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Explained: Why the British Indian vote matters in the July 4 UK general election

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visits the DCS group distribution centre as part of a Conservative general election campaign event, in Banbury, UK, July 2, 2024. File Image/Reuters

The upcoming UK general election, set for July 4, 2024, is a crucial event that may determine the country’s political direction for years to come. Among the many factors influencing this election, the British Indian vote stands out as particularly significant.

With an estimated 1.8 million people of Indian origin living in the UK, their political preferences could be a decisive factor in the election’s outcome.

Why is the British Indian vote important?

The British Indian community represents approximately 2.5 per cent of the UK’s population, a significant and growing demographic. This community is known for its high levels of education, professional success, and economic contribution.

According to data, Indian households lead in high-income brackets, with 42 per cent earning £1,000 or more weekly between 2015-2018. Despite comprising only a small portion of the population, they contribute over 6 per cent to UK’s GDP. This economic clout translates into substantial political influence, making their vote highly sought after by all major political parties.

Have UK Indians fazed away from Sunak?

Rishi Sunak’s ascent to the role of prime minister in 2022 marked a historic milestone as he became the UK’s first prime minister of Indian descent. This event was celebrated by the British Indian community, reflecting their growing influence in UK politics.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is greeted during a visit to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir while on the general election campaign trail, June 29, 2024, in London. AP

However, the initial euphoria has given way to growing dissatisfaction due to
rising living costs and economic stagnation
under Sunak’s leadership.

Ashwin Krishnaswamy, a UK-based technology investor, told SCMP, “A lot of pain points are coming out in the open and the larger diaspora is going with the sentiment of an anti-Tory wave. People are saying that maybe it’s time to bring a new government.”

“Sunak’s campaign has been about looking to the future. But in the past you [Conservative Party] have had so many leadership changes, [people are thinking] what is the guarantee that you will remain,” Priyajit Debsarkar, a London-based Indian author, told SCMP.

How has the cost-of-living crisis impacted the community?

The UK has been grappling with a cost-of-living crisis, with prices for essential goods rising faster than household incomes since late 2021. This economic strain has disproportionately affected the British Indian community, many of whom are small business owners and professionals in sectors like healthcare and education.

Striking NHS healthcare staff march during a protest amid an ongoing dispute with the government over pay, in London, UK, May 1, 2023. File Image/Reuters

“The NHS is a big disaster. There is a huge pay disparity in the NHS between different sections of doctors,” said Krishnaswamy, stating the loss of confidence in the Conservative government. The community’s concerns about the National Health Service (NHS), which employs over 60,000 Indian medical professionals, further compound their dissatisfaction.

What has the role of the Hindu community been?

The Hindu community, making up
a significant portion of the British Indian population,
has been particularly vocal about their political and social concerns. In the run-up to the election, both UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour Leader Keir Starmer have made efforts to engage with Hindu voters.

Sunak visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, where he promised to “make the community proud,” while Starmer visited the Swaminarayan Temple in Kingsbury, pledging to build a “strategic partnership with India.”

“Hindu Manifesto”
launched by an umbrella group of British Hindu organisations has called on elected representatives to protect Hindu places of worship and tackle anti-Hindu hate.

“This mandir stands as a great statement of the contributions that this community makes to Britain,” said Sunak. Starmer echoed this sentiment, stating, “If we’re elected next week, we will strive to govern in the spirit of sewa to serve you and a world in need.”

How has Labour appealed to the community?

The Labour Party, traditionally enjoying strong support among British Indians, has capitalised on the dissatisfaction with the Conservative government. Labour Leader Keir Starmer has positioned the party as a stable and competent alternative, resonating with voters frustrated by the rising cost of living.

“House rents are 100 per cent higher than six to seven years back,” Supriyo Chaudhuri, CEO of e1133 Ltd, a higher education firm, told SCMP. “If you are a new immigrant, you can’t [afford to] buy a house.” Chaudhuri criticised Sunak for not addressing public services and the cost-of-living crisis, pointing out the need for a change in government.

UK Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks at the launch of the Labour Party’s manifesto, in Manchester, UK, June 13, 2024. File Image / Reuters

Labour’s campaign slogan, “It’s time for change,” reflects their strategy to position themselves as a government-in-waiting, ready to address the issues facing the country. The party’s ability to
connect with the British Indian community
and address their concerns could be pivotal in the upcoming election.

“For the Conservative Party, obviously, they have Rishi Sunak – a British Indian leader – for the first time. It’s an unknown factor how much it will matter to British Indian voters that the leader of the party is from their background,” Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, told PTI.

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With significant economic and demographic influence, the British Indian community’s concerns about the cost-of-living crisis, healthcare, and public services are key issues ahead of the election. Whether Rishi Sunak can regain their support or Labour’s promise of change will resonate more strongly remains to be seen. What is clear is that the British Indian vote matters more than ever in this pivotal election on Thursday.

With inputs from agencies

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