Migrant voters could help swing the election result

The conventional wisdom is that the only electorally successful immigration policy is a hardline one. Ed Miliband has bent over backwards to find a position which reassures critical voters without compromising his progressive principles, but when it comes to Labour's election leaflets they might as well have been written by Tory backbenchers.

So party strategists might like to take a look at new research by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at the University of Manchester and the Migrants' Rights Network. It shows foreign-born voters could prove decisive in several seats at the election if they turn out in sufficient numbers.

The migrant share of the electorate is twice as large as the majority of the incumbent in at least 70 seats, including several key outer London and Midlands marginal seats.

As Ruth Grove-White, co-author of the report, said:

"The electoral voice of migrants themselves has been largely overlooked. This new data shows just how important it is to speak to this constituency. The risk facing the parties today is that their current fierce rhetoric over immigration will have a lasting impact on the political orientations of the new migrant electorate.

"While we know that migrant voters do not form a voting bloc, voting patterns suggest that migrant voters are likely to prefer parties that they view as positive about race equality and immigration issues."

There's just under four million foreign-born voters in England and Wales who'll be eligible to vote in the May election, with the majority from large, established Commonwealth migrant communities such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and South Africa.

Parties have more to lose than they think they do by alienating these groups. Migrants feel strongly about the way they are labelled as workshy scroungers by the media and politicians while contributing more to the economy than the indigenous population. Politicians have for too long presumed that the blanket negativity about immigration on TV and in newspapers reflects the views of the public, but it is far more nuanced than that, especially when split across constituencies.

The Conservatives especially are the losers of this approach. Many people in the Asian communities are natural Tories. They believe in hard work, not relying on the state, and are socially conservative. The fact most would never dream of voting Tory is not about political values, but a sense the party dislikes them. It is not an unfounded one given some of the fierce rhetoric it engages in.

But the report shouldn't just be read by party strategists. Migrants themselves should read it and realise their power. If they don't like the way the debate has turned in recent years, they should get out there and do something about it. The temptation among many is to retreat, but only the vocal expression of anger with this toxic conversation can help turn it round. Like young people, they are much stronger than they realise.