By Zaf Shah
Research by the Runnymede Trust suggests that British Muslims make up 4.8 per cent of the UK population. They are the second largest faith group in the UK after Christians and have the youngest age profile of all religious groups with 48 per cent of Muslims aged 24 and under (Mend 2015). This brings with it significant opportunities for political parties competing for minority group votes at the ballot box. With that and particularly in election year and in most cases the incumbent party will look very closely at how their manifesto pledges will impact on the BME communities. In 2010 The Ethnic Minority British Election Study from the 2010 general election found that Muslims are less likely than other minority groups to be registered to vote, and in places like Bradford West won’t vote for the Conservative Party. Historically, albeit a three year lull BW has been a Labour stronghold. This can be due to a number of factors, lack of meaningful representation of political leaders often cited as one of the causes. (Heath et al 2012). Some refer to the 1968 Enoch Powell Rivers of Blood Speech as still having an effect on the minds of many in votingham, I would disagree, this may have been the case 20 – 30 years ago, but many from the BME communities would argue that it’s about having a coherent, and articulate voice in parliament, who represents all communities in the constituency and not just his/her vested interest.
Lack of Political Participation is costing British Muslims?
Of course, some would say if the Conservative party manifesto or indeed any parties is tailored as a tool of engagement for all communities, not just BME, then those very same communities will mobilise in furthering the social, civic, economic and political aspects of their lives, indeed furthering the integration of particularly British Muslims in UK society? Did the Conservative Party have specific pledges that were designed solely for BME communities or Muslims? I would argue that if indeed a party such as a One Nation Conservative Party designed pledges for particular communities, then it would possibly be failing its own vision and the vision of the wider electorate, therefore as we discussed earlier, if our communities are disengaged from politics with no real representation or leaders to be their voice, then what difference will a few pledges make? Why do in the case of Bradford West particularly Pakistani communities think the Tory Party are the “nasty racist party”, when it was the Tory Party who gave us our first Pakistani female Muslim member of the cabinet, our First Pakistani Muslim Business Secretary, need I say more? It’s the Conservative Party that has provided the right environment in which talent from within the BME have not viewed their ethnicity as a barrier for success.
Perhaps in the build up to the General Election of 2015 the Tory Hierarchy didn’t engage as well as it could have with Muslim communities, but one thing that was clearly evidenced was David Cameron made no bones about meeting and greeting with large swathes of Sikh and Hindu electorates in votingham, who gave Mr Cameron the very push from BME communities that the party so desired. Perhaps we ought to reflect and think why the push with Sikh and Hindu communities and not Muslim Communities? Are they more intelligently engaged with mainstream British Politics than Muslim Communities?
Legislation divides loyalties amongst BME voters
Anti-Terror legislation has also played a part in creating suspicion and disconnect between our security agencies and indeed governments. Arguably this was at its highest during the government of Tony Blair. We have since early 2003 had a long-term strategy for countering international and home-grown terrorism (known within Government as CONTEST). Its aim is to reduce the risk from international terrorism, so that people can go about their daily lives freely and with confidence. The strategy is divided into four principal strands. Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. Some would say this has failed, and indeed if it was effective and working why would British Muslims be prepared to travel and participate in violent and an often brutal armed struggle with Isis and its enemies. I think it’s extremely difficult for any government to absolutely get it right every time in terms of the narrative whenever anti-terror legislation is proposed. If you have done nothing wrong then why should this worry you? I honestly have greater concerns, such as the Economy, Jobs, Schools and Health inequalities than to be overly concerned with anti-terror legislation.
The Queen’s Speech added to the resentment from BME communities, with policies that impacted into the very heart of BME community concerns on immigration and over -reliance on the state welfare system, again it’s the tone of the debate rather than the controls that are proposed. Why are some third and fourth generations so reliant on the state, I thought the state was meant as a last resort not an option? My father was one of the first migrants in Bradford and didn’t claim from the state, but integrated, grafted, and often worked several jobs to provide for our growing family. A theme that was all too common during the 1960’s and 70’s when migration from Pakistani Mirpur was at its peak.
With a fragmented Labour Party having no clear direction, I think we will see the Conservative Party in Power for the next ten years and with that, what can be said is that most BME, particularly Muslim voters will switch their allegiances over time to the party they feel most connected with and whose values are not entirely dissimilar to theirs. Yet it must be said, this is by no means is a one way street, and if the Conservative Party is serious about engaging with Muslim Communities then it also has to play its part. The Conservative party are here to stay and we ought to be embracing the political winds of change rather than batting against the