Stephen Colegrave looks at the importance of the Muslim vote in the 2019 General Election and why it is so anti-Conservative.

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There are a number of high profile marginal seats where the Muslim vote could have a decisive effect in next month’s General Election – including Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge constituency and Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford and Woodford.

The advocacy organisation MEND believes that the results of up to 50 seats could be swung by Muslim voters. As well as Uxbridge, and Chingford and Woodford, the most likely to be influenced are Kensington in London, where Labour has a majority of 20; Pendle in Lancashire with a majority of 1,279; and Dewsbury in west Yorkshire.

This should provide cause for concern in the Conservative Party as its track record on Islamophobia has been lamentable. Just recently, Matt Hancock was denounced by fellow Conservative and the party’s former co-chair, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, as “whitesplaining” Islamophobia when he defended the Tories for not carrying out an inquiry into Islamophobia, saying that “others take a more balanced approach” towards this issue than her.

Muslim voters are also likely to be unimpressed by the fact that Boris Johnson continually references his Muslim great grandfather, as well as his disrespectful and Islamophobic “letterboxes” jibe with regards to Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burka. And it’s not just Johnson. Michael Gove has a strong relationship with the much-criticised Henry Jackson Society, which he helped to found. A founder member, Marko Attilo Hoare, said the organisation had become dominated by “right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views” in 2012. The Henry Jackson society denies it is Islamophobic and says it has Muslim staff and members but in 2017, Matthew Jamison, a founding director and former associate director complained it had become a “far-right, deeply anti-Muslim racist organisation”.

While some may see Johnson’s burka jibe as just another example of his eccentricity, it had a very pernicious effect, with Islamophobic hate incidents rising 375% in the week that followed Johnson’s Telegraph column. In the three weeks after the article’s publication, 42% of reported offline Islamophobic incidents referenced Boris Johnson or the language used in his column, according to Tell MAMA.

The danger of the Muslim vote to the Conservatives is nothing new.

According to MEND data, in 2017, Muslim voters were crucial in overturning Conservative majorities in Bedford, Keighley and Peterborough. But, this time, it looks as if the effect could be much larger unless the Tory manifesto can come up with something special to regain Muslim voters’ trust.

At the moment, the Muslim community sees in the Conservatives a party unwilling to address Islamophobia and keen to use the all-pervasive and controversial Prevent programme to root out ‘pre-crime’ by those suspected of being vulnerable to terrorism – a completely non-legal concept that appears to be unfairly targeted at their community.

The establishment press seems to have given the Conservative Party a relatively easy ride on Islamophobia, compared to the attention focused on Labour and anti-Semitism. While both are completely inexcusable, the imbalance in reporting is very obvious.

Conservatives should be making better headway amongst this entrepreneurial and business-orientated community. Young Muslims are better educated than the rest of the country, with more than 50% attending university and more obtaining first-class degrees. Muslim family values are also in tune with traditional Conservative values. But, until Johnson and Gove do something to win back trust, this is not going to happen.

It is probably too late for Johnson to do anything to win over the Muslim community. The question is whether they will feel that it is not worth voting at all or mobilise and stop Johnson in his tracks.

*25/11/19 After complaint from the Henry Jackson Society this paragraph was expanded.


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