Britain general election: Is the minority vote, once Labour's, up for grabs?
In Britain's general election scheduled for May 6, minority voters are expected to have a greater impact than ever before. Conservatives are wooing black and Asian voters – once solidy pro-Labour – with policies they say are family- and business-friendly.
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Labour can boast the best record of the big three parties when it comes to black and Asian representation. Following the general election of 2005, it had 13 black and Asian Members of Parliament compared with just two in the Tory party and none in the Liberal Democrats.Skip to next paragraph
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This time around, however, the Conservative Party has won credit from OBV and others for attempts to ensure that its lineup of would-be MPs more closely reflects 21st-century British society. Critics charge that its efforts are driven more by public relations than a genuine commitment to diversity.
The party is also targeting traditionally Labour-supporting voters from ethnic minority backgrounds.
They include the east London area of Limehouse and Poplar, home to some of the most extreme inequalities of any British constituency, where the gleaming skyscrapers in London’s financial hub of Canary Wharf tower over decaying public housing.
In an area where Bangladeshis are the dominant ethnic minority, at 35 percent of the population, would-be Conservative MP Tim Archer believes that the message of David Cameron’s rebranded party will chime with Asian voters who have always been conservative-minded, if not Conservative voting.
Asians leaving Labour?
Handing out leaflets from behind a stall at a busy weekend street market, the former banker explains that the antiwar Respect Party of George Galloway proved in 2005 that Asian voters could be “unlocked” from Labour in a neighboring east London constituency where the maverick left-winger became an MP.
Since that result, Respect has suffered from internal divisions while many observers believe Mr. Galloway lost credibility among many British Asian voters after his participation in a celebrity version of Britain’s "Big Brother" reality television series, in which he appeared wearing a red leotard.
“There is a real opportunity now for the Conservatives to win over Asian voters who don’t want to return to Labour,” says Mr. Archer, now tipped by bookmakers as the favorite in a race between himself, Galloway, and the Labour incumbent, government minister Jim Fitzpatrick.
As well as appealing to the traditional family-centered values of many in ethnic-minority communities, the Tories are also brandishing their commitment to entrepreneurship as a means of tackling racial inequalities.
Cameron recently cited research showing that almost one-third of black people in England want to start their own business, compared with just 9 percent of the white population. Only 4 percent of black people manage to launch a startup, however – a level lower than any other ethnic group.