Posted: Thursday, 26 April 2012
The report, The New Conservatives? Eastern and Central European voters and the London elections, reveals what these new migrants really think about coming to Britain and making new lives in London.
The number of voters from another European Union member state set to participate in next week’s London elections has never been so high – according to Office of National Statistics.
This population- some 8 % of the capital’s electorate- is not far short of half a million votes up for grabs. Across the UK, the number of ‘non-national European citizens’ registered to vote has more than doubled over the past decade.
EU enlargement has driven this new wave of European migration, in particular, from the 2004 A8 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) and 2007 A2 (Bulgaria and Romania) accession states in eastern and central Europe. At the same time, European integration has created new political rights for these European ‘movers’ in local and European elections.
All these new voters may not make it polling stations on 3 May. But there are votes to be won here. So, what are on the minds of these new Londoners? Researchers Stephen Driver and Michal Garapich in the Department of Social Science at the University of Roehampton have been studying the lives of these new EU migrants in London. As part of this work, they spoke in depth to groups of Polish, Czech, Slovak and Lithuanian citizens living in London earlier this month.
The report, The New Conservatives? Eastern and Central European voters and the London elections, reveals what these new migrants really think about coming to Britain and making new lives in London. The research shows this to be a conservative group of voters. Not always conservative with a big C, but conservative in terms of their attitudes to work, welfare, the family, education and London’s ethnic mix.
This in part comes from their backgrounds in Poland and other parts of eastern and central Europe; but also their desire to make it in Britain and to become part of British society. These are also voters who are generally positive about British politics; but for whom David Cameron’s ‘broken society’ rings true.
The report has found that new migrants from Central and Eastern Europe demonstrated strong attachment to traditional values on the institution of marriage, stable family life and the importance work and independence. These new migrants prized self-help and were generally critical of welfare support for those Londoners not in work.
Results found that with regard to the mayoral candidates, Boris Johnson was seen in the most sympathetic light; Ken Livingstone was known for his past record in office; and Brian Paddick for being an ex-policeman, if he was known at all. Minor (or non) party candidates barely registered with this group of voters. On the issues, Johnson and Paddick led on crime; Livingstone on transport.
Unlike many British voters, these new migrants have high levels of trust in and sometimes even admiration for British government and politics. This is the result in large part of the legacy of corruption and undemocratic government back home in Central and Eastern Europe. The spectre of former communist rule and shaky transition periods still haunts these new London voters.
Most of these migrants from Eastern and Central Europe have come to the UK primarily to work and to find a better life for themselves and their families. In these circumstances, politics takes a back seat.
Transport and security are the big issues for this group of Londoners. Like other Londoners, the men in the focus groups in particular complained about the high costs of fares, parking and congestion generally. Women in our research were most vocal about security and crime; and linked their anxieties to broader perceptions about Britain’s ‘broken society’ created by a lack of authority, welfare dependency and the erosion of traditional values and institutions.
The study also probed respondents on the attitudes to multicultural London. To be clear, the majority of participants in the research liked being part of a ‘global city’ with all its richness and diversity – and embraced the idea of tolerance. However, on the issue of security and crime, some of the respondents blamed the rise in crime and breakdown of society on urban, black youth.
The research was based on focus group interviews with 44 men and women from Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in March-April 2012. The participants were recruited through community networks, press adverts and the social media. Respondents were chosen on the basis of their education, occupation and minimal interest in mayoral elections.