stated that such groups should not get involved in British domestic politics, 36% had no opinion, and 19% supported such actions.
Further, among the respondents who supported the involvement of foreign political parties, 49% wanted to see affiliate groups of the Indian National Congress be more active in British politics. The BJP’s overseas wing garnered 42%.
“This partisan breakdown should be interpreted with caution given the small sample size, but the pattern is notable,” the report noted.
Interestingly, just 19% of respondents approved of Narendra Modi’s performance as prime minister, while 65% disapproved. When analysed as per political preference, around 55% of British Indian conservatives disapproved of his performance, while 31% of Tory supporters thought that Modi is doing a good job. Among Labour supporters, voters for third parties, and politically undecided, Modi’s approval is much lower than the average.
Voting preference among British Indians
Regarding voting preference in case of snap elections, 38% said that they would vote for Labour, compared to 28% for Conservative and 6% for the Labour Democrats.
However, a large number – 15% – were undecided, constituting an “important swing voting constituency in a future election”. “Quite simply, their votes cannot be taken for granted by either major party,” said the report.
Around the same time, YouGov also conducted a survey of 1,700 British citizens for The Times which found that 27% would back Conservatives, 21% would support Labour, and 18% were undecided.
“If the next British general election is held on schedule, voters will go to the polls in May 2024 to select members of the next Parliament. Suffice to say that British Indian voters will be the subject of much political discussion as well as the target of significant electioneering. The British Indian population is growing in socioeconomic and demographic influence and this inevitably has political consequences”.
The report also found that there had been a clear dip in support of the Labour Party among the Indian diaspora, from 54% in the 2015 elections to 46% in 2019 polls and 41% among the respondents currently.
The beneficiary has been the Conservative party and smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats.
“The data analysed in this study demonstrate that while the diaspora continues to have a clear preference for Labour, the community in no way resembles a monolithic voting bloc. There has been a noticeable decline in support for Labour that has redounded to the benefit of the Conservative Party as well as other smaller political parties”.
There is also a divide on generational and religious lines.
“To a certain extent, the defection of votes away from Labour is a result of Hindu voters switching allegiances, in part because of a perception that Labour is more beholden to its Muslim constituents from the region. Looking ahead, British Indians are likely to emerge as a critical swing constituency, given the flux in their preferences toward both the country’s political leadership as well as the major political parties,” said the report.
But, these trends are not set in stone. With young British Indian voters preferring Labour, the party’s “weakening position could reverse”.
“Clearly an important factor in this regard is the promotion of a Labour leadership that resonates with British Indians and is seen to represent their interests. On the other hand, further immigration might counterintuitively hurt Labour’s standing, as many newer arrivals from India and naturalized citizens lean more toward the Conservative Party,” the report noted.