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Wed 11 December 2019
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The founder of MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) explains why the Muslim vote could cause some upsets and surprises at the polls next month.


Can it possibly be true, I hear you say, that just 5% of the UK’s population could determine the outcome for us all in this election? That this small minority could unlock parliamentary purgatory and the Brexit deadlock, one way or another?  

Put it another way: could the British Muslim vote be so audacious as to overturn the 5,034 majority currently enjoyed by the sitting Prime Minister Boris Johnson? What about the former leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, who has a slim 2,438 majority, now battling for his political life against Labour’s Faiza Shaheen – a British Pakistani Muslim who has attracted a huge local following in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities?

Like so much in politics these days, what seemed impossible is now perfectly probable. And the Muslim vote, in particular, is worthy of careful consideration. 

A curious combination of historical migration patterns into UK inner cities by the Muslim community, coupled with the UK’s first past the post electoral system, means that the Muslim community could well determine the outcome of next month’s General Election for us all.

Let me share some fascinating facts from research unveiled last week by MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development). Consider the following from its data-set (which can be viewed in full here):

  • Muslim voters constitute more than 100% of the swing needed in around 50 UK constituencies. That’s 50 seats, at a time when we could have a hung Parliament.    
  • 1 in 9 parliamentary seats have a population of Muslims to the tune of 10% or more.
  • 22 parliamentary constituencies have a Muslim population of 20% or more, often comfortably able to swing the seat.

Historically, the turnout rate of Muslim voters has been 47%. This compares to 65% for the public at large. But, the rise of Islamophobia across the UK and within the political sphere could see a far higher turnout this time round from Muslims.

Labour could well see key seats with wafer-thin margins, such as Kensington, fortified by the Muslim vote. Kensington, which currently has a Labour MP with a majority of 20, has more than 12,000 Muslims residents of whom at least 4,500 are of voting age. Other marginals which Labour could fortify, or even conquer, courtesy of the Muslim vote, are Keighley, Pendle, Bedford, Colne Valley, Harrow East, Hendon, Finchley and Golders Green and Dewsbury, and many more. There is plenty to play for. 

There are, of course, seats up for grabs for Tories too to win from Labour if the Muslim vote can be swayed. For example, constituencies such as Newcastle, Canterbury, Ipswich, Bolton North East and more could all fall into Conservative hands – if only they can persuade Muslims that they are not the enemy.  

However, the Tories have one massive problem when trying to secure the Muslim vote: they have an atrocious record when it comes to Islamophobia. 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has likened Muslim women wearing the niqab to looking like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”, whilst other Tory candidates have fared no better: 

  • Richmond Park (with a majority of 45) is the seat held by Zac Goldsmith, who was accused of running an Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan in the 2016 London Mayoral race.
  • Harrow East (with a majority of 1,757) is the seat held by Bob Blackman, accused of endorsing Islamophobia after posting an anti-Muslim article on his Facebook page in 2018.  
  • Crawley (with a majority of 2,457) is a seat held by Henry Smith, who faced criticism earlier this year after claiming that there is “no Islamophobia in the Conservative Party”.

To add insult to injury, the Tories have turned back on an agreement by many senior figures to hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.  It gets worse in that the Tory leadership has consistently shunned Islamophobia awareness month. 

The Brexit Party brings in a curious dimension to all this. Nigel Farage has capitulated to his backers and pulled out of incumbent Tory seats. One might conclude that this makes it much easier for Conservative in Labour swing seats as the Brexit Party won’t be splitting the Tory vote. But, it’s really not that simple. There are plenty of Labour voters who have switched to the Brexit Party who will now feel betrayed by Farage and will consider it to be ‘better the devil they know’ with Labour.  

Looking beyond the two big-hitter parties, there are plenty of interesting sub-plots involving the SNP, Lib Dems and more. Glasgow North East is undoubtedly on the Scottish National Party’s radar with a 242 majority, whilst eligible Muslim voters could, in theory, topple twice-over the SNP’s Anne Thewliss in Glasgow Central if need be. The Lib Dems will want to activate the 5,000 plus Muslim community in Richmond Park to overturn Zac Goldsmith’s slim majority of 43 – and to teach him a lesson for the Islamophobia he disseminated in the London Mayoral election campaign of 2016.

So, what matters to British Muslims?

MEND has published a Muslim Manifesto covering issues such as the protection of Halaal meat, Islamic dress, faith schools, tackling Islamophobia across society, discrimination in the workplace and more. The organisation has been in detailed discussions with political parties and prospective parliamentary candidates to sign up to its policy pledges in the hope of them attracting the greatest number of Muslim votes.  

Also, for the first time ever, British Muslims have launched a dedicated election website called ‘Get Out and Vote’ geared towards maximising Muslim voter turnout through mosques and community institutions. The site incorporates unique insight and technology clearly articulating which political parties and local wannabe MPs have signed up to the greatest number of policy pledges from the ‘Muslim Manifesto’. In turn, this ought to guide Muslims on how to vote locally.   

So, election polls can say all they want about a huge Tory lead weeks ahead of voting but, as history showed last time, polls can get it dramatically wrong and the smart money might well back another hung Parliament. If that’s where we are destined, will this General Election actually achieve anything? It could do – if it results in the concerns and interests of Muslims being taken seriously in British political life.  


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