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The Muslim Vote Should Not Be Underestimated

Posted: 01/05/2012 00:00

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The recent success of George Galloway's victory in Bradford West shocked the mainstream political spectrum when he won the vote of the Bradford community by an overwhelming majority.

As the analysis emerged after his victory, what was clear was that the three mainstream political parties did not do enough to reach out to the people of Bradford, in particular, the Muslim community.

As the London Mayoral elections and local elections in parts of the country takes place on 3 May, how significant is the Muslim vote and should politicians be worried about how Muslims are encouraged to vote?

Muslims represent 3% of Britain's population. Even though this is a small percentage, because of the high concentrations of the Muslim population, there are 20 marginal constituencies with significant Muslim voting potential. In these constituencies, the Muslim vote can be crucial

Muslims have always been strong supporters of the Labour party. However, in the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats managed to secure a large percentage of the Muslim vote away from Labour due to their rejection of the Iraq war and support for the Palestinian cause. George Galloway's success in Bradford West also highlighted the distrust felt by the Muslim community towards political support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

An end to the Muslim traditional Labour vote?

Gone were the days where Labour could woo the Muslim community by promising extensions to homes and funding for Muslim initiatives. What we are seeing now is a generation of Muslim youth who are disgruntled, disengaged and fed up of the constant negative media spotlight on their religion and names.

Where to put the X on the ballot paper is now becoming a tool for their voices. This was clearly evident in Bradford West as only four out of ten voters voted in favour for three of the mainstream political parties.

While in the past, Muslims have always supported one party, the next generation is promoting tactical voting by looking and what their MPs and local councils are doing about the issues affecting them.

So, what are some of the issues look at when deciding who to vote for? A study carried out by YouEelect on voting Muslim intentions showed that when it came to voting, 53% of Muslims viewed foreign policy as the biggest issue while 38% said Islamophobia and 35% felt domestic policy was a significant issue. Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan were the three main areas of foreign policy which Muslims felt strongly about.

However, when it came to discovering how politicians stand on these issues, lobbying groups are playing a major role in advocating this. In the 2010 general elections, local mosques and community groups encouraged tactical voting as Muslim voters were urged to look at what their MPs were proposing on their behalf.

We are seeing an advanced repetition of this as Britain prepares for local elections and London Mayoral elections on 3 May. Numerous organisations and advocacy groups have launched campaigns to encourage Muslims to get out and vote. Some of these groups have even gone a step further by telling Muslims who not to vote for.

Tactical Voting by Muslims

Engage, an organisation which promotes political participation, launched a Get out and Vote initiative which outlines the steps that are needed for Muslims to vote, from registration to how to fill out a ballot paper. A list which point out the far-right candidates who are standing in the May 3rd local elections was also published on their website to inform Muslims of those candidates who endorse Islamophobia.

However, the real momentum is coming from the London Mayoral elections where groups all over the country are telling Muslims not to vote for Boris Johnson. Known for his disengagement with Muslim communities and strong support for the Israeli government, Muslim groups all over the UK are encouraging Muslims to vote him out by voting for Ken Livingstone on May 3rd.

From YouTube videos to blog articles and emails, 'Do Not Vote Boris' has been headlining across Facebook and Twitter. Influential blog articles published by Muslim voices and London Muslim persuade Muslims that voting Ken Livingstone is the right choice for their communities. The popular YouTube Diary of a Bad Man series, which is viewed by hundreds of Muslim youth, has also joined the campaign with a video encouraging Muslim youth to do their research and not vote for Boris Johnson.

Another advocacy group, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK), which operates the UK's largest Muslim website, also has their own campaign against Boris Johnson. Statistics and evidence to show his anti-Muslim sentiments and support for the Israeli government has been highlighted in a number of articles posted on their website and Facebook and Twitter page.

In the 2010 general election, MPACUK launched a campaign in six areas with high Muslim concentrations aiming for Muslim voters to get rid of MPs who voted for the Iraq war and MPs who were members of the Labour Friends of Israel. Out of the six MPs that were targeted, four were voted out successfully as a result of the campaign.

In the past, Labour has always had been able to gather the Muslim vote on their side. As more and more Muslims are opening up their eyes to the political scene and as groups like MPACUK and Engage are encouraging this political participation, Muslim voters are thinking twice about where to place their vote. This is not only evident in the result in the Bradford West election but also the campaigns not to vote for Boris Johnson in the upcoming London Mayoral election.

Whether these campaigns are effective in the upcoming elections, we'll soon find out. However, Muslim communities across the UK and political parties alike are now realising the potential of the tactical Muslim vote.

Political parties who are aiming for strongholds in constituencies where the Muslim vote can be crucial must now work extra hard to engage with Muslim communities and address the issues which are on the top of their agenda.

 

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