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Fri 15 December 2017

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  • Lib Dems seize Brent East victory

The Brent East parliamentary bye-election held on 18 September 2003 provided British Muslims with dramatic evidence of their potential strength in the political process. A Labour majority of 13,000 in the last General Election in June 2001 was replaced by a win for Lib Dem by a margin of 1100, in no small measure because the Muslim population of Brent – comprising over 12% of the Borough – broke the pattern of being either politically apathetic or loyally Labour.

All the political parties wooed the Muslim vote through targeted mailshots. The Labour Party even brought in bete-noire Mayor Ken Livingstone to canvas on its behalf.

Letter sent by Labour candidate Robert Evans to Brent East Muslim residents

When Ken Livingstone and I came to Cricklewood and Willesden Green Mosques I was so impressed by all the work that was being done in the community.

I cam to hear the views of Muslims about local issues. As a result of what I heard, I will take action.

I will work for a solution to the issue of parking during Friday prayers…

I am a strong supporter of the Islamia primary School, set up thanks to Labour legislation, which for the first time puts Islam on an equal footing with every other religion in Britain….

I will work closely with London Mayor Ken Livingstone on issues that concern Muslims across London…..

Ken Livingstone says:

“As your MP until 2001 I opposed Islamophobia in all its forms and campaigned for the rights of Muslims to educate their children in religious schools.

As Mayor I have carried on this work, defending Halal from those who would ban it and recognizing the unique contribution that Muslim Londoners make to our city…..

I have no hesitation in recommending Robert Evans to Muslims in Brent…Robert Evans will be a friend to the Muslim community in Brent….

The pleas were of no avail. A community that had been taken for granted by Labour showed that it had a mind of its own, and the will to express it through the ballot box. This has the potential of changing the British political landscape at the next General Elections to be held within the next two years.

What happens when 6,000 Muslim voters are alerted by community groups to their being taken for granted? Brent East. The Labour party rightly concludes that Brent East's 13% Muslim population was frustrated by the Iraq war. But this was not their only concern. Muslims feel an acute sense of betrayal and marginalisation - a lifetime of unwavering support cuts no ice with New Labour. When fair representation would require 25 Muslim MPs, we have just two.
Islamophobia and racism are rife in New Labour. Muslim Labour supporters need to do some soul-searching. People like Shahid Malik, who sits on Labour's national executive, ought to wake up to the reality that he is a token gesture. He is allowing his credibility, in working for racial equality and as an anti-BNP campaigner, to be used to legitimise that which he has fought all his life.

In contrast, the Liberal Democrats have actively been encouraging Muslims as parliamentary candidates. Mr Malik ought to consider jumping ship - he wouldn't be the first high-profile Labour loyalist to do so.

Aafreen Khan
Muslim Public Affairs Committee


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