Muslim votes push Labour towards victory in Oldham

That was a headline in The Times on December 3rd, 2015, the day of a by-election in Oldham.

Why should this story warrant such a headline? Surely the Labour Party is more likely to want to demonstrate inclusive policies. Is it not rationale for Muslims to want to support it rather than a right wing party that is not too good at inclusion.

The big question is why include religious makeup in any analysis of voting intentions in any election but while the question is valid I’ll not rush to criticise The Times – at least not without thought on this occasion. Could have presented its report differently? Possibly.

A Labour spokesman is quoted:

“The white working class vote is going west, but things seem to be going well among the Asian vote,” one shadow cabinet minister said. “A win is a win, even if it is seconds before the whistle, with a flat ball.”(1)

Apparently:

Senior Labour figures acknowledge there has been a surge in support for Ukip among white voters in the constituency …

It seems that hitherto traditional potential Labour voters are drifting over to UKIP – a party which despite its protestations to the contrary attracts an ultra-right extremist following that is less than sympathetic towards Muslims and Islam. A not small number of UKIP prospective parliamentary candidates have shown anti-Muslim sentiments.

The UKIP party leader seemingly draws large crowds. On November 30th, he tweeted “Big crowd in Leeds on #SayNoEUTour. Let’s Leave EU instead of having open borders with Turkey.” I have to be careful not to take this out of context but Turkey is a Muslim country and many people in Western Europe certainly have issues with Islam and Muslims.

There is no doubt that many people in the Western world claim that the West has a Judeo-Christian heritage – an expression that marginalises Islam and points to Islamophobia (a genuine fear of Islam typically rooted in ignorance).

I wonder if a headline highlighting the shift of traditionally left wing voters to a seemingly ultra-right wing party would have worked in The Times. Why would Muslims not want to support Labour? Surely Labour is an inclusive party.

Surely community leaders, opinion formers or role models, such as the senior editors at The Times and, for that matter, leaders of secular political parties need to be worried that anti-Muslim sentiment is a concern. Much has become “institutionalised”. Much is now “normalised”. Much has passed the “Dinner Table Test” identified by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in 2011.

Oldham demographics

In passing this graphic attracted my attention for many different reasons. The one that is really eye-catching is that the proportion of people with Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds total 17.4%. The proportion of Muslims in the constituency is 24.58%. Some Blacks will be Muslim and a substantial chunk of Others will also be Muslim. The figures suggest that a decent number of Whites must also be Muslim. What does that say? For sure they will mostly not be extremist or radicalised.

Community leaders, including journalists, need to be careful not to reinforce stereotyping when discussing demographics.


 

(1) Hopefully the “flat ball” refers to its deflation after the haemorrhaging of the tradition white vote and not a reference to the calibre of the Asian vote.

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