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No elections come much bigger

26th May 2017
No elections come much bigger

Launching her party’s manifesto, Prime Minister, Theresa May, emphasised the crucial importance of getting the next five years right for the country’s prosperity, its place in the world, for living standards and for the opportunities of future generations. “If we fail, the consequences for Britain and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire,” she warned. There was no mistake in her words about how crucial the outcome of the forthcoming general election will be, as the victorious party takes the country through what could be the most certain period faced by the country since the second World War.

May called the snap general election with the hopes that this will turn her party’s lead in the opinion polls into an improved parliamentary majority and secure her party’s vision for Brexit. The Referendum on whether to exit the European Union or not was called by her predecessor, David Cameron, in part due to the apparent electoral threat from UKIP who were gaining Tory voters on its campaign to leave the EU.

Disappointingly, the reason appears to be nothing to do with the country’s national interest but to strengthen the Conservative party. The UK will pay a heavy price for Cameron’s serious miscalculation. Yet there is nothing in this section of the Conservative manifesto on Brexit apart from the need to “deliver a smooth and orderly departure from the EU and forge a deep and special partnership with friends and allies across Europe.”

In its manifesto, Labour devoted a whole chapter to negotiating Brexit, saying that although it accepted the referendum result, it will “end Theresa May’s reckless approach to Brexit and seek to unite the country” around a deal that works for all. This includes scrapping the Government’s white paper and replacing it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union. “The priority is for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain. An immediate guarantee would be made on the existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens who have chosen to make their lives in EU countries.”

Whatever its imperfections, the Liberal Democrats remain the only party to support that the EU “remains the best framework for working effectively and co-operating in the pursuit of our shared aims.” The party is ardently opposed to the hard Brexit approach by the Tories and in its manifesto, has pledged to hold a referendum at the end of negotiations. The British people should have the final say of the real alternatives it argues with the option of Britain staying in the EU one of the options on the ballot paper.

With so much at stake, no one should be in any doubt of how imperative it is for everyone to come out to vote. If opinion polls are to be believed, the Tories are on course for a landslide victory. Whatever the outcome, Government needs to be held to account by a strong opposition in Parliament. We should not have a government that cannot be challenged as we negotiate with the EU.

The respective approaches that parties take towards Muslims are another important factor to be considered when deciding who to vote for. In its election document, the Muslim Council of Britain calls for “fairness not favours” when launching a list of eight key issues. These include a commitment often ignored to proactively engage with a broad and representative spectrum of the British Muslim communities as well as defending their rights as they do with people of other faiths. Under the banner of religious liberty, calls are made to “combat Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-migrant sentiment and all forms of racism.” To overcome bigotry, it is suggested that democracy should be enhanced by increasing the participation of minorities and women in politics and public life. It should be a democracy for all, including upholding civil liberties and rebuilding trust with communities when tackling crime and terrorism.

The demand for an independent review of Prevent has been repeated. There is also the need to develop an inclusive National Curriculum reflecting the diverse religious, ethnic and cultural identity of Britain with a promise for a fair and equal approach to educational provision be that in faith schools or in state schools with large Muslim populations. At the centre of international affairs is to uphold an ethical and consistent UK foreign policy with human rights, poverty alleviation and justice and the need to support a binding recognition of Palestine as an independent and sovereign state.

In its manifesto, the Tories praised Britain as one of the world’s most successful multi-racial, multicultural, multi-religious societies, saying it was “proud of our diversity.” But at the same time, it warned that enjoying diversity must not prevent us from confronting the menace of extremism. “Extremism, especially Islamist extremism, strips some British people, especially women, of the freedoms they should enjoy, undermines the cohesion of our society and can fuel violence.”

The Tories have not mentioned about increasing threat from far-right extremism which shows they are not taking such threats seriously. The manifesto insists that to defeat extremism, the country needs to “learn from how civil society and the state took on racism in the twentieth century.” It meant that “even more new criminal offences might need to be created, and what new aggravated offences might need to be established, to defeat the extremists.” A future Tory government would establish what it called a Commission for Countering Extremism “to identify examples of extremism and expose them, to support the public sector and civil society, and help the government to identify policies to defeat extremism and promote pluralistic values.” It would be valuable if there could be a working definition of extremism – one that is yet to come despite years of discussions. The Tory manifesto is very light on foreign policy.

Labour in its manifesto also said that “now more than ever, we need to celebrate the profound and enriching transformation brought by the diversity of people in this country, with all their different experiences, talents and contributions.” Black and Asian-owned businesses were an important and growing feature of the country’s economy and society. Labour, it insists, is a party of equality. “We seek to build a society free from all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” it said without stating any firm proposals. On the Middle East, the manifesto said that the party was committed to a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution.

It meant an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements in the occupied territories and an end to rocket and terror attacks. It pledges that a Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine. The party also urges negotiations towards a political resolution in all other regions currently experiencing conflict, including Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. From Afghanistan and Iraq to the streets of European cities, Daesh continues to commit acts of indiscriminate barbarism and all lawful action necessary to counter and confront this evil should be taken. The party advocates a long-term multinational political strategy, led by regional actors, to tackle the spread of extremism.

In its manifesto, the Lib Dems pledges to “guarantee the freedom of people to wear a religious or cultural dress, and tackle the growing incidence of Islamophobic hate crime.” On counter-terrorism, it has gone further than any other party and said it would “scrap the flawed Prevent strategy and replace it with a scheme that prioritises community engagement and supports communities in developing their own approach to tackling the dangers of violent extremism.”

Whilst the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have both said they would both tackle Islamophobia, albeit, without any concrete plans, the Conservative manifesto is silent on this issue. This is extremely disappointing given how rampant Islamophobia is in the UK with even Conservative MPs having indulged in such bigotry.

The Prime Minister demanded former Lib Dem Bradford MP David Ward be sacked as Lib Dem candidate in the forthcoming general election for his anti-Semitic remarks, and rightly so. However, May rather than sacking former Conservative Richmond Park MP, Zac Goldsmith, for his Islamophobic attacks against former Labour Minister, Sadiq Khan during London mayoral election last year, May has allowed him to stand for her party – a serious double standard. This follows the lack of engagement of her part with Muslim organisations, unlike the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats who have engaged more widely.

On Palestine, only Labour Party has agreed to recognise Palestine as an independent state in line with the House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations report. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are against it.

However, all the three parties refuse to take any action against Israel for its defiance of the international law and the international community, to encourage it to withdraw from Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. On the contrary, Israel continues to build illegal settlements in the occupied territories with impunity knowing full well that the West will not take any meaningful action.

Labour will once again have the highest number of Muslim MPs, around 10, if the three incumbent MPs who have very small majority, Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting, majority 2,842), Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn, majority 1,138) and Rupa Haq (Ealing Central and Acton, majority 274) manage to survive expected Tory swings. The tenth new candidate expected to win comfortably is Afzal Khan standing in Manchester Gorton constituency of the late MP, Gerald Kaufman.

The Liberal Democrats have never placed Muslims in winnable seats in the past. However, this time round, two Muslim candidates, may have a chance of winning if there is a sufficient large swing from the Conservatives in Solihull (Ade Adeyemo) and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad) – both seats lost to Tories in 2015.

As for the Conservatives, they will not increase their three incumbent Muslim MPs, Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove), Nusrat Ghani (Wealden), Rehman Chisti (Gillingham and Rainham). The Scottish National Party will have one Muslim MP, the incumbent SNP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

It is unfortunate that the parties do not reflect the communities they serve. Proportionately, there should be approximately 30 Muslim MPs to reflect the UK Muslim population. Scotland does reflect the population of Muslims of 1.4% (one MP out of 59 SNP MPs).

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