(PICTURE: Sadiq Khan)
UK election: Prospects of aspiring Muslim MPs
Elham Asaad Buaras
The prospects of having more Muslim candidates elected at the General Election are much brighter than in 2005. Although there are around the same number standing (80 compared to 79 in 2005), more will be elected than in 2005, including several women, from various parties. As has become customary, The Muslim News presents the most comprehensive analysis of the various chances and challenges faced by the aspiring MPs.
The capital is divided into 73 seats, making it a major factor on the make-up of the next Government. Nineteen (4 Labour, 1 Tory, 6 Lib Dems and 8 others) Muslim Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) are contesting 16 seats, the highest number of all the regions.
In 1997 rows of formerly safe London Tory seats fell in Labour’s landslide victory. In 2005 the Tories recovered in the suburbs, while the Labour vote fell in some of the more liberal inner city areas, making a number of seats highly marginal. In 2008 Labour suffered a further blow when Boris Johnson was elected Mayor. Despite this, many polls have London as one of the lower-swing regions in the election.
Key Tory contests are in outer London seats that went Labour in 1997 – Brentford & Isleworth, Eltham, Enfield North, Finchley & Golders Green, Harrow East and Hendon. Others tenuously marginal seats include Battersea and Westminster North. The Lib Dems will try to hold off the Tories in 5 southern seats, and will target several Labour ones in the inner city such as Islington South & Finsbury and Holborn & St Pancras. Boundary changes create a new Brent Central seat forcing Labour’s Dawn Butler MP and Lib Dems Sarah Teather MP to fight it out. In Barking & Dagenham, the far-right British National Party (BNP) will be mounting their most serious assault, a seat where their first councillor was elected in 2006. A London-wide YouGov poll put the BNP on 3%, its highest figure.
In the East End the battle to secure the coveted Muslim vote in the Respect held Bethnal Green & Bow is expected to be hard fought, but Labour’s Bangladeshi-born Rushanara Ali is well placed to become one of several female Muslim MPs, a first in the UK. For the first time in its history, the seat with a 39% Muslim population is guaranteed a Muslim MP as all the front runners are Muslims. Ali’s chances of regaining the Labour safe seat lost by Oona King to George Galloway in 2005 are boosted by the fact that only 823 votes separate the parties and that Labour have listed it as number 18 target seat.
Oxford University Graduate, Ali, who has worked with a local social innovation think tank focused, promptly publicised her anti-war view, an issue that cost King her seat: “I was opposed to the war in Iraq. I understand the sentiments that many people felt around that, but we need to focus around the local issues that many people are very worried about, like health, jobs and life chances. Labour can deliver and care about this community. I’m running for one reason alone and that is to unite the East End. We need to move past the divisions in the community to tackle the issues that matter to local people, like community safety, jobs and housing.”
Ali is be up against leader of Respect group on Tower Hamlets Council, Abjol Miah, and not Galloway who has departed to the newly created Poplar & Limehouse, where he is be up against Jim Fitzpatrick, MP. Miah praised Respect’s achievements, which include “stop[ing] eleven stock transfers (selling off estates to private landlords); with others won a referendum on the right of people to choose if they want a local directly elected Mayor; made social housing and parking rip offs a political issue for the Council; championed fairer taxes and at every turn fought racism and promoted good community relations. We have stood in solidarity with those facing job cuts, university closures and Trust schools.” He insisted that Labour’s infighting will jeopardize their chances. “New Labour in the area is in total disarray: for years faction fights have paralysed them and betrayed the interests of local people.”
The Tory’s sole Muslim PPC in the capital, Zahir Khan, denied Bethnal Green & Bow is a two horse race between Respect and Labour PPCs. “There isn’t an incumbent MP defending a seat so the slate is clean. I think it’s an open field and no one is guaranteed.” Khan said he is confident the Tories will come to power and that the Muslim community should engage with parties other than Labour. “It’s important that the Muslim and Asian communities engage with the party in power, we’ve historically voted for the opposition.” He also urged for voters “to vote wisely. In the last election we voted for Galloway out of anger, and he could not deliver anything because he is one person fighting against the system.”
Broadcast journalist Ajmal Masroor, 39, insisted the Lib Dems will play a vital role in the elections. “If there’s a hung Parliament the balance of power would be decided by the Lib Dems.” Masroor, a community development and youth worker, will hope to raise the Lib Dems poor showing Bethnal Green & Bow when the party came fourth with only 4,928 of the vote. “Lib Dems have the best programme for tackling the tirade of Islamophobic and draconian and anti-human liberty legislation that the Government has pursued and the Conservatives have supported, and finally bread-and-butter issues such as cutting income tax to £10,000 as well as looking to abolish Council Tax and taking people out of misery and debt by cutting tuition fees, these are ground breaking policies.” He also praised his party’s international policies: “Lib Dems has been consistently against the Iraq war, injustices that have been perpetrated against the Palestinians. In fact Nick Clegg has asked for a trade embargo against Israel and an end to a privileged trade relation that it has with the EU.”
Green PPC and anti-war campaigner, Farid Bakht, is also contesting Bethnal Green & Bow. Bakht, who is the International Coordinator on the party’s National Executive Committee, wants to bring “polarisation” and unity to the borough. Hackney-born Bakht, says he wants to protect young people against any cuts to education, abolish student tuition fees and help train them.
