Dudley North is Tory target seat No.3 - but BAME voters have little time for Boris Johnson

Allegra Stratton

Former National Editor

  • Video report by ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton

For the eighth of our Battleground pieces, we’ve been in the West Midlands and the super marginal constituency of Dudley North.

It’s thought to be a sure-fire Tory win: target seat three, no less.

The well-liked Labour MP Ian Austin stepped down at the beginning of the campaign telling people he was going to vote Conservative.

The area is 71% Leave and so all in, a perfect petri-dish of conditions in which to grow a Tory win.

That could well come to pass but I was a bit surprised by the force of the anti-Tory feeling from ethnic minority voters round here.

Operation Black Vote has exclusively given us their list of seats around England and Wales where the size of the ethnic minority population is larger than the majority - that is, if all the BAME people voted the same way then they could swing the result.

This includes other super-marginals like Labour-held Kensington and Newcastle-under-Lyme and Tory-held seats like Richmond Park and Southampton Itchen.

And it also includes Dudley North where there are 9,545 BAME votes.

Shaz Saleem's and the BAME vote could prove vital in determining which way Dudley North falls. Credit: ITV News

For Boris and co, here’s the good news: the Tories do enjoy some support here from BAME.

Conservative supporter Shaz Saleem says he grew up Labour and voted Labour but started to drift away from the party.

(There was a prominent photo in his hallway of someone meeting David Cameron but that it turned out was Shaz’s father – for being a champion stone-lifter!) Shaz will now vote Conservative.

He’s a small business owner, thoroughly embedded in Dudley’s Muslim community and even though he voted Remain, he now says he backs the Tories over Brexit and wants lower taxes for his business.

Many traditional Labour voters are being swayed by Brexit. Credit: ITV News

But what about recent accusations the Tories have an Islamophobia problem? Was Shaz comfortable with Boris Johnson’s “letter-boxes” article.

“Naturally, I was offended but then I believe it comes down to education, some of these people are not educated enough or don’t have that understanding.”

Do you think he’s been educated?

“I hope so,” he says.

Shaz has forgiven Boris Johnson but on Dudley High Street many other non-white voters had not.

“Johnson? I wouldn’t vote for the Conservatives, he’s not my cup of tea.”

“I don’t like him personally,” another said.

“I’m for Corbyn, I’m a working man” and “Boris Johnson is anti-Islam”. To be frank, we couldn't find a non-white voter who would back the Conservatives.

The word on the streets of Dudley is that few BAME people will back Boris Johnson. Credit: ITV News

This is borne out by the data. It’s not a huge sample size but a British Election Study (BES) survey suggests that in the 2017 general election fewer than one in five votes went Conservative – 17%.

About three quarters (76%) went Labour.

Scandals like Windrush and the Home Office’s so-called hostile environment agenda will have had an effect: earlier in the Summer the then home secretary (now Chancellor) Sajid Javid said he believed the Tories may have actually have gone “backwards” in their standing with BAME voters.

Operation Black Vote’s Desmond Jaddoo works to increase voter registration among BAME voters.

“The voice of the BME community isn’t really being heard properly. The glass ceiling still exists no matter what anyone says today… we’ve got the disproportionality and representation in knife crime for example… and very much it’s not on the agenda, actually dealing with the issues that the BME communities face.”

Boris Johnson will find few supporters from the BAME community in Dudley North. Credit: ITV News

ITV’s Election Night analyst Coin Rallings agreed the Conservative party was still struggling to connect.

“What you’re now getting is second and third generation people who are born and brought up in this country but having that ethnic heritage.

"They still see Labour as the natural party for them. Unless the Conservatives actually start tackling them and be seen to be sympathetic to their interests - more empathetic, if you like - in the longer term they are going to have a problem actually winning an overall majority in the House of Commons”.

Election expert Colin Rallings says the Tories are still struggling to connect. Credit: ITV News

For the Conservatives, all is not doom and gloom on Dudley High Street.

I spoke to quite a few Tory supporters: “the Conservatives are going to walk this, love” and “it’s Boris for me” all the way through to more hesitant.

Only one woman said she would vote Labour because of what she felt was stronger support for public services but even then it wasn’t an endorsement for Jeremy Corbyn: “I don’t care if he has two heads, as long as he looks after me”.

But these people were, I’m afraid, all white. I say “I’m afraid” because - unforgivable pay and employment disparities for BAME people aside - it is depressing to find such a clear division in political views by ethnicity.

If the Tories don’t win Dudley North, their inquest could begin with a good look at their standing with non-white voters.

Read more from Allegra's Battleground series: