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Most Unpredictable UK Election in Decades

Muslim News Editorial, UK

Al-Jazeerah,, May 3, 2010

From what seemed like a mundane election campaign, it sprang into life, as it gained momentum not because of any inspiration from any party but due to the expenses scandal amongst the MPs and Peers. People wanted change in the system and the best way was to ensure a ‘hung Parliament’ which would reduce too much power vested in one party. Interest in the elections increased after the first-ever political parties’ leaders’ debate. The electorate realised that there was an alternate party that may be able to bring about the much needed democratic reforms.

There are so many potential firsts with a record of 146 MPs standing down and making way for what will be a refreshed House of Commons. It has led to a record number of more than 80 Muslim Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPC) being selected in 63 seats and unlike the previous elections, many are placed in winnable seats. The majority of the Muslim PPCs in winnable seats are Labour and it is expected that several Muslim women will become MPs out of the 22 PPCs for the very first time. It is also likely that Muslim Tories will be elected for the first time. The largest number of candidates standing is from the Liberal Democrats, followed by Labour and then Conservatives. (see p9 for full list).

With all parties eagerly seeking votes, Muslims can also play a crucial role in influencing the shape of the next Government and the composition and character of the next Parliament. There are so many compelling reasons for everyone to exercise their right to cast their ballots. The choice can either be based on the party and include issues that concern the community. Candidates, it must be remembered, are elected to represent their constituents and play an important role in shaping policy and deciding whether legislation is passed, amended or defeated. Having an allegiance to a particular party does not necessarily mean that they agree with all their policies.

One may be disinclined to vote because, for instance, the party’s policies seem too pro-Israeli or defends the discredited Prevent Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda. A candidate’s view may be in agreement with Muslim concerns but does not support the party-line and actively seeks to change it and is even willing to rebel in crucial parliamentary votes. It may be a slow process but the most effective way to change excessive policies is by lobbying from within rather than from the outside. MPs need to be brought to account and one of the few opportunities is through the ballot box every four or five years.

The Muslim community has been very active in engaging Muslims to register to vote and encourage them to go out to vote. Even though Muslims woke up late in the day, it will have a huge impact in the number of Muslims, especially the young, voting.

Muslims have held a large number of hustings across the country to gauge opinions of their respective constituent candidates and to demand pledges.

Many candidates have given pledges to deliver on Muslim concerns, both on domestic and international issues. If they don’t deliver, constituents would vote them out in the next elections as many of them are standing in marginal seats where Muslims form a significant number.

The issues which are of importance to Muslims are: the economy, education, health, unemployment, housing, Islamophobia, Islamophobic attacks (increasing number of right wing anti Islamic/Muslim extremist groups are attacking mosques and Islamic centres), counter terror legislations including PVE, stop and search and unethical foreign policy on Palestine, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

To find out the respective parties’ policies on the above issues see pages 4 & 5, and exclusive interviews with the three party leaders – Prime Minister exclusive interview on p 16. Interviews with Conservative and Liberal Democrats leaders were published in the March issue of the paper and are also available on The Muslim News website.

The Labour Government began engaging actively with the Muslim community as soon as it came into power in 1997. It has fulfilled many longstanding requests, including introducing a question on religion the 2001 census; funding Muslim schools; allowing Shari’ah compliant financial products; outlawing religious discrimination in the work place and in service delivery in public institutions and outlawing incitement to religious hatred. Labour succeeded in gaining four Muslim MPs so far and has appointed several Muslim peers, as well as Muslim advisors for a host of initiatives. But on the negative side, much changed following the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ with the passing of numerous laws that have adversely affected Muslims and put the whole community under surveillance with its discredited PVE programme. The Government stopped listening, relying more and more on its own advisers and only recently decided to restore relations with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

Over the past decade of more, the Tories have begun to demonstrate a greater understanding of Britain’s diverse faiths. It also supports more traditional family values. Although it has lagged behind many of Labour’s firsts, Conservatives had the first Muslim Member of European Parliament, (and currently has two Muslim MEPs) two peers and expects to have at least two Muslims MPs in the next Parliament. The Party also broke relations with the MCB but unlike the Government, is still refusing to restore ties. On counter-terrorism, the Tory Leader pledged to carry out a review of the Prevent strategy “on the basis of what is effective,” but could not say it would be changed “in the way everyone would like.” During the passing through the Parliament the Bill on outlawing incitement to religious hatred, the Government had to water it down due to opposition from both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Similar to the Labour Party, the Conservatives also supported issues of Muslim concerns.

The Liberal Democrats also supported these similar issues. However, the Party does not have any Muslim MPs but has one Muslim peer. To their credit, they have not broken relations with the MCB. The Lib Dems wants a radical overhaul of the PVE strategy.

On foreign policy issues, there appears to be little difference between Labour and the Conservatives, both remaining adamant that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was right. All the three parties support the Afghanistan war. Similarly, both Labour and the Tories are pro-Israel, both refusing to have any sanctions against Israel for its atrocities in Gaza and breaking of a large number of international laws. During Israel’s attack on Gaza last year, Nick Clegg was the only mainstream party Leader to call for a suspension of new EU agreements with Israel.

The opportunity to bring about change is all the more important with the prospect of a hung parliament or a tiny majority that makes parties more amenable to listen to the people unlike recent large majorities that give governments the freedom to carry out their own agenda with impunity. Muslim communities themselves are large enough to determine the outcome of elections in at least 60 constituencies. There are many widespread reservations and about the shortcoming of the electoral system as well as policies of the parties. But none can be used as an excuse not to vote in the most unpredictable election in decades.

If Muslims want to influence policy change, they need to go out and vote.




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