Amongst many leaflets posted and campaigns found around this general election, we can see groups setting out to ‘mobilise the Muslim vote’. I find the term stomach-churning. I’m a director of Faith Matters, which seeks to foster good relationships between all faith communities. I don’t believe in seeing people’s political choices as some form of block activity or vote: religious, racial, or anything else. But identity politics is, unfortunately, on the rise – and we can see plenty of it in this election campaign.
I’ve seen a mailshot from one group that declares: “we kicked out 8 Islamophobic MPs in 3 general elections. Help us kick out 14 more in this one!” I was all agog to find out who these ‘Islamophobic MP’s’ were, what evidence had been found to unmask them. Then I saw the list: it includes Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary and Iain Duncan Smith. Now, you can call these former Cabinet members many things, but ‘Islamophobic’ is not a charge that has any relevancy.
But the Conservatives certainly do have a problem with support in Muslim communities. The British Election Study suggests that 85pc of Muslims voted Labour in the last general election and the Tories have done very little to engage with such voters this time around. The focus has been only on ‘getting Brexit done”. Perhaps it’s assumed such messages will resonate within Black and Minority Ethnic groups as much as anyone else ) (remember that many had deep concerns about EU membership expressed before the Brexit vote).
There are plenty Muslim votes to be won, if the Tories were to try a bit harder. A great many of them espouse core conservative values: the importance of hard work and decent education. Law and order forms an essential backbone to how they live their lives and they carry with them a respect for their country – our country – the United Kingdom. Tackling rising levels of anti-Muslim hatred, better life chances and opportunities, feeling safe and secure and supporting entrepreneurism are all ‘pull points’ that Conservatives can use to draw in Muslim voters.
In fact, the Tories have done substantial amounts to confront anti-Muslim hatred, but almost no attempts seem to be made to communicate this. The national anti-Muslim hate monitoring project that I helped set up, Tell MAMA, was supported under David Cameron and his successor. Much was done to tackle anti-Muslim hatred at a street level, raise awareness of anti-Muslim hate with press agencies and ensure that good practice in challenging and countering anti-Muslim hate was disseminated. As faith minister, Lord Bourne was passionate about countering anti-Muslim hatred. But he has hardly been utilised in this campaign, meaning that he has few chances to talk about what was achieved. Such missed opportunities will make it harder for Conservatives to tap into the young social activism that is so becoming embedded in large sections of Muslim communities today.
It makes no sense for the Conservatives to allow themselves to be on the back foot with Muslim communities. It makes sense to reach out, engage, recruit, mobilse and energise young British Muslims with hope, a sense of dignity and with equality and transparency embedded into the heart of the Party. The Tories might argue that they have done a lot – but it is also public perception that matters. They need to talk a lot more about what they do.
For my part, I’ve made it clear that I can never support a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. His choice of political ‘friends’ make clear that our values as a country will be at stake should he win, especially if he ushers in groups whose ideologies are autocratic, divisive and polarising. I have challenged Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, Islamists and far-right extremists for decades, because they are ideologically and physically a threat to our nation’s soul. But as the recent rise in support for the Labour Party demonstrates, not everyone sees it this way.
It’s shocking to read that just 7pc of Jewish voters intend to back Labour at this election. But it’s also alarming to see studies suggesting that just 11pc of Muslims backed the Tories in the last election. Surely a one-nation Conservative Party should be shocked at such low support in any section of the population? And surely it’s worth the effort to win back any such voters? It will need drive, determination and energy. But if Brexit can be done, winning over large sections of Muslim communities can also be done.