Abdullah al Andalusi reflects on the outcome of the UK General Elections, the role British Muslims played in it, and the way forward as community.
The UK election is over, and now begins a five year term by the Conservative Party who have formed a bare majority within the UK Parliament’s lower house (The House of Commons). What lessons did we learn from the election, and what things should we bear in mind going forward?
Whether the Labour or Tories, the direction of Britain would have differed very little
Both parties were committed to making cuts on government spending and reining back the deficit. This is because it is unavoidable to do so in a Capitalist system, which protects the rich from having their wealth redistributed to the poor, so during hard times, the poor suffers. We shouldn’t forget that it was the Labour government that gave taxpayer’s money to bail out failing banks during the peak of the economic crisis. This is because in a Capitalist system, economic growth depends on interest and debt – and the institutions that provide it are deemed to be important pillars of the economy.
However, let’s not forget, the Labour government prior to David Cameron, under Tony Blair, first implemented the much despised ‘Prevent’ program.
The Conservatives only continued it.
Labour’s Tony Blair wanted to implement 90 days detention of terror suspects without trial, and successfully implemented ‘control orders’ for unconvicted suspects that severely reduced their liberty and freedom, by confining them to their homes during long curfews, and limiting how far they could travel from their home.
Labour implemented a raft of increasingly harsh “anti-terror” laws, these included possession of articles “useful to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”, which include merely possessing documents, even for benign research purposes. The laws Labour introduced also outlawed the vague sounding “glorification of terrorism”, which in theory could outlaw a number of popular action films, purely dependent on the interpretation of the judge and the Crown Prosecution Services. Those laws coincidentally have been used mostly against Muslims who had – as admitted by the courts – no intention of committing acts of violence.
It should also be noted; that laws brought in by Labour does not specifically define terrorism as exclusively targeting civilians. Terrorism is defined as any act of violence done anywhere in the world, without done as an agent of an officially accepted state, against any other state for political purposes. In essence, it would be a crime for anyone to “glorify” any rebels, freedom fighters and insurgents fighting occupation, anywhere and at any time, who would be classed technically as “terrorists”.
Tony Blair also tried to widen powers to ban non-violent political dissidents, but was unable to implement them due to resistance from a number of sides (and public opinion) who were concerned about the effect it will have on “free speech”. After years of media fear-mongering, the Conservatives’ policies are not something new – it’s just the implementation of old Labour policies, which is now something possible.
Furthermore, David Cameron and Theresa May’s anti-extremism rhetoric and plans were overwhelmingly supported by Labour politicians.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary even said that Theresa May’s policies “were the right ones”.
While the Labour-era control orders were overturned by the much less restrictive “TPIMs” – during the Conservative government I might add, the former leader of Labour, Ed Miliband, said “it was a mistake to get rid of control orders”.
Labour actively opposed the scrapping of control orders, with the opposition to its scrapping, led by Hazel Blears. The Conservative government at the time cited problems with the courts (and not their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats) as the cause of repealing the measure.
Presumably the only reason Labour didn’t put up the same measures that the Tories did in their election manifesto, was to win the “Muslim vote”. People often talk about how many manifesto promises are kept by each party (usually small and relatively insignificant changes to the system), but they fail to see the real power that the parties hold – the ability to makes laws and pursue policies they never mentioned in their manifestos in the first place.
The Reality of the UK Parliamentary System
UK’s parliamentary democracy system allows people to vote for a candidate to “represent” their constituency. The UK is divided into 650 constituencies, corresponding to 650 seats in parliament.
Candidates in each constituency are either independent or belong to a political party. Those who belong to a party, enjoy the election campaign resources provided by the party, and the party’s reputation, and have a natural advantage over independent candidates.
The party that gets just over half of these seats (326) becomes the “majority party” and forms a government (if less, they need to form a coalition with other parties). The majority party then selects a Prime Minister (usually the party head), who then must ask permission from the Queen to form a government. The people of the UK do not directly elect the prime minister (and certainly not the Queen, or the members of the House of Lords!).
