What does a Conservative-led UK mean for British Muslims

Published: May 9, 2015
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Prime Minister and Conservative leader David Cameron (R) and his wife Samantha celebrate their win at Conservative Party headquarters in London. PHOTO: AFP

Against all expert poll predictions, pre-poll analysis and commentaries from well-meaning pundits, the voters in the United Kingdom stunned one and all by electing the Conservatives (Tories) and rejecting the Labour.

The Conservative Party led by charismatic David Cameron won a ‘shocking’ majority (331 out of 650 parliamentary seats) while the Labour Party which was led by Ed Miliband recorded its worst electoral defeat since 1987, forcing their leader to resign on moral grounds.

May 7 voting has given a clear mandate to David Cameron, which raises genuine fears and questions about immigration and pro-poor policies. Immigration-friendly Labour Party has been thrashed for now.

Broadly speaking, before the Election Day there was a general consensus amongst experts that the UK voters’ verdict will throw up a hung parliament, but the voters gave shock to most pundits, pollsters and commentators.

The only prediction that eventually turned out to be accurate was the stunning victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which swept entire Scotland by winning record 56 seats, a clear advantage of 50 seats from its previous tally. The SNP’s victory poses a separate challenge for the Cameron led Conservative government.

The SNP, which favours Scotland’s independence, has been gaining further ground in Scotland and in the coming years the demand for the region’s autonomy could grow intense.

Scotland politics assumes tremendous significance as Tories plan to hold a referendum on the United Kingdom’s future relations with the European Union within two years after coming to power.

That kind of proposed referendum in the UK opens up a Pandora’s Box. In such a scenario, Scotland might want to reconsider its current relation with the UK through a second referendum and then take a final call on its relations with the EU on its own terms and conditions.

Meanwhile, the election results have been a real shocker for both the LibDems and Nigel Farage’s UKIP. LibDems won only eight seats while UKIP just won one.

The ultra-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) received a major jolt as the party’s controversial leader, Nigel Farage, landed himself in yet another controversy after a damning video emerged in which he was accused of being “homophobic”.

There has been a considerable decrease in UKIP’s popularity chart as the UK election campaign culminated. The poll results proved just that.

The Guardian, Britain’s leading left-liberal newspaper, had made it clear that the country needed a “new direction” which clearly meant support for the Labour. That did not happen.

On the hindsight, it seemed highly unlikely that the Labour Party would emerge as the UK’s single largest party in this election, but chances of the Labour heading a minority coalition government remained intact. But that has also not happened as the Conservatives gained full majority.

The SNP, whose better performance in Scotland has further dented the Labour Party, would have eventually supported the coalition government headed by the Labour, not the Conservative-led government. But that possibility did not arise either.

Similarly, there were passionate calls from the Union bosses who were telling Ed Miliband to offer electoral reforms to Liberal Democrats in order to shut out Tories. It is another matter that the Lib Dems as a political force have lost significant ground. Their leader Nick Clegg had to step down after the party’s humiliating loss.

As far as the Muslim immigrants are concerned, particularly Muslim immigrants of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent settled in country’s North (Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and the likes), their collective choice remained the Labour Party that carries an image of being an immigrant-friendly party.

Immigrants are not a homogenous entity in the United Kingdom and it appears that the immigrants from India and other countries, except from Pakistan and Bangladesh, are generally happy with the Conservatives. There is growing apprehension in the Muslim community in the UK that the younger generation needs to be raised in a particular way in modern British society.

Azad Ali, head of community development and engagement at MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) in the UK, argues that there is a need to “ensure that Islamophobia is regarded as just as socially unacceptable as racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia”.

He is also unhappy about the media’s portrayal of Muslim community and Islam.

“There is a very sophisticated narrative taking place in the British press about Muslims and Islam. Yes, there are some Muslims who are extremists but that does not mean that you paint entire community as extremists,” Ali told the audience assembled inside the East London mosque last month.

A survey by the YouGov-Cambridge Programme showed an overwhelming 55 per cent of British voters currently think that “there is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”, compared with only 22 per cent who believe Islam and British values are “generally compatible”.

“Anyone recognisable as a Muslim, especially our sisters wearing ‘hijab’, is being abused on a daily basis in our country. Why does it happen? Because the media plays a negative role in spreading misplaced fear about Islam,” Ali further said.

Are British Muslims the usual ‘punching bags’ for the British media?

There are many who believe that there is an “organised and dedicated practice of marginalising Islam in the UK”.

Nevertheless, Ali also offered hope in his concluding remarks saying that,

“All is not lost, because 48 per cent Muslim population in Britain comprises of young people who are 24 or under. They need proper education and training about media and politics.”

Population of Muslims in Britain is roughly five per cent or thereabouts of the entire population. According to a 2011 census, the numbers of Muslims are 2,786,635. In four year time since the numbers, in all likelihood, may have crossed the three-million mark.

Many liberal political commentators like Peter Oborne have openly said that there exists a serious problem in the kind of language that is being used by the UK politicians and media to describe Muslims in Britain.

Conversely, I feel that there is also a growing worry about the reports that some educated British-born Muslims from immigrant communities are embracing ‘radicalism’ or joining the Islamic State of Iran and Syria (ISIS).

In a country of 65 million (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) the perceived rise of religious radicalism, especially among young British Muslims, is perhaps fast becoming one of the most debated issues in print and electronic media.

I believe that the attempts to “criminalise” legitimate political opinion of the Muslim community on UK’s foreign policy remain a serious concern.

With a Conservative-led government, it is yet to see how Muslims fare under Cameron and his policies.

Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani

The author is a writer, journalist and political commentator from Srinagar, the South Asian Journalism Programme (SAJP) scholar 2015, the first Kashmiri to be selected as Munich Young Leader 2014. He has also served the Deutsche Welle, in Germany, as an editor. He tweets as @gowhargeelani

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.