Loss of minority ethnic support threatens Tory power, study suggests

Rising BME support for Labour and diversity in Tory seats could be pivotal

Sharp rises in support for Labour among minority ethnic voters at the last general election and the increasing diversity of Conservative constituencies mean the Tories face a tough challenge to maintain power the next time Britain goes to the polls, research published on Monday suggests.

Labour increased its traditionally loyal support from minority ethnic voters in 2017, with 77% of those who voted choosing Jeremy Corbyn’s party, up from two-thirds in 2010, according to research by Runnymede, a race equality thinktank. By contrast, the Conservatives managed to win only 16 seats where 30% or more of the electorate were from an ethnic minority, losing support it had gained in 2010 when it won 27 such seats.

“A larger share of BME voters supported Brexit than have ever voted for the Conservative party, although there are now differences in support among different ethnic minority groups,” said Omar Khan, the director of Runnymede. “If Theresa May had held on to the diverse seats won by David Cameron in 2010 she would have an outright majority.”

The research by Runnymede estimated that around 1 in 10 of the registered voters at the 2017 election were from a minority background, the equivalent of 4.8 million people and an increase of 10% since 2010. For every black person there were two Asian voters and there were marked increases in Pakistani and Bangladeshi votes for Labour between 2010 and 2017, with less than 10% of people from these backgrounds voting Conservative.

One in five Labour voters were from ethnic minorities compared with one in 20 voters for Conservative candidates, and Muslim support for Labour rose from 74% to 87% between 2015 and 2017, according to Runnymede’s analysis of Understanding Society, an official household longitudinal study that allows researchers to look at how voting patterns have changed. The proportion of the minority ethnic vote that went to Labour was in line with opinion polling conducted after the election.

“In 2017 we went backwards,” said Binita Mehta-Parmar, a leading Conservative party campaigner, speaking at the launch of the Runnymede research in Westminster. “It was the ethnic minority vote gap that lost us our majority in that election. The party’s single-minded focus on white working-class voters … alienated BME voters. Britain’s BME population is becoming increasingly critical. Ethnic minority communities are dispersing to towns, suburbs and coasts. The Conservatives will need to take parliamentary seats we have ignored for decades.”

Nicole Martin of the University of Manchester, who authored the Runnymede report, said approximately a third of BME voters backed Brexit, with British Indians and African-Caribbean people most likely to vote to leave the European Union.

Seema Malhotra, the Labour MP for Feltham and Heston in west London, which is 45% white and 41% Asian, said there was a feeling that Brexit would allow greater Commonwealth immigration. She said that Brexit was also a protest vote about housing and work issues that disproportionately affected ethnic minorities, who are statistically more likely to be poor.

But she warned Labour against complacency and said: “Not all minority voting is on minority lines in terms of historical loyalty to the Labour party. It is also a story of aspiration and there is an issue about how we respond to that. We have got to realise we need to reach the aspirational vote.”

The Runnymede report concludes: “The 2017 parliament is the most ethnically diverse on record; yet this change in who our representatives are has not been matched by changes in ethnic minority voting patterns.”


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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