The majority governing party, once elected, can never be unelected by the people until the next election. They have no obligation to refer the public’s opinion, or listen to them when making laws or policies.
The winning party can form the ruling council called the “Cabinet” which are basically appointed “wazireen” (assistants) to the Prime Minister, and given specific roles, such as treasurer, education, defence, housing, foreign and home affairs. The members of this are not required to be elected officials.
Each elected member of a party, who is a member of the House of Commons, is controlled by specially appointed ministers of their party called “Whips” that coerce members to vote in parliament according to how the party wants. The Whips have the power to offer or remove “patronage” which can advance or destroy a member’s career in politics. For this reason, for example, Muslim MPs will habitually follow their party’s line, if they seek to remain in their position. The case with Baroness Warsi, who defied the Conservative Cabinet, was only possible because she wasn’t an elected MP, but an appointed life-member of the unelected House of Lords. She remains still a member of the “Lords”, despite her quitting the Conservative Party.
Laws are not introduced by the public in the UK, but can be introduced by the majority party, any other member of the House of Commons, a “Lord”, or the media and influential Lobby groups (or individuals) who use their contacts within one of the two houses.
The media and rich businessmen have strong influences on the government, and are “kingmakers” due to funding of the political parties themselves, profits affecting taxes or helping (or hindering) their image to the common people.
In return, parties offer help, peerages (appointing people as Lords) access, and favourable policies and laws (or protect rich people’s assets from popular laws) to media and businesses.
The common people are not totally without influence, but have some influence.
However, this is not due to democracy, but rather due to the universal law of public opinion, which no dictator, democracy or communist collective can ignore and remain stable and safe for long.
People may bombard politicians with letters, protests and petitions (basically “trolling” them) until they are forced to act to make it stop. Others formed “workers unions” that would go on strike and paralyse sections of the economy until their demands are met. Peaceful civil disobedience is similar to strikes, except the people doing it aren’t employees, and the target can be public spaces, not a workplace. When the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher attempted to implement the much hated “poll tax”, the people of the UK rioted until the police said they weren’t going to arrest people any more. The government collapsed, the tax was stopped and Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister.
Many people haven’t voted, not because they don’t care about injustice, but because they observe that of all the means available to effect government policy – voting is the least, if not, completely ineffective to change or influence laws. The high percentage of voting apathy in the UK is mostly due to the realisation that voting doesn’t actually change anything.
It is a true observation that UK foreign policy or general domestic policy doesn’t change based upon elections – but rather, changes occur based upon changes in power relations, public opinion and the influence of powerful interest groups – or mass protests (the universal way the people demand change under any governing system).
The other constants about the UK, is that like the US, it is based upon an ideology (Secular Liberalism) that can’t be voted out of power, and its government structure will not dramatically change due to elections. It’s like asking people which players they would like on a team, without allowing them to choose the game the team plays, the stadium it operates from, the team’s size, or the sponsors.
Of course, many Muslims didn’t vote just because of its political futility, but also because they want to bear witness to Allah (swt) as the supreme Legislator and to His (swt) laws, as the only true solution for the problems that mankind face. There can be no “lesser of two evils” argument used, or the “forbidding evil and calling to the good argument” when voting in a secular Capitalist system, itself is merely the validation of that system that fundamentally causes and perpetuates the very injustices we commonly complain about, and it can only exist with due to our validation of it. It’s like trying to shut down a casino by buying it out using large amounts of money you hope to win by bringing your own money and playing at the casino – the house always wins.
Another analogy would be, if Muslims were under an oppressive pagan society, who didn’t want Muslims but only persecuted some of them, but discriminated against all of them, and generally made life difficult. They offered to Muslims, that they will stop persecuting them for believing in Allah (swt), on condition they must worship their idols and join one of their accepted cults. One cult, that of Hubal, doesn’t allow the worship of Allah (swt), the others, the cult of the three daughters, Allat, Manat and Al Uzza, allows the worshipping of Allah (swt), as long as you include them as His “daughters”. Would any Muslim seriously argue that it is the “lesser of the two evils” to join the latter cult and deny the former? Sure, the latter allows worship of Allah (swt), but at what cost to the principles of the Muslim?
