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Blog: Why The Indian Diaspora In UK Is Leaning Towards Tories

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When Londoner Anoop Dhallu's father and uncles left Punjab for Britain in 1962, they had little idea they would face overt racial discrimination in their new country. At that time, British society was predominantly White, with only a small percentage of South Asians and Caribbeans adding diversity.

Anoop, barely 10 when he joined his father in 1970, recalls those traumatic days. "Racism was rampant. We were often targeted by racists. My father's generation wholeheartedly supported Labour because it always promised to protect us from racism."

An insecure community clung to the Labour Party. Election after election, the party's manifesto promised protection against widespread racism. The Labour Party, he says, was their political anchor because it "allowed new immigrants to bring families here".

Outgoing 77-year-old Labour MP Virendra Sharma once described the rampant racial discrimination of the time to this journalist. He recalled, "In the '60s, houses advertised 'available for rent but not for Asians and Blacks'. Outside clubs, signs read, 'dogs, Irish, nomads, and Blacks are not allowed inside'. When British people saw Indians, they said, 'we were their slaves, and now they are sitting with us'."

Labour was also popular among Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis because many were factory workers. Its policies on social justice, anti-racism, and workers' rights resonated with immigrants striving for better conditions. Labour's stance against racial discrimination and push for inclusive policies provided a sense of security and hope.

How The Shift Started

As the community grew in confidence and success, it began to smash racial barriers. They were helped by Indian-origin immigrants from East Africa, who were relatively educated and well-off. The Indian vote started shifting to the Conservative Party. Anoop says his entire family has voted for the Tories for the last 30 years. "The Conservatives are pro-business, and we had begun to break into independent businesses, so we all became Tories," he says.

In recent elections, the Indian diaspora's vote has split between Britain's two major parties, Labour and the Conservatives. Observers believe this trend will continue, with potentially more Indians voting for Conservative candidates.

The 2 million-strong Indian diaspora in Britain has played an increasingly significant role in politics. In the 2019 elections, 15 Indian-origin members were elected to the House of Commons, Rishi Sunak being one of those who were re-elected. He created a record by becoming the first Indian-origin Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) and soon was the country's first non-White Prime Minister. Indian billionaires, such as the Hinduja brothers and Lakshmi Mittal, are among the most successful wealth creators in the country, significantly contributing to the British economy.

From left

(Clockwise) Anoop Dhallu, Mukesh Chawla, Rajeev Mehta, Akansha Gambhir

Kuldeep Shekhawat, president of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), believes the Conservative Party will receive the majority of the Indian community's vote this time. "Even Muslims from India are going to vote for the Conservative Party," he says, attributing this to the perception that the Conservatives are pro-India, unlike Labour.

According to Kuldeep, the "exodus of Indian votes from Labour" happened in a big way in 2019 when violent protests outside the Indian High Commission on Kashmir were backed by some Pakistani-origin Labour MPs.

Mukesh Chawla, a member of the Hindu Cultural Society of Bradford, also believes the Tories are better for the Indian community, but he prioritises candidates over the party.

Opinion Divided; Many Disappointed With Starmer

Opinions in the community, however, are divided. Akansha Gambhir, who dabbles in the world of fashion and real estate, agrees that the community's vote will be split but believes the majority will lean towards Labour. "I think the general sentiment of the Indian community and the country is leaning towards the Labour Party. Anti-incumbency against the Conservatives might also tilt the scales," she says.

However, many Indian community members, like Rajeev Mehta from Essex, are disappointed with Labour and its leader Keir Starmer. Rajeev feels betrayed by Starmer's position on Gaza and has decided to vote against Labour as long as Starmer leads. "Starmer's views on Gaza are not aligned with true Labour values. He is a Tory in disguise," Rajeev states. Starmer's stance that Israel has a right to defend itself aligns with British and American governments but has caused a rebellion within Labour and anger among its voters.

There is a strong belief that Labour is coming back to power after 14 years and that Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister.

Sensing this, some wealthy British Indians have decided to move to Dubai. Their decision stems from the fact that Labour has announced it will reimpose VAT on private schools. Despite opposition, Labour plans to impose a 20% VAT on private school education. Some of Anoop Dhallu's family members with children in private schools are moving to Dubai because he says they can't afford the taxes.

Anoop says, "I am retired, so it does not affect me. But some of my family members in their late 30s with children in private schools are moving to Dubai because they cannot afford the taxes."

This tax policy could further alienate wealthy voters, including many in the Indian diaspora, from Labour.

But despite these factors, the Indian vote will remain split. Many Indian-origin voters will continue to support Labour for its social policies, while others are drawn to the Conservatives for their economic policies and support for small businesses.

(Syed Zubair Ahmed is a London-based senior Indian journalist with three decades of experience with the Western media)

Disclaimer: These are the personal views of the author

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