ENGAGE Preston Hustings event

The Asian Image, Wednesday 5th May 2010

Preston Muslim Girls High School hosted a lively hustings with Parliamentary candidates Mark Hendrick (Labour), Mark Jewell (Lib Dem) and Nerissa Warner-O’Neill (Con) answering questions.

The frank and often sharp exchanges lasted for a little over two hours and had around 100 local people in attendance.

All candidates agreed on the need to combat Islamophobia which they viewed as equally offensive as anti-Semitism or racism.

All also agreed to work towards a Parliamentary inquiry into how to quell the worrying rise in Islamophobic attacks and incidents.

The candidates also agreed that faith schools helped strengthen community cohesion.

Given the Preston Muslim Girls’ High school achieved substantially higher standards than the Lancashire average, all the candidates agreed to work towards securing state funding for the school if they were elected.

On the issue of Civil Liberties the candidates did differ.

Both Mark Jewell and Nerissa promised to scrap the key Labour policy to introduce ID cards with the Lib Dems going further by promising to reduce the pre-charge detention period from 28 days to 14 days. The Conservatives promised to review the 28 day detention period.

However, it was the issue of foreign policy that really engaged the audience and prompted some of the liveliest exchanges of the evening.

Mark Jewell from the Lib Dem was prepared to acknowledge that recent foreign policy has caused huge anger and resentment amongst the British Muslim community, whilst the other two candidates refused to acknowledge such a link.

Whilst all the candidates agreed on working towards a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, both Mark Jewell and Mark Hendrick considered the Israeli policies towards Palestinians to be a form of apartheid with Nerissa arguing such a comparison was not accurate.

Lib Dem Mark Jewell was the only candidate to call for the British government to have direct negotiations with Hamas and for an arms embargo to be imposed against Israel given the allegation of war crimes as contained in the United Nations Goldstone report.

Mark Hendricks track record, as MP for Preston for the past 10 years came under some scrutiny.

Whilst refusing to apologise for supporting the Iraq war, Mark Hendrick did acknowledge he would not have voted for the war at the time, had he realised Iraq did not posses weapons of mass destruction.

Mark also confirmed he relied on intelligence briefings, not political convictions, to decide how to vote on key issues such as the Iraq War and pre charge detention periods.

Bashir Timol, the chair of the event, said: “Having the candidates constructively and transparently engage with the Muslim community can only be good for Preston.

The sheer unpredictability of the national general election campaign coupled with the apparent collapse of the core labour vote may result in this safe seat becoming vulnerable for the first time in nearly four decades. It will be fascinating to see whether Preston Muslims will vote en masse for a single party, and whether this will make a difference to the overall result.”

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