Contrary to what many people believe, it is not only the large section of the Muslim community who don’t vote, but also other religious communities, like the Christian sect, Jehovah’s Witnesses – who’ve united upon non-voting as a common doctrine of all the worldwide Jehovah’s Witness community.
Interestingly, the Northern Ireland party, Sinn Fein, who were once described as the “political wing of the IRA” stand for election and are regularly elected into Parliament with between 4 and 5 candidates, but refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen because they do not recognise the sovereignty of the UK over them and desire the re-unification of Northern Ireland with Ireland. Why? Because they refuse to swear allegiance (as all MPs are made to upon election), they are not allowed to vote on laws or policies in the House of Commons. Their reason for standing for election is primarily due to the platform and access British Parliament provides, which they use to improve their lobbying position and influence, in the hopes of getting a referendum on Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK.
While I don’t judge anyone who voted based upon sincere intentions, the point of these analogies is to explain to those whose criteria of ‘maslaha’ (benefit) is indistinguishable from Western utilitarianism, that there are many Muslims who follow the classical Islamic understanding that being witness to principles, is the best maslaha, upon which all other considerations are judged as ‘maslaha’ as to whether they benefit the witnessing to it, or not.
Governments are only able to do as much as the people let them, and although they preserve the power system and wealth distribution, they do not enact laws or policies favourable (or demanded by) the public, until public opinion mounts so high, it puts pressure on them. This works under most systems of government, whether monarchy, democracy or dictatorship.
The 2015 General Election results
The election results roughly met the predictions of some analysts and political pundits, but it revealed something rather strange to most people.
The winning Party, the Conservatives won 331 seats, which is 51% of the House of Commons, but that is only 36% of total voted (or 24% of the total of everyone who could vote). Labour received 31% of the vote, yet received 36% (232) of the seats of the House of Commons.
UKIP, the not-so-friendly-to-immigrants party received more votes than the Liberal Democrats (3,881,129 votes) only received one seat (out of 650 available).
The Scottish National Party received 1,454,436 Votes, 4.7% of the vote, yet claimed 56 seats! (0.09% of seats).
Why these confusing numbers and percentages? It’s quite simple. The UK is a Parliamentary Democracy, not a Proportional Representational one, like in most European countries (where percentage of votes = number of seats). Basically, each constituency has an unequal population to each other, but each is worth only one seat. It is possible that a party may actually beat another party in the election, despite the other party getting more people to vote for them!
Many are complaining about this unfair system, but you have to consider why this is preferred to the European method. The UK (and US electoral college system) is designed to limit as much as possible “mob rule” – the problem of true Democracies. The Enlightenment thinkers who helped develop these systems didn’t trust democracy (and they said so).
Europe came to electoral systems a little differently, and developed proportional representation instead, but implemented other kinds of checks and balances against the dangers of mob rule. However, these checks haven’t been as effective as the Anglo-American systems. You’ll notice that Europe contains more popularist fascists and open racists in their parliaments and congresses than UK and USA, and this is precisely why the UK and USA won’t be changing their system any time soon – they are better protected from majorities of non-liberals coming to power.
The way forward
The 2015 General Election results doesn’t need a discussion of “way forward from it”, but rather a discussion on “What should we have been doing and continue doing whether elections existed or not”. And to this, I would urge all sincere and conscientious Muslims and non-Muslims to continue trying to influence public opinion, spread information (via public debates, leaflets and media), be witnesses to the truth and exemplify good manners.
More now than ever, due the demonisation of Islam and Muslims reaching its peak, we must be prepared to lobby, petition, protest march, demonstrate, go on strike and do any strong but peaceful activity we can to protect our God-given rights, which many in the government (Labour and Conservative) want to take away from us.
Abdullah al Andalusi is the founder of the Muslim Debate Initiative. He is an international lecturer, thinker, speaker and debater on Islamic and Muslim issues.