The General Election Day dawns on May 7. In reality it is virtually the only time voters can play a decisive influence on the political landscape of the country and is therefore not an occurrence to be squandered, especially when the result is expected to be another hung Parliament.
Party political leaders are in unison calling on everyone to exercise their right of using the ballot box. All votes even those in “safe seats”, are important if not for causing an upset but for setting a future trend for oneself, children and grandchildren.
Some argue there is not a great deal of difference between the parties. In some policy areas there may be a modicum of truth to this. But even when it is only a matter of degree the change is more than worthwhile. Each is an advancement from putting an issue on the agenda until something is done about it.
The main policies and differences between the parties can be freely read elsewhere. Our focus is on issues that affect the community and those linked with other ethnic minorities. Labour and the Liberal Democrats published their own Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) manifesto in the battle of votes in the election where no one party is expected to gain an overall majority.
‘We will put racial equality back on the political agenda with a comprehensive race equality strategy to challenge the barriers still faced by BAME communities, and champion greater diversity across public life – driving better representation across the police and judiciary, and in the company boardroom’, the main opposition party contends.
Whatever one’s views on the issue are, Labour has said it would introduce quotas to increase the number of black and minority ethnic workers getting top jobs in the civil service, which will help tackle the fact that British Muslims face worst job discrimination of any minority group, according to research from Bristol University in 2014. It has also pledged to have a “zero tolerance approach to hate crime, such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” and to “develop a cross-Government strategy on hate crime, from schools to social media, to tackle the growth in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” – a key concern of all Muslim groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain in its election document Fairness not Favours.
The social acceptance of Islamophobia is one of the key concerns of all Muslim communities and national bodies, as demonstrated by the 2012 YouGov poll where 37% of the British public would support policies to reduce the number of Muslims in the UK. Tackling the growth in Islamophobia needs a strong fact base, and for the crime to be recorded professionally. Home Secretary, Theresa May, therefore pledged last month that the Tories will require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as well as anti-Semitic crimes. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, told The Muslim News last month he would be “very keen” to look into it to see whether there can be more consistency in the way religiously motivated hate crimes are reported, and the Labour manifesto would “ensure hate crimes are properly recorded, including incidents of Islamophobia, as is currently done with other types of crime.”
And this was powerfully emphasised by Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband in an exclusive interview with The Muslim News when he said: “We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime. We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country.”
Controversy has raged since the provocative Prevent extremism programme was put on a statutory footing last month as part of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act. But despite all three main parties voting for the latest Counter Terrorism Act, Clegg has said his party wanted to review it and in and interview with The Muslim News Miliband said he wanted to overhaul it.
The Conservatives have, on the other hand, threatened more anti-terrorism measures, with May saying they would introducing “banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of existing terrorist proscription thresholds.” Also planned are extremism disruption orders and closure orders for premises owned or occupied by extremists or are used to host extremist meetings.
To their credit, the Coalition Government has claimed to have reduced the use of stop and search powers by a third from its peak under Labour in 2008/9. All police forces in England and Wales have also signed up to a Best Use of Stop and Search scheme that increases transparency and gives a better understanding of how it is actually being used.
The Lib Dems want to ensure efforts to tackle terrorism do “not stigmatise or alienate Muslims or any other ethnic or faith group.” Unlike the Tories, Clegg has pledged to work closely with faith and community organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, including to prevent hate crime, whilst the Tories remain accused of failing to engage with communities across the UK according to Baroness Warsi.
An important aspect for all parties is to be representative of the population to help them to understand and speak for communities and the issues they face. Like other minorities, Muslims remain largely under represented even if the number of Muslim MPs double to around 15 – this remains only half of the 30 that would demonstrate a true reflection of the UK’s religious diversity.
As has always been the case, the bulk of Muslim MPs will be from the Labour party with 11 expected to be elected, while the Tories could increase their number from two to three, including their first female Muslim MP. Despite their repeated promises and encouraging manifesto, the Lib Dems look no nearer of having their first Muslim MP, while the SNP in Scotland could well be celebrating with their first.