East London community activist Asim Khan says Muslims must abandon the political party system once and for all and instead put up independent candidates for councillors and MPs who will stay true to their Islamic principles.
“Puthar (son) we always vote Labour.” Those words from my father still echo in my ears on polling day and I have obeyed without question.
In fact, I went one further and became a Labour member when Jeremy Corbyn became leader and offered hope to millions of ordinary people. However, the nature of his ousting and events since have made me seriously question why it is that many Muslims like myself continue to blindly support a party which seems to care less and less about our issues.
Corbyn supported just causes such as freedom for Palestine, for Kashmiris, giving voice to the oppressed. But since Keir Starmer has become leader all of this has been reversed, calling Kashmir a “bilateral issue” between India and Pakistan, seemingly ignoring the UN resolutions on the issue.
On Palestine he continues to parrot the “two-state solution” line without any proposed action to make it a reality, whilst continuing to suspend members for antisemitism, blurring the lines between fair criticism of the Apartheid regime of Israel and genuine antisemitism. Suspend first, ask questions later seems to be the mantra.
In the meantime, widespread accusations of Islamophobia within Labour have been largely ignored – the Forde report was due to be published in February 2021 and continues to be delayed. And to top it all off Trevor Phillips has been quietly admitted back to the party without any discussion, despite accusations of Islamophobia against him.
The Labour Muslim Network, a group of Muslims within Labour, recently commissioned a poll which showed support amongst Muslims for Labour was down by 11 percent.
Until now many Muslims voted for Labour due to their social justice policies at home and abroad. However, since the advent of Starmer they have moved away from these positions and seem to be focusing more on the so-called “red wall” of majority white northern towns where they lost seats at the last election.
In the meantime they take Muslim and other BAME voters for granted, believing that they will always vote Labour as the “lesser of two evils” versus the Tory party.
So the big question is: why do Muslims in 2021 have to make such a choice?
As Muslim parents up and down the country struggle with legislation which will force very young children to be taught about LGBT+ issues; and with organisations such as Solutions Not Sides (SNS) being forced onto our children in a bid to water down their passion for supporting the Palestinian cause; is there another way?
The government and opposition seem to be aligned on these and many other issues. My proposal is that we don’t have to make such a choice and it’s high time we empowered the Muslim community to fight for our own causes.
It is time Muslims in areas with large Muslim populations take a leaf out of George Galloway’s book from the recent Batley and Spen by-election and challenge the status quo of the two-party monopoly.
We can start by putting up independent councillors as has been the case in Birmingham apparently; councillors who can speak up for the Muslim community without fear or favour, without being shackled by party politics. Eventually this can lead to independent MPs too.
Some will argue you cannot achieve anything if you are not in a major party but the fact is many Muslim councillors, and particularly MPs, go into change the system/party but end up having to change themselves. How many proud, confident practising Muslims are MPs or even councillors today?
In Tower Hamlets we have seen how the independent Muslim Mayor Lutfer Rahman was ousted by Labour on accusations of using religious platforms to garner support. Yet the Chief Rabbi before the last general election made it clear that Jews shouldn’t vote for Labour headed by Corbyn. The double standards are stark.
Even in the recent Bately and Spen by-election there seemed to be an implication from Labour that Muslims didn’t support their candidate as they were homophobic and antisemitic – a shocking accusation.
Some will argue that Labour with all its faults are better than the Tories and hence we should stick with them regardless. I say no! Enough.
If Labour really wants support from Muslims they need to change and the only way they will change is if they are challenged. That will not happen within Labour. It’s exactly the same argument we use for Israel – the only way they will change their brutal policies towards the Palestinians and end the occupation is if there are sanctions against them, a ban on arms exports and a global boycott. Like what happened in South Africa.
So starting from today Muslims all over the country should mobilise and start putting up independent councillors to truly represent the Muslim community. Even if you are a lone voice in the council chamber, at least you are a dissenting voice. When you start to get more independent councillors you can start to affect the balance of power and really make a difference.
With enough momentum Muslims can start to push for independent MPs too. It is high time sincere Muslims put themselves forward to truly represent their community rather than forever compromising their faith in a party which has proved itself to be Islamophobic and doesn’t seem to care about Muslims, forever taking them for granted.
If George Galloway can get 21% of the vote in a constituency where he didn’t even live, why can’t sincere Muslims achieve the 1,500 or so votes needed to become a councillor? With local elections not far away, start to mobilise and begin the work now for a better long-term future for Muslims in the UK.