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28 Apr, 2010 05:38

Ethnic minorities gain clout as UK parliamentary election approaches

As Britain prepares to go to the polls in May, analysts predict the ethnic minority vote is likely to have a significant impact on the final results in the parliamentary election.

Nearly 50 Indians are hoping to win parliamentary seats this year, compared to the six that had seats in the previous government.

Gurcharan Singh, a first generation immigrant from a village in the Uttar Pradesh region of India, is running for the Conservative Party.

The man is typical of many residents of the London electoral constituency of Ealing and Southall. Having arrived in London as a young man with little more than the clothes he wore, he is what one could call a self-made man.

“My first job, although I’m a post graduate – I had a masters degree to my credit – was at British Rail. I also applied for a job at the post office as a postman. So it was from the bottom I started,” says Gurcharan Singh.

Singh had a chance to see with his own eyes the problems Asian people face in a foreign environment.

“When I was at home in college I was always interested in politics and when I came here I found a number of issues. There were a lot of Asian population who could not speak the English language so they were not getting their fair share”, remembers Singh.

He started helping such people and slowly developed an interest in local politics.

The constituency of Ealing and Southall in West London, which Singh represents, has nearly half of the people born outside the UK. It is home to one of the biggest Sikh temples outside India, and has one of the highest proportions of Sikhs in any constituency in the UK, at nearly a quarter.

People there are divided as to whether they would vote for a candidate just because he or she is from an ethnic minority. While some believe that it is not the background that matters, others say it is vital to have an MP of Asian origin who will be a representative of the area.

The first Indian MP in Britain was elected in 1892, and India has since become the single largest ethnic community in the UK, the second largest investor, and sends the highest number of students to British universities after the Chinese.

Nowadays, Indians in Britain – and Asians in general – appear to have the power to sway the vote.

“In some of the West London constituencies like Hounslow – where more than 30% of the vote is Asian – in Southall and Ealing, I think approximately 40% of vote is Asian vote. This is a bulk vote, a very, very strong group, and they can tilt the result whichever party they vote for in a block,” says journalist Vijay Rana.