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Migrant votes 'key in marginals'

Migrant voters could have a "decisive" impact in a range of key marginal seats in the forthcoming general election, a new study has found.

Almost four million foreign-born voters in England and Wales will be eligible to cast a vote on May 7, according to a report by academics at the University of Manchester and the Migrants' Rights Network.

Their findings suggest that for the first time in a general election, MPs could be returned from two constituencies - East Ham and Brent North - where the majority of the electorates is born overseas.

"Foreign-born residents of the UK could have an immediate impact in the May 2015 general election," the report said.

"Not only could migrant voters comprise a significant number of overall potential voters on May 7 , but they could turn out in substantial numbers within some key marginal constituencies."

The report said that migrants could constitute more than a third of the voters in around 25 seats in England and Wales and at least a quarter of the electorate in more than 50 seats, the report said.

In at least 70 seats the migrant share of the electorate will be double the majority of the current MP, it added.

Most migrant voters come from established Commonwealth communities - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and South Africa - as well as the Irish Republic.

In contrast, the report said, European Union nationals living in the UK will be "heavily under-represented" as a large majority have not acquired British citizenship.

The report warned that parties which concentrate on voter concerns about immigration could be alienating an important section of the electorate - potentially for years to come.

It said that generations of migrants of had had their view of the Conservative Party shaped by the hostility of Enoch Powell and his supporters while Labour was seen as the party which protected minority interests.

"Politicians who are keenly attuned to the concerns of voters worried by migration have often been rather less sensitive to the concerns of the migrants whose rights and security are threatened by reforms promising restrictions to freedom of movement, family reunion and access to welfare assistance," the report said.

"The risk for politicians today is that focusing primarily on the anxieties of those native voters with very negative views about immigration could alienate this new migrant electorate.

"Persistent hostility or indifference from sections of the political class could encourage the second wave of migrants to form a settled image of such parties as inherently opposed to their interests, just as the first did."

Asked whether Conservative rhetoric on immigration might make it difficult for them to pick up votes among the migrant communities, Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: "I am the first to accept that people don't necessarily move to this country and immediately think of voting Conservative.

"That's the experience of my own family. I am third-generation British and my dad, who was second-generation, carried a Labour Party card and it wasn't until later in his life that he thought 'The party of aspiration, the party backing people who are working hard and trying to get on in life are the Conservatives'. He himself, at some point in his working life, switched.

"I see the same within the BME (black and minority ethnic) community in this country. I'm seeing more and more people attracted to the Conservative Party."

Mr Shapps added: "I see the Conservative Party becoming more and more attractive to people from all different backgrounds, particularly because so many of the immigrant communities are people who literally work hard and get on in life - I mean literally work every hour running their business, trying to expand it, trying to make life better for the next generation. So I think they are natural Conservatives as well. I think things are changing.

"It is absolutely possible, as a Conservative, to appeal to people, because actually you will find the immigrant community share very similar concerns - including on subjects like immigration very often, where people say 'We just want a controlled system'.

"I do accept that there's a big challenge ahead of us, but I don't believe for one moment that it's not a challenge that we can complete."

Mr Shapps said that almost 20% of candidates selected in seats where Conservative MPs are standing down are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

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