Asians shine in UK election

A record 90 ethnic minority members have been elected to Parliament, highlighting the country's multicultural identity. Prime Minister Keir Starmer now faces the critical challenge of understanding the needs and issues of the British Asian community and addressing them effectively.

Anusha Singh Wednesday 10th July 2024 07:21 EDT

Keir Starmer's Labour Party achieved a resounding victory in the UK general election as Rishi Sunak's Conservatives faced a significant collapse, marking a pivotal shift in the political landscape of the country.

With the final results tallied, Labour secured 412 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons, marking its highest tally since Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997. This represents a remarkable turnaround within a single election cycle.

The election marked the Conservatives' poorest performance in terms of seats ever, securing only 121. The Liberal Democrats achieved their highest seat count since 1923, claiming 72 seats. The SNP holds nine seats, while Reform UK has five, and both Plaid Cymru and the Green Party secured four each. Additionally, 23 seats were won by other parties, exclusively in Northern Ireland, along with independent candidates.

In terms of representation, ethnic minorities make up 13.8% of MPs, marking a notable increase in British Asian candidates from 35 to 50. Among them, those of Indian descent rose from 15 to 28. This results in 7.7% of parliament being British Asian, with individuals of Indian origin accounting for 4.3%.

In the 2024 parliament, 66 Labour MPs come from ethnic minority backgrounds, constituting 16 per cent of the new Parliamentary Labour Party. Additionally, 15 ethnic minority Conservatives were elected, along with 5 Lib Dems and 4 new independent MPs from minority backgrounds.

Of the 50 British Asian candidates, a record number of six MPs have joined the cabinet. Shabana Mahmood has taken on the roles of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, while Lisa Nandy assumes the position of Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport.

Tulip Siddiq MP has been appointed to Parliamentary duties in His Majesty’s Treasury, and Seema Malhotra MP now serves as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Home Office.  Additionally, Rushanara Ali MP has been appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, alongside Lord Khan of Burnley, who also serves in the same ministry.

Asian communities historically were strong supporters of the party. Shyamji Krishanvarma, a political propagandist and the Founder of India House in London, notably played a crucial role in the early days of the Labour Party's formation. Conversely, the Labour Party supported India's freedom movement, highlighting a historical connection between the party and Indian independence efforts. However, the Labour party now, doesn’t reflect the same sentiments and this has led the British Asian population to pull its support away from the party.

Here, Asian Voice aims to bring the issues and needs of the Asian diaspora to the forefront as the new government gears up to make the UK great again.

Community and UK-India relationship

One of the primary global challenges on Starmer’s agenda is repairing his party’s relationship with India, which has been strained due to Labour's stance on the Kashmir issue.

In September 2019, under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, the Labour Party passed an emergency motion advocating for international observers to enter Kashmir and supporting the right to self-determination for its people. The motion also called for mediation between India and Pakistan to prevent potential nuclear conflict and restore peace.

India reacted strongly, criticising the motion as pandering to vote bank interests. As tensions escalated, Starmer intervened to ease the situation.

Now, he faces the responsibility of rebuilding Labour's ties with the Indian diaspora, particularly the Hindu community. While Sikh communities largely support Labour, the Hindu and Muslim communities have shown different voting patterns. Shivani Raja's victory in a Labour constituency and the preference for independent candidates over Labour due to its stance on Gaza illustrate this divide.

Prof Anand Menon, the Director of UK in a Changing Europe told Asian Voice that there is a political incentive for Labour to foster a positive relationship with India, given their loss of Hindu voters. “While it's uncertain if this strategy will succeed, Labour is mindful of constituencies like the one in London, where the Conservatives gained a seat due in part to Hindu voters”, he said.

Voicing the concerns of the Hindu community, Trupti Patel, the President of Hindu Forum of Britain wrote to Keir Starmer congratulating him on his election and highlighted the issues faced by Hindu community in the UK. She wrote, “The ripple effects of global conflicts have significantly impacted faith-related issues within our multifaith community. The Hindu community has witnessed and experienced a significant rise in anti-Hindu hatred and trust that your leadership with the potential to bridge gaps and promote harmony will create a more unified and resilient society.”

She further added, “I extend our wish to work with you to ensure that the needs, the wishes, and the aspirations of the Hindu community are addressed such that we can increase our contribution to our country.”

Manoj Ladwa, Founder and Chairman, India Global Forum also shared his opinion on the UK-India relations stating, "In recent months, Prime Minister Keir Starmer has struck the right chords, starting with his famous "Reset" speech at India Global Forum last year. This was his first major intervention on India since becoming leader of the Labour Party and has been regarded as a landmark moment in his efforts to regain the trust of British Indians.

“His senior cabinet colleagues, including Foreign Secretary David Lammy and Business Secretary Jonathon Reynolds, have certainly also been following through…UK jobs, economic growth and future prosperity will depend a lot on how Sir Keir Starmer is able to navigate this crucial relationship.”

Asian Voice contacted Krish Raval, spokesperson for 'Labour Indians', to discuss the dismantling of the party's faith group and the government's strategies for addressing diaspora issues. He shared that the government now has a Faith Minister, and her role, in concern with those across the different British faith traditions, will be vital in pulling the country together. “PM Starmer has said that his government will focus on inclusive policies and direct engagement with faith leadership as part of a unified vision for the UK. This includes promoting open and healthy discussions across government, ensuring awareness of faith in aspects of policy-making, and addressing specific community issues through dialogue and targeted action”, he said.

The newly elected Prime Minister, on his first day in office, discussed the importance of the living bridge between the UK and India with Narendra Modi. They also the 2030 roadmap, agreeing that there were numerous areas for enhanced cooperation, including defence and security, critical and emerging technology, and climate change.

Earlier in the week, the Indian Prime Minister had congratulated Starmer with a message of X.

Krish also shared that Sir Starmer’s India visit can happen soon. “ Prime Minister Starmer has expressed a strong interest in visiting India, recognising the strategic and cultural importance of the UK-India relationship. Plans for such a visit are underway, aiming to reinforce diplomatic ties and explore new avenues for collaboration”, he said.

What is in store for businesses and FTA?

In the very same conversation, Downing Street reported that Starmer reaffirmed his government’s commitment to finalising a free trade agreement (FTA) with India that benefits both nations as Starmer stated his readiness to finalise a deal that benefits both sides.

India and the UK have been negotiating an FTA for over two years under a Conservative Party-led government. However, the talks hit a roadblock in the fourteenth round due to the general elections, first in India and then in the UK.

Nitish Rai-Parwani, a research of diasporic communities at the International Centre of  Sustainability is of the opinion that, while PM Starmer will have a desire to work closely with India, he can face turbulence from within his party. He said, “India has been one of the largest source of FDI in the UK. Indians invest $1 billion into London real estate alone every year. Indian firms employ over 130k people - India is too important to ignore or sour relations with.

“However he will be under immense pressure from the "activists" in his own party to “finger point” at India on everything from internal issues like minority rights to environment- this will be his true test of leadership.”

According to Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South and Central Asian Defence, Strategy and Diplomacy at International Institute of Strategic Studies, while bilateral strategic partnership will continue, it remains to be seen whether the new Labour government seeks to refine or redefine it. “In terms of key areas being prioritised in such a strategic partnership, I would envisage trade and climate change issues being at the top, along with defence and security cooperation. The latter is especially important, following the visit of India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to the UK in January this year, after a too long a gap of 22 years”, he said.

Conversations with South Asian SMEs highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit of the British Asian community and the recent challenges they have faced, including employee shortages, funding difficulties, safety concerns, and increased regulatory burdens. There are renewed hopes that the new government will foster a positive business environment, avoid tax hikes, lower inflation, and strengthen ties with the EU. There is stress on  the importance of targeted support for SMEs, including grants, tax reliefs, and improved financing access along with calls for affordable housing, investment in community infrastructure, and business rate reforms to support high street businesses. (More about the SME perspective on page 13.)

Vivek Saraogi, the chairman of Institute of Chartered Accountants UK is of the opinion that how Labour shapes their immigration policy can address the labour market changes. According to him, simplifying and streamlining visa processes for skilled workers from India can help alleviate talent shortages in the UK. Introducing dedicated visa categories for high-demand sectors like IT, healthcare, and engineering on the other hand, would facilitate easier entry for Indian professionals seeking employment in the UK. Additionally, encouraging Indian businesses to engage in the UK's apprenticeship programs could further enhance workforce development and collaboration between the two countries.

Importance of immigration policies and student visas

In his first major policy announcement since securing a historic election victory, Starmer declared he would scrap the controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Significant changes on the horizon could include tightening immigration policies, with increased border checks and higher eligibility requirements for foreigners wishing to move to the UK. Immigration was a key issue during the 2024 general election, with both major parties promising to cut net migration levels.

To access the changes to immigration policies, Prof Anand Menon highlighted two significant factors at play. He said, “On one hand, this government is in a unique position, having been elected by voters who do not consider immigration a top priority. While Conservative voters view immigration as a key issue, Labour voters generally do not rank it among the top five concerns facing the country.

“On the other hand, the government has adopted a very firm stance on immigration, likely due to concerns about Nigel Farage and his potential success in future elections. This firm tone doesn't suggest a shift towards a more liberal immigration policy. So, we'll have to wait and see how it unfolds.”

Sanam Arora and Vignesh Karthik KR heading the largest pan-UK Indian students body, the National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU UK) look forward to positive changes in the context of international students. The Graduate Route visa is crucial for supporting the UK’s ambitions to become a global leader in research and innovation and addressing skills shortages in key sectors.

They have shared that, “At our annual conference earlier this year, Labour indicated support for the Graduate Route, recognising the significant economic contributions these students make to the UK…We look forward to the government to safeguard this vital pathway, as it benefits not only the students but also the broader UK economy and society.”

NHS and care sector need major rebuilding

It seems that the government is taking its pledges quite seriously and working towards getting things done from day one.  The BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi attended their first meeting with the newly appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Wes Streeting, at his department’s offices to discuss how to make progress in bringing the nearly two-year-old pay dispute to an end.

The co-chairs said, “We discussed why we thought the previous set of talks went wrong and how the new Government can work with us, so the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

“From the start we have been very clear about what would end it: a credible offer that begins to restore the real-terms pay that junior doctors have lost since 2008. As we have said repeatedly in this dispute, we are open to discussing the timeframe over which pay restoration can occur – but what is important is having a negotiating partner who takes the principle seriously.

“Mr Streeting has said pay restoration will be a journey: we are looking to set off.”

However, the NHS is also facing staff shortages which puts extra pressure on the doctors and nurses in the service.

Bringing in a perspective from the care sector, Pranav Vora, the CEO of Aum Care Group wishes to see more awareness towards the elderly care under the Labour government. In a conversation with Asian Voice, he said, “It is important to understand the challenges we face due to the rising cost of living and increasing wages. Addressing these issues by increasing funding would be beneficial.

“Additionally, providing us with the necessary tools and resources to support individuals in their homes by coordinating efforts with local GP practices and the Council across all aspects of care could significantly reduce the load on the NHS.”

comments powered by Disqus

to the free, weekly Asian Voice email newsletter