Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2895

Why Labour and the right are furious with the ‘Muslim vote’

Big parties encouraged block voting by ethnic minorities, says Yuri Prasad. But now they deride Muslims as ‘tribal’
Issue 2895
Muslims communialism Labour

Muslims and non-Muslims march together on national demonstrations for Palestine Picture: Guy Smallman

Even before the results of last week’s Rochdale by-election were announced some commenters had already proclaimed the winners— “Bad Muslims”.

Writing in the anti-migrant Daily Express newspaper, former counter‑terrorism coordinator Charlotte Littlewood said the contest reflected the “sinister wind” blowing through British politics.

Littlewood and her ilk are outraged by organisations that called for Muslims to mount a unified political response to the failure of parliament to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza.

They insist that Muslims voting as Muslims represents “communalism” that undermines democracy.

“The quest for tribalism depends on identifying, or creating, common enemies,” she wrote. Adding that, “exploiting Palestinian suffering for tribal voting in Britain undermines multicultural unity”.

But what did mainstream political pundits expect? The West has launched war after war in which Muslim people have been the principal victims. And to aid the process, governments have unleashed Islamophobia at home and abroad.

It’s entirely logical that these imperialist pressures push both Muslims and those on the left towards a collective political response. 

The charge of communalism is also deeply hypocritical. All the main parties engage in ethnically-based politics, especially at a local level. This can range from offering to stand councillors from specific groups to ensure representation, to promises of funding for community organisations.

Big parties do these deals because they assume “community leaders” can deliver them a block vote at election time. Though Muslims have voted overwhelmingly for Labour, there are Muslim Tories and Liberal Democrats too. 

And all main parties have been prepared to play on inter-community rivalries and prejudices if they think it can win them votes.

In 2016, the Tory campaign for London mayor featured election leaflets that claimed falsely that Labour’s Muslim candidate, Sadiq Khan, would impose a wealth tax on family jewellery.

The “jewellery leaflets” were targeted at people with Hindu surnames. Those with Muslim surnames received a different one. It was part of a plan to inflame tensions and win more Hindu votes for the Tories.

Not to be outdone, Labour in Leicester has stood candidates known to be supporters of the anti‑Muslim BJP party in India. It does this, it says, to “represent” Hindus, as if all share in Islamophobic prejudices.

For establishment defenders, what was so different about Rochdale, was that Muslims organised independently of mainstream parties—and against imperialism.

The liberal response to the move is to warn that “politicised Islam” is a threat to democracy. Socialists see oppressed people standing together when under attack as a positive, not a negative.

We also think it is good that so many Muslims and others have broken from Labour over the Palestine issue. But we also recognise that there are dangers for left wing Muslims in the drive towards ethnically-based politics.

Ideas about community rest on claims of a shared identity and political outlook. Therefore, they mask important differences among the people they are supposed to represent.

In all such groups there are conservative figures that want to limit the movement and de-radicalise it. For them, politics is mostly about making a career for themselves.

It is invariably the most middle class, the most articulate and those with the most successful businesses are the ones that most want to assert their right to lead.

Community-based politics generally downplays the importance of class divisions despite them being as important among the oppressed as among others.

Black and Asian people in Britain are disproportionately working class and most rightly see the world as divided between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

Working class Muslims, of course, care deeply about Palestine. But they also care about the decimation of the health service, the cost of living crisis and poor housing.

And in all these battles—including Palestine—solutions can only come by combining with workers from all sorts of backgrounds.

Defenders of the establishment hate that oppressed people defy mainstream politics to represent themselves. But what they fear most is that those same people join with others who, too, have a vested interest in smashing the system.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance