South Asian vote key as Britain faces split verdict

London (IANS): With a hung parliament forecast in Thursday’s British elections, leaders of various parties are actively wooing the undecided voters, including among the 700,000-strong Indian community.

Surveys predict a split verdict. The balance of power and the country’s future could be decided by a single seat. Punters say that the size of the smallest winning margin in a single seat would be just 29 votes.

A survey by BBC Asian Network/ICM says that nearly a quarter of Asian voters are yet to make up their minds. It also found that of those who had decided, 39 percent may change their minds before Thursday.

The survey indicates that the Asian vote in Britain, traditionally considered to lean towards Labour, is still up for grabs.

Asians constitute just about five percent of Britain’s population but they are crucial in 168 marginal seats including Southampton, Oxford, Sherwood, Ipswich and Northampton.

The Tories secured only 16 percent of the ethnic minority vote in the last election, compared with 68 percent for Labour. But the scenario has been changing since 2010.

The Conservatives, under David Cameron’s leadership, overhauled the party to shed its “nasty party” image. He opened the doors of 10 Downing Street to celebrate Eid, Diwali and Baisakhi.

Cameron promoted several Asian British, like Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, to the party’s key posts. Cameron also elevated Indian-origin MP Priti Patel to a key post in the treasury.

Former banker Sajid Javid is wielding immense power as culture secretary and was the brain behind the installation of the Gandhi statue at London’s Parliament Square.

The party has chosen 56 Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates in England and Wales. The list contains 12 candidates of Indian origin.

The party’s four top leaders in parliament are also of Indian origin — Alok Sharma who is an MP from Reading West, Shailesh Vara from North West Cambridgeshire, Paul Uppal from Wolverhampton South West and Priti Patel from Witham.

Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys’s Narayana Murthy, is among the new candidates. He is contesting from the Tory stronghold of Richmond, the seat of former foreign secretary William Hague.

Other prominent candidates of Indian origin are Natasha Asghar from Newport East, Kishan Devani from Leicester East, Douglas Hansen-Luke from Walsall North, Altaf Hussain from Swansea East, Samir Jassal from East Ham, Vidhi Mohan from Croydon North, Simon Nayyar from Feltham and Heston. Suria Photay from Wolverhampton South East, Chamali Fernando from Cambridge, Arun Photay from Birmingham Yardley, Suhail Rahuja from Hornsey and Wood Green, Gurcharan Singh from Slough and Bob Dhillon from Washington and Sunderland West.

Labour is fielding 52 ethnic minority candidates, including Keith Vaz from Leicester East, Virendra Sharma from Southall and Seema Malhotra from Feltham and Heston.

Economy, National Health Service (NHS), immigration, defence, education, crime, pensions, housing and crime are the main issues at stake at the polls.

Though surveys predict a hung parliament with no one getting a majority, they all agree on one factor — a Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) landslide in Scotland.

Prime Minister David Cameron is building his hopes on the fear of a Labour-SNP coalition to garner support from the undecided English voters.

The prime minister, whose Conservative Party won 307 seats in 2010, said the Labour-SNP deal would face “huge questions of credibility”.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who angered the business elite by his high tax rates, is pinning his hopes on the electorate’s anger on the poor state of hospitals and welfare cuts.

Miliband is looking to improve on the 258 seats Labour won in 2010 under the leadership of former prime minister Gordon Brown.

Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats are battling to keep hold of the 57 seats they won five years ago, has predicted the possibility of another election by December if Labour forms a coalition with SNP.

But the chance of another election is difficult under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA). The next election is due to be held in May 2020.

Britain is going to face an uncertain future on Friday. It will witness an array of messy affairs unfolding at Westminster village. The fractured verdict will open the doors for horse trading and endless parleys between politicians. It will also trigger a call for political reforms like proportional representation.