With Parliament dissolved and the tabloid sniping in full flow, the General Election is rapidly approaching. There has been much talk of the ‘Muslim vote’, as though we’re one great, pulsing body of 3 million people, with identical needs and views.
That is, in my view, nonsense, because there is as much variation within the Muslim ‘community’ as there is within the Christian ‘community’: we both have rich and poor, liberal and conservative, left-and right-wing. It’s for that reason that I’ve never been entirely convinced by the notion of ‘communities’ based purely on a shared faith or ethnic origin. There is so much more to people than that – to reduce us to our ethnic origin or our perception of a deity is a little patronising, to put it gently.
The problem is that when politicians court the ‘Muslim vote’ they tend to focus purely on ‘Muslim’ issues. One might suggest, for example, that George Galloway was elected as a Respect MP in London’s East End because he was so vehemently opposed to the Iraq war. I’m not quite sure what else he achieved as MP, but I do know that he stood against (and ousted) Oona King, who was an excellent, dedicated Member and, to boot, that rare thing: a black female politician. But Galloway was anti-war and the Muslim population of East London loved it.
It’s hardly the fault of politicians that they jump on bandwagons such as these – both the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Engagement and Development have unveiled their view of what politicians should offer Muslims to persuade them to vote for their particular party. These are fairly predictable: defend the right to practice a faith, combat Islamophobia, support the recognition of Palestine, and so on. I don’t object to any of these things, but I do think we’re missing the point rather.
Let’s be clear: we’re Britons voting for a UK government. If the choice is between soundbites supporting Palestine or a solid policy to maintain access to healthcare, free at the point of use, I know which I’d go for. It’s easy to say you support the sovereign rights of a Palestinian state, but as an MP in the House of Commons you have virtually no influence over the creation of that state.
It’s also easy, as a Muslim, to focus on the policies directly targeting Muslims. But there’s danger in that; it makes us selfish and narrow-minded. We are British citizens living in a multicultural environment. The only policies that are worthwhile are policies which benefit us all. Pandering to the Muslims vote? It’s often cheap spin-doctoring. The Party that deserved your vote is the Party which does the most for those in the greatest need – the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable; refugees, those in care, offenders. And if that Party happens to have specific policies which protect Muslims, all the better. But there’s more to us than our faith; we shouldn’t allow our voting intentions to be clouded by cheap words which will amount to nothing.