The diaspora swing factor resonates in local polls

The diaspora swing factor resonates in local polls

A curious trend that many pollsters have been keenly watching over recent elections has been the growing power of the Indian diaspora vote on elections in the UK. The local council elections held across 140 councils in England, 32 in Scotland and 22 in Wales last week once again magnified some of these unfolding trends.

The local elections for councillors who represent their local areas on delivering important services, such as local transport, health and planning, are mostly about issues affecting the particular councils and local communities. However, it was widely expected that Westminster politics and scandals like partygate would have a bearing on the electorate. As a result, the Conservative Party was forecast to take quite a beating at the ballot box.

As the results unfolded following the May 5 vote, it certainly seemed so as the Tories were turfed out of the historic London strongholds of Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet by Labour. However, the countrywide picture that emerged was quite a mixed bag, with the Opposition party also on the losing end, including in Harrow in north-west London.


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The Gujarat connection

In fact, it was in the Harrow Council where the diaspora influence stood out quite prominently, as articulated by Ameet Jogia – who was re-elected as Tory Councillor there. The co-chair of Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) explained that Harrow, with 29 per cent of the population being of Indian heritage, has among the largest Indian diaspora representation.

He told iGlobal: "It's ironic that, as you will have seen across the country, we went against the trend – where unfortunately we lost councils to Labour. But Harrow, where the British Indians are, voted Conservative, which is backed up in other areas as well. Conservative candidates did very well in British Indian communities. And the results speak for themselves.

“I think this is because of the Prime Minister's recent trip to India, which was very successful; that galvanised the community. He has acknowledged that the British Indian diaspora plays a crucial role in building the bridge, and we're the strength for the UK."

Boris Johnson’s visit to India last month was historic in that he became the first British Prime Minister to visit the western state of Gujarat, which is the birthplace not only of a majority of Harrow’s Indian population but also a major chunk of the 1.5 million Indian diaspora UK-wide.

Getting things done

For Jogia, who completed a hattrick with his latest win as Councillor for Canons Ward, the focus will be on improving the neighbourhood.

He shares: "We're delighted with the win, and we are working already to deliver on the manifesto pledges which we were elected upon. We want to make our streets cleaner. Fly-tipping has been a huge issue in Harrow over the years. We've had so many complaints that Labour has let Harrow go down the pan. We want to invest in more frontline cleaners to have fly-tipping cleaned up quickly.

“One of the points where they voted for us is that we want to support businesses and we proposed free one-hour parking in our district town centres across Harrow, which we hope to implement in the coming months. Another issue is that people are so unhappy the way the landscape has change in Harrow with large skyscrapers and lack of green spaces. So, we want to do more to protect our landscape across Harrow."


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Community focus

Echoing his views on a community welfare focus is fellow Tory Councillor from Cambourne Ward in Cambridgeshire, Shrobona Bhattacharya. In her view, for the Indian diaspora, things ultimately boiled down to local issues impacting day-to-day lives.

She reflects: "Usually, local council elections are based on general community welfare and have always been detached from national politics. However, this time around, I realised while canvassing, that scandals erupting from the centre have damaged a lot of our efforts and turned people away. However, such negativities came predominantly from the English voters.

“Thankfully, our diaspora doesn't get swayed as much, and they all came to support me as always. Our diaspora focussed only on the various welfare schemes and the work I've been doing in the community and didn't get influenced by any other political agendas or scandals."

Opposition sweeps

At the other end of the spectrum, the Labour Party had many highlights that the party would be hoping to build on in the lead up to a general election. Besides grabbing some flagship councils, the party would have been hoping to reverse a feared trend of British Indians turning away from Labour as their first choice. The focus has therefore been on encouraging more members of the community to get involved in politics.

Camden's Bloomsbury Ward Councillor Rishi Madlani notes: "I haven't seen the data yet, and I can only share the gut feeling that I sensed during canvassing: there are more British Indians actively involved in the election this time.

“We've got many voters saying they didn't want to vote for the Tories any more this time and shifted towards us. As an Indian myself, I feel it's quite unfortunate that Boris Johnson's India visit got buried in the media amid the partygate scandal, and the visit didn't get much coverage."

Madlani, elected for the third time in Camden, knows the area well and is keen to focus on climate control with a clean and green approach.


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Giving back

Fellow Labour Councillor, Shiva Tiwari, believes it's a part of his inherent Indian culture to be involved in the local community to give back and try to help others. This has been a strong factor behind his success as a Councillor for the West Hampstead ward of Camden.

"It's an honour and a privilege to be re-elected as a Camden councillor. I would encourage people to reach out to me if they have any views on our community because those are always welcome and equally, if I can help, then that's my job, and that's what I'm going to do," he said.

Elected for the second time, his focus will be on equal accessibility to benefits for everyone in his neighbourhood, at all ends of the financial spectrum.

As a second generation British Indian, Tiwari feels proud of the success of the diaspora and is confident of winning the community’s vote over.

He notes: "The Indian community in the UK and worldwide is a very successful one. My grandfather was a labourer in this country, and I am a fund manager and an elected Councillor, so in my own way I think I'm a part of that success story also. But with affluence and success comes more political choice and more political awareness.

“I don't think Labour party takes that Indian vote for granted. We need to make sure that we continue to do more to protect, retain and grow our share of Indian votes.

“The Indian community really care about making sure that government have policies that reward hard work and reward sacrifice and reward you know ambition and aspiration and want to live in communities where family values matter and where there is a strong sense of law and order. This came up well when I was talking to people."

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