The other Muslim PPCs standing in Bethnal Green & Bow include; Haji Mahmood Choudhury (Independent), Ahmed Malik (Independent), Hasib Hikmat (United Voice
The Green Party has also fielded a total of 72 PPCs in the capital among them Melan Zahra Fardouee (Kensington & Chelsea) and former academic researcher Anne Gray, 65, (Tottenham). Gray supports the local campaigns to save the Whittington Hospital A&E and challenge health service privatisation. She also campaigns on civil liberties and solidarity with Palestine.
Newly created Poplar & Limehouse is one of only two seats where two incumbents fight it out. Environment Minister and Poplar & Canning Town MP, Jim Fitzpatrick will duel against Bethnal Green & Bow MP George Galloway. The rise of Respect and the resulting splitting of the Labour vote combined with gentrification in areas around Canary Wharf have meant that the nationally safe Labour seat of Poplar & Limehouse is now a Tory target seat requiring a swing of fewer than 6%. Fitzpatrick said a vote for Galloway would benefit the Tories adding, “Respect can influence none of that because they are a minor protest group, which does not perform well in the council, which does not have credible [international development] policies, which will not be in power.”
He suggested that Galloway’s record as MP for Bethnal Green & Bow will repel some voters. “People voted for George Galloway because they didn’t know him as well as they do now. The problem that he has had having to pay back money to the House of Commons, having to compensate a member of staff who he sacked by email, having a poor parliamentary record in terms of speaking and voting, spending as much of his time outside parliament… demonstrates that George Galloway’s record is one that people really need to look very closely at before they decide to vote for him again.”
Galloway staunchly defended his parliamentary record. “My expenses as MP for Bethnal Green & Bow are zero, I’m the only London MP whose expenses were zero, and the money paid back was for a telephone bill from 6 years ago that was wrongly applied to a budget by the finance office staff,” he said.
He highlighted Fitzpatrick’s own voting record: “Most votes are either for the Prime Minister’s motion or for the leader of the opposition amendment…and I seldom vote for either. However, I did vote against the war and he voted for it, I did vote against identity cards and he voted for them, I did vote against tuition fees for students and he voted for them, I did vote against the so-called anti-terror legislation and he voted for it. I did vote to demand a ceasefire in Lebanon and he voted against it, I could go on.”
Occupational therapist, Mohammed Hoque and Kabir Mahmud will both stand as Independent PPC’s in Polar & Limehouse.
Respect PPC Samad Billo and the Lib Dem’s Johar Khan are both vying for Enfield Southgate. But the contest is expected to be between Labour PPC Bambos Charalambous and incumbent Tory MP David Burrowes who in 2005 ousted Labour’s Stephen Twigg, by 8.7% swing.
In Croydon North, Respect PPC Mohammed Shaikh is to take his anti-war and anti- public sector cuts message to the Labour stronghold (31.7%) seat.
The Labour selection for the east London seat of Walthamstow has attracted some controversy from Labour activists. Neil Gerrard, MP, is standing down and his replacement Stella Creasy was selected through an all women shortlist, which some have criticised as missing an opportunity to select a male Black or Asian PPC for a seat that has both Afro-Caribbean communities (17%) and Asian (17.8%) populations. Lib Dems PPC Farid Ahmed is trying to narrow the Labour majority of 7,993 in 2005 he came second with 9,330 of the votes an impressive 12.5% increase from the 2001 election.
Labour MP, Sadiq Khan, won the Tooting seat with 43.1% of the vote in the last General Election. The Transport Minister has become the first Muslim to sit in on cabinet meetings. He is expected to successfully defend his 5,381 majority but faces possible consequence of a backlash against the Government.
Khan won the seat in 2005, but with a greatly reduced majority. Labour’s share of the vote fell by 11% to 43% turning this into a three-way contest with the Tory on 30% and the Lib Dems, whose vote share rose by more than any other party, on nearly 20%. Lib Dems have selected Nasser Butt as their PPC for Tooting. Butt is one of the party’s senior human rights activists, a long time campaigner for the party. Tory PPC Mark Clarke said the “popularity” of the Tory council would be an advantage in fighting for the 6.1% swing needed if Tooting is to go Tory.
Labour is trying to regain their Wimbledon seat from the Tories; the Greater London seat has exchanged hands from the Tories and Labour since the 1992 elections. Lib Dems PPC Shas Sheehan will want to break that trend. Although the Lib Dems came in at third with 18.1% of the vote in 2005, they did however increase their vote by 5.1 % for the first time.
Greenwich & Woolwich is currently held by Labour’s Nick Raynsford. The Lib Dems who came in at second with 20.7% of the vote have selected 26 year old estate agent, Joseph Lee, as their PPC. Leader of the Tory group on Greenwich Council, Councillor Spencer Drury, is standing on behalf of the Tories.
Sonia Klein, 41, is standing for Ilford North, Labour target number 28, a seat lost by Labour MP Linda Perham to the Tories in 2005. The Senior Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers will hope to overturn the notional majority of 4%. Klein’s manifesto centres on economic development and social Justice.
She said, “We need inward investment to create new jobs. We have a lot of assets in Ilford which we’re not making the most of. We have great creativity and talent which we can combine together to put Ilford on the map.”
The north-west London seat of Harrow East with many Asian voters includes Kenton, Wealdstone and Stanmore. Its border has been redrawn somewhat in the 2010 boundary review. The seat is considered a Tory target (56) and their PPC Bob Blackman is best placed to benefit from any backlash over the expenses claims of Labour Minister Tony McNulty, MP. According to one poll McNulty’s 2005 majority has been reduced from 4,730 (9.3%) to a notional majority of 2,647 (6.2%). Lib Dems Iran born PPC Nahid Boethe is attempting to build on the party’s slender success (2.7% vote increase) but the party is expected to remain in third place.