5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih spoke with MPACUK’s Imran Shah who says Muslims must vote in the upcoming General Election to kick the Islamophobic Tories out and put Jeremy Corbyn in power.
In the run-up to the December 12 vote, MPACUK will target marginal seats where the Muslim vote is larger than the current Tory MP’s majority vote. And it will focus entirely on MPs that have a record of advancing Islamophobia and/or working against the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
5PILLARS: Is there such a thing as the Muslim vote?
IMRAN SHAH: Yes definitely. When we started campaigning in 2006 it wasn’t really a thing, but now we see lots of Muslim organisations mobilising around elections and lots of Muslims – and especially visible Muslims such as hijabis – entering political parties. And there is a lot more clarity on what Muslims should do so it’s easier to mobilise.
5PILLARS: Why should Muslims vote in this particular election?
IMRAN SHAH: The fact that Islamophobes like Katie Hopkins and Rod Liddle are ringing alarm bells about how powerful the Muslim vote is shows you that they don’t want you to vote. And then there is the BJP who are trying to mobilise the Hindu vote for the Tories. So they have already picked a side; the side of the Tories who have proved to be incredibly Islamophobic.
So Muslims have to choose which side they are going to back. Are they going to let the Tories back in by not voting or are they going to back Corbyn who has put his neck on the line for Palestine and Kashmir and issues like Islamophobia and Prevent? We have someone who is on our side like never before, so if you’re not going to vote for Corbyn then when are you going to vote?
5PILLARS: Can Corbyn really change anything if he wins? Isn’t he hamstrung by the right-wing of the Labour Party?
IMRAN SHAH: If we look at the battles in the Labour Party in the past few years the Left has won most of them. Even the deputy leader Tom Watson, who’s on the Right of the party, is calling for a truce now because he knows his own position is vulnerable. The only thing they have against Corbyn is that he hasn’t won an election, but if he can do that he will be able to do a lot of stuff.
Corbyn has stood on a platform of integrity and he has been relentless and uncompromising in his principles despite the backlash that he’s got. So if you’re not going to vote for someone like Corbyn then when will you vote because there hasn’t been an opportunity like this to vote for someone like him in our lifetime.
5PILLARS: The Muslim Council of Britain have encouraged Muslims to vote but haven’t told them how to vote. Do you think it’s a mistake not to give Muslims more guidance?
IMRAN SHAH: I understand why the MCB would want to remain neutral because they feel they have to work with the government of the day no matter who it is, but they really do have to consider how they have been sidelined by this Tory government. But if they still feel that they can’t choose a side then they need to call out the Islamophobia of this Tory government at the very least.
5PILLARS: What about the other major parties – the Lib Dems or the SNP if you live in Scotland. Should Muslims vote for them?
IMRAN SHAH: If you want to vote for the SNP then by all means do so, especially if it helps kick the Tories out. Even though they are a nationalist party they have an ideology of multiculturalism and they have been very vocal against issues such as racism, Islamophobia and war. And I would say the same thing about Plaid Cymru in Wales who have been very vocal against any form of bigotry as part of their Welsh nationalist agenda.
As for the Lib Dems, I would say vote for them if you live in a Tory-Lib Dem marginal and Labour have no chance in that area because we need to reduce the number of Tory seats as much as possible.
5PILLARS: So your advice is not just to blanket vote Labour, but to vote tactically with the primary aim of kicking the Tories out?
IMRAN SHAH: Yes.
5PILLARS: What about MPACUK’s election strategy. You are targeting 14 Tory seats, tell me about that?
IMRAN SHAH: Normally we are non-partisan and we would judge a candidate based on his/her policies and not the political party, but ultimately this is going to come down to a battle between Johnson and Corbyn so if you’re being really smart you have to back a party. That’s why we are going against the Tories who have a record of supporting Islamophobia, Israel and Modi’s occupation of Kashmir.
So we are looking at Tory marginals where the Tory majority is much lower than the population of Muslims there. For example, in a place like Southampton Itchen, which I think is the most marginal seat in the country, there are thousands of Muslims there who could play a vital role. So we’re not just targeting places where Muslims are high in number like High Wycombe, Birmingham and Bradford; there are many other places where Muslims can play a vital role.
5PILLARS: One of the seats you are targeting is Boris Johnson’s in Uxbridge. Do you think there is a serious chance that he could be unseated?
IMRAN SHAH: Yes I do, his majority is only something like 5,000 and I think there are 8,000 Muslims there, and many people will mobilise against Boris including the large student population. So yes there is a realistic chance that the sitting Prime Minister could be kicked out by the Muslim vote and that is historic.
5PILLARS: You’ve employed a similar strategy at previous elections. Did you have any success?
IMRAN SHAH: Yes this is a strategy that we’ve employed since 2006 when we mobilised in Rochdale and in Blackburn against Jack Straw. We won the Rochdale seat because people listened to us and lost in Blackburn because people didn’t listen to us. In 2010 we contested 6 seats and we won 4 and that was largely against Labour ministers who voted for the Iraq war. And in 2017 we contested three and won all three of them in Tory-Labour marginals.
We feel that there is more political understanding now, especially among the youth, about how the game is played and that gives us more leverage to play the game.
5PILLARS: What’s your prediction for the General Election?
IMRAN SHAH: Initially I thought that Labour could come out the biggest party but I am concerned about BJP supporters trying to steal the Labour vote from a traditionally Labour-voting Hindu community. Although I realise that there are many Hindus in the UK who don’t like the BJP, I still wonder how many Hindu votes will go to the Tories.
But overall I am still cautiously optimistic because of people’s anger over austerity and Brexit. The Brexit Party will also haemorrhage support away from the Tories and Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, saying that she won’t go into collation with Labour means that more people will vote Labour in marginals.
The Tories are definitely going to lose seats in Scotland and in Wales, perhaps to the Lib Dems. So it will come down to Tories and Labour and I’m pretty sure that Labour will swing it because their campaign machinery is much more effective than the Conservatives. Johnson is a good campaigner but his PR is absolutely horrible right now and has been over the last few months as Prime Minister.