Let Voting Commence

Let Voting Commence

Issue 67 April 2010

Pundits are describing it as the closest fought election in a generation. Saqeb Mueen explores how the election presents a historic opportunity for all voters, including Muslims.

Election fever is set to grip the UK in the next few weeks. The stakes are high for all party leaders. Gordon Brown wishes to extend the Labour Party’s record in office and establish his own electoral legitimacy as Prime Minister. David Cameron seeks to challenge that hold on power and break the longest period out of office for the Conservative party. And Nick Clegg is savouring the very real prospect of the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power in the event of a hung parliament.

As politicians still reel from the Great Expenses Scandal of 2009, budding MPs party face the mighty challenge of a crisis of confidence in our politics. Voter apathy has been a scourge of British politics for some time and this latest political debacle may further repel people – including Muslims – from voting. Apathy aside, are there other reasons to exacerbate Muslim antipathy towards today’s political parties and the ballot box?

So what will be the voting intentions of those British Muslims who do make it to the polling station, including a new and growing generation of Muslims youngsters?

A survey by ComRes and think tank Theos suggested that 35% of Muslims may vote Labour, 13% the Conservatives and 15% the Lib Dems.

Received wisdom states that the many sections of the Muslim community have traditionally been a heartland for Labour. Can Labour take the ‘Muslim vote’ for granted, and is there such a thing as a ‘Muslim vote’ anyway?  In 2004, with the Iraq War still dominating the political agenda, an ICM poll suggested that 41% of British Muslims supported the Lib Dems, 31% supported Labour and 16% the Conservatives.

These numbers did not indicate that a Muslim block vote was in play. This certainly unseated Labour’s Oona King, but had no impact in the constituency of the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw – an area noted for its large Muslim population. Given that we face one of the toughest political contests we have witnessed for some time, are we to assume that British Muslims will only vote along confessional lines this time round? Not necessarily. Part of the election process is for all Britons, including Muslims, to fully engage in assessing their prospective parliamentary candidate, prising real and accountable promises from them. It may not be about communal interests either. The faith can inform the moral agency to vote for a party that they believe will seek the common good of all, regardless of faith. In this, the Muslim voter, like any other Briton, may well make discerning choices of which their ‘Muslim identity’, if ever there was one, is only a part of a menu of considerations.

Whether there is a ‘Muslim vote’ or not depends partly on how we envisage Muslim communities and how Muslims organise themselves. Britain’s Muslims are certainly heterogeneous. But on issues such as faith schools or halal meat, counter-terrorism or equality at work, Muslims do have common concerns.

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