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Is the Muslim community’s electoral romance with the Labour Party coming to an end? The ‘Super-Thursday election’ is unique for several reasons: the participation of young Muslims, as campaigners and candidates, reflecting the politicisation of the community in recent years; the blatant use of anti-Islamic imagery and rhetoric by Griffin of the British National Party, invoking former Archbishop Carey’s recent speech on Islam in support of his stand; the breath of fresh air the newly founded anti-Iraq war ‘Respect’ party has brought to political debate and choice.
Muslim communities up and down the country are organising election hustings, inviting candidates to present their manifestos and respond to questions. For example the Barnet Muslim Association convened a meeting at the Barnet Multicultural Centre on 2nd June. Over a hundred local residents attended and their passion on foreign policy issues – Iraq and Palestine - was palpable. A speaker from the floor remarked “we used to associate Labour with Ernest Bevin and other giants….today the Party and Tony Blair remind me of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, handsome in appearance but in reality scarred by lies and deceptions”. The issues raised by the audience ranged from the targeting of Muslims by the anti-terrorism laws, the hijab ban in France and the entry of Turkey in the EU. The young and knowledgeable representative from ‘Respect’, Mr Unjum Mirza, and Jean Lambert, the MEP for the Green Party, emerged with the greatest kudos from the encounter. The audience included Arabs, Pakistanis and English Muslims – a reflection of the social and cultural variety within the community in a London borough.
There are three separate elections on 10th June:
In London, each registered voter will have five votes in total:
Further details are provided in the London Elects web site – click here
Outside London, the vote is for the Member of the European Parliament only.
- At the 2001 General Election, a sample survey conducted by MORI found that 76% of Black respondents and 69% of Asian respondents voted Labour.
- Labour’s share of the British Muslim vote has fallen by a half since the last General Election “because of the UK’s role in the Iraq war (Guardian/ICM poll result, reported in The Guardian, March 15, 2004)
- An analysis of the May 2003 local election results of areas with relatively high Muslim populations estimates a 1 percentage point rise for the Conservatives, a 6 point fall for Labour and a 2 point rise for the Lib Dems, relative to 1999 (House of Commons Standard Note SN/SG/2184, 11 June 2003)
- The Brent East parliamentary bye-election held on 18 September 2003 replaced a Labour majority of 13,000 in the last General Election by a win for Lib Dem by a margin of 1100, in no small measure because the Muslim population of Brent – comprising over 12% of the Borough.
In the past, Muslim electoral strength has often been influenced by local ‘power barons’ able to draw on clan networks to deliver a ‘vote bank’ to one or other candidate. It is likely that such shenanigans will now be challenged by a more politicised constituency.
On Friday 28th May 2004 the British National Party exercised their right to make a party political broadcast. Against a backdrop of Muslim women in hijab, the image of Abu Hamza and also Muslims praying on St Thomas’s Road outside Finsbury Park Mosque, BNP leader Nick Griffin delivered a threatening Islamophobic message:
”…the real danger of Islamic fundamentalist terror does not come from distant Iraq. It comes from the growing threat from Muslim extremists living here in Britain. The former Archbishop of Canterbury has pointed out that only a few Muslim leaders have condemned the evil of terrorism…Tony Blair, Michael Howard, Charles Kennedy – all claim that Islam is a religion of peace – there are many peaceful and tolerant verses in the Qur’an, but there are also some, like Chapter 9, v. 123 …..of course Christianity used to be like that but our forebears reformed it and made it compatible with the modern world, with democracy and our Western tradition, tolerance and intellectual freedom. Now moderate Muslims who want to live here in the West must do the same with their faith…we insist that Islamic fundamentalists stop Islamifying Britain….In 1968 Enoch Powell spoke about his forebodings for he future [at this point there is an image of Powell with a quote “I see the River Tiber foaming much blood”] and Enoch was right. Unless urgent action is taken to defuse the crisis by shutting Britain’s doors to any further immigration and deport bogus asylum seekers and radical Islamists…unless these things are done then Powell’s warnings will come true and we will find ourselves in the middle of a bloody civil war…”
The Muslim Council of Britain has responded by urging the community:
The UKIP (UK Independence Party), fielding candidates for the European elections, as well as the London mayor and assembly, has been described as 'BNP in suits'. Its stalwarths include Robert Kilroy-Silk - author of 'We owe Arabs nothing' (Sunday Expres, 4th January 2004) - and Baroness Cox, a Christian evangelist with an agenda for the South of the Sudan.
- Voting is a civic responsibility. It is how government policy is influenced in a participative democracy. Notwithstanding the “deep sense of disconnection with the political process” (Electoral Commission, September 2003) the ballot box is the only way to make a difference.
- The 2001 Census indicated that the Muslim population was 1.6 million – the total over the age of 17 will be in the 1 million mark. About 35% of Muslims are in London – forming over 10% of the population in a third of the capital city’s 33 boroughs. Research commissioned by Operation Black Vote and conducted by Professor Muhammad Anwar at Warwick University indicates that Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have the lowest voter non–registration figures than any other ethnic group, save the Chinese.
- In the 2001 General Elections, analysis by The Muslim Council of Britain’s Research & Documentation Committee identified 10-15 constituencies where the Muslim vote can make a difference – those Labour or Conservative seats vulnerable to small swings yet containing a significant Muslim population, and also constituencies with a Muslim electoral population greater than the margin by which the sitting MP won his or her seat.
- Since September 11 there have been almost 600 arrests of Muslims under the anti-terrorism laws leading to convictions of about 2%. Is this disproportionate action not criminalising a whole community, much like what happened to the Irish? Can you comment on whether the so-called war on terror is being overplayed?
- Do you accept that all acts of terrorism should be condemned, both individual acts and state acts of terrorism? What is your position on state terrorism perpetrated by Israel?
- From the media we constantly hear of crimes that are of an anti-semitic nature. But there have been crimes perpetrated against Muslims because they are Muslims. Would you support a law to proscribe Islamophobia in the same way that anti-semitism is not tolerated in society?
- Since 2nd December 2003, it is illegal to discriminate against Muslims in the workplace. Do you support the extension of legislation against religious discrimination to the provision of goods and services?
- There is a high proportion of unemployment amongst Bengladeshi and Pakistani Muslims. There are also problems of child poverty. What plans and proposals do you have to tackle such problem?
Click here for the Respect web site
The Salaam choice is
MP3 audio stream -extracts from Ken's talk at the MCB hustings, East London, 4th June
-Constituency Assembly member: your ‘Respect’ candidate where there is one
-London-wide Assembly member: Labour.
Westminster Councillor Murad Qureshi is Number 2 on the Labour list and his election will ensure a Muslim voice in the Assembly.