When the MCB convenes its ‘Muslim Leadership Dinner’ on 22nd February there will be Jack Straw MP taking the lectern representing Labour, and later in the proceedings, so will the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg MP. Noticeably missing from the stage will be any senior representative from the Tory front bench. An oversight by the MCB or is this David Cameron’s policy decision?
It is unlikely to be an MCB oversight – with a General Election round the corner, it would dearly have liked all three main parties make their pitch to an influential Muslim audience at the London Marriott.
The Tory front bench refused to accept the MCB’s gracious invitation even though several channels were tried. At one point it looked like the Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling may attend ñ hence some of the early MCB publicity included him as a speaker. The Conservative Muslim Forum (CMF) may also have tried its good offices. At least two members of the MCB’s Central Working Committee are members of the CMF – Assistant Treasurer Nash Jaffer and Business & Economics Committee Chair Muhammed Amin – while Barrister Omar Farouk, who also attends MCB meetings, is both a CMF executive committee member and active in the Conservative Friends of Bangladesh. But neither the MCB grandees or the Tory worker ants could make the Tory front bench budge.
The Conservative leadership is being pushed into a corner by an ill-informed intransigence.
It has adopted the argument put to it by a neo-Con and Israeli interests lobby: firstly that that the MCB is like the BNP and secondly, there is a need to isolate and shut-down voices that want to bring Israel to book for its flouting of UN resolutions and policies of ethnic cleansing.
When in 2009 some Muslim well-wishers sounded out the Tories to see whether the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism’ could widen its ambit and be renamed to ‘Anti-Semitism & Islamophobia’, they got short shrift – nothing should dilute Jewish or Israeli exceptionalism.
In declining to attend the MCB Muslim Leadership Dinner, the Tories raise as their reason the Daud Abdullah episode that they will not have any contact with the MCB so long as he is an office bearer!
Would they address the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks with such overweening arrogance – in objecting, for example, to his utter identification with the Israeli Defence Forces at a solidarity rally for Israel on 23rd July 2006 during South Lebanon invasion Sacks declared, ‘Israel you make us proud’.
Or would the Tories stand up to Greville Janner of the Board of Deputies, when he described the state assassination of Shaikh Yassin as a “great victory”?
Not on your Nelly.
But it is not so much MCBís loss as the Conservativesí.
There are many marginal constituencies in the General Election where a tactical Muslim vote could be crucial, and Muslim voters will probably bite the bitter pill and vote Labour rather than see a high-handed Conservative Party rule the roost after the General Election. For example Muslim voters in Harlow would rather see Labourís Bill Rammell retain his seat, than let Conservative Robert Halfon slip in, or in Harrow West, even Tony McNulty, until the expenses scandal a Labour minister, may be preferred to Bob Blackman, the long-serving Harrow Tory councillor and London Assembly member.
The Muslim tactical vote will aim for a hung Parliament. That ought to be a salutory signal to the Tory high command.