The Respect Party's George Galloway (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The rise and rise of sectarian politics

Does the Muslim Party UK have a future?

The Muslim Party UK will launch soon. With the odd juxtaposition between the crescent of Islam and the multiple crosses of the Union Jack, the amateurish logo looks like a strange end of year project for graphic design students — but the party is apparently very real.

Nor is it alone. Recent weeks have also seen the Party of Islam attempt to register with the Electoral Commission, although it was refused on the grounds that it didn’t set out either the structure or finances of the party well enough.

The description provided by the proposed party — “We are a party who has been created to help all of the minority in the land of Great Britain have a voice” which “will make sure that all problems which lingure (sic) in the great country of Great Britain is defeated” — suggests that their enthusiasm for Britain isn’t matched by mastery of its language.

The clear driver for these efforts has been Labour’s handling of the Israel–Palestine conflict in recent weeks, with Starmer trying to hold a line which acknowledges the suffering of the Palestinians whilst at the same time reiterating Israel’s right to act against Hamas following the atrocities it committed. It’s suggestive that he had to slip out the back entrance when he made these comments, only to be met with a mob which screamed “shame” at him.

Labour has traditionally been the party of the Muslim vote, with polls indicating that around 85 per cent of them vote Labour. In many seats Muslims are a crucial demographic, which has led to notable conflicts within the party in places like Batley and Birmingham when Labour’s liberal social views came into conflict with the small-c social conservatism of many Muslim constituents.

It is foreign policy however which has the greatest potential to stress party loyalties. The Iraq War was the first sign of this, with activists Salma Yaqoob and George Monbiot founding the Respect Party in protest. Although Monbiot left the next year, he was replaced with George Galloway, who was elected MP in the heavily Muslim Bethnal Green & Bow, amidst backlash over Labour’s decision to go to war.

Although that was its highpoint, the party struggled on for around a decade. Galloway later founded the Workers’ Party GB, replicating the combination of crank-leftism and Islam, coming third in the 2021 Batley-and-Spen by-election. One of the key issues was the Muslim community’s anger over a local teacher who they felt had been blasphemous.

A more successful example can be found in London where Lutfur Rahman was the Labour candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets. After allegations that he’d signed up fake members to win the candidacy, he was removed but launched an independent campaign which easily won. A Panorama documentary alleged that he had diverted millions of pounds in grants to Bangladeshi and Somali charities in return for votes, and that he’d funded local media in return for favourable coverage.

It is possible for a party to win with a largely ethnic or religious appeal

It was only when four locals challenged his re-election, using an electoral petition, that he faced a reckoning. The court found he and his supporters used religious intimidation, vote rigging and false claims that his Labour rival was a racist in order to win. Rahman went on to found the Aspire party, winning the mayoralty again once his ban on standing for elected office had expired. His electoral success is heavily based on the Bangladeshi community, many of whom live in social housing, with the Tower Hamlets cabinet exclusively made up of South Asian men.

Although it is therefore possible for a party to win with a largely ethnic or religious appeal, so far that hasn’t translated into national success. Decades of high immigration might change that, with the number of Muslims in Britain more than doubling from 2001 to 2021. There have been signs of that in the recent pro-Palestine protests, which are dominated by ethnic minorities in a way that the Iraq War protests in 2003 weren’t.

There are other signs, too, such as the growth of Islamic influence in Britain. These range from Scotland’s First Minister and his Scottish Labour counterpart both being Muslims who’ve felt the need to made public interventions over Palestine; to the rise of Muslim street activists, like Shakeel Afsar, who hired a billboard van to display the images of any Muslim councillors in Birmingham who failed to publicly support the Palestinian cause.

More likely, in the short term at least, is increased pressure on Labour. Demography indeed has a lot to do with destiny, and for Labour it has shifted which causes the party pays attention to. The size of the British-Pakistani community was large enough to drive it to make public pronouncements on the issue of Kashmir, although Starmer attempted to find a balance over fears that Labour was losing the British-Indian vote as a result. Labour found itself competing for ethnic votes over foreign policy, which indicates how immigration distorts policy.

This is clear when looking at Labour’s relationship with Israel. For years it was a supporter, in no small part because of the high number of Jewish MPs they had, although they weren’t alone in their support. From 38 Jews elected as Labour MPs in 1966, the number dropped to only five in 2019. Meanwhile the number of Muslims elected as Labour MPs has substantially increased in recent years, with many (although not all) notably pro-Palestinian.

Israel has come to be seen as a Western or white coloniser

There is some truth to Lee Kuan Yew’s assertion that “in multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion”, although this can be unfairly reductive. Social change in the West, first in the 1960s and recently in 2020, has changed attitudes. Israel has come to be seen as a Western or white coloniser, whilst Palestine stands in for oppressed ethnic minorities. This is most visible in elite institutions, where supporters of Israel are hounded in public by those who are likely to end up in the commanding heights of the economy, culture and politics.

The main impact of immigration on politics therefore hasn’t been new parties but rather the way that the existing parties have reshaped our politics, both to win votes and at the urging of elite ideologues. The British state is largely signed up to the multiculturalism set out in the Parekh Report, with its vision of a community of communities. The problems start when the communities disagree. Criticism of police officers pulling down posters of kidnapped Israeli children, or stopping the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism campaigning, ignores that the police are preventing communal disorder — which is what they’ve been told to do.

If we object to their actions, then we ought to recognise that they stem from years of official policy, with its febrile mix of community leaders, show trials over “institutional racism” and focus on subjective hate crimes. As with grooming gangs, multiculturalism too often means the state pandering to those who are willing to cause the most disturbance, whilst the meek suffer what they must.

We can see it in the way that a journalist looking to expose extreme statements by a mosque can find himself reported for a hate crime, whereas an organisation which described a terrorist as a “beautiful young man” happily boosts it whilst calling itself an NGO. Far from being a liberal democracy, Britain is an increasingly authoritarian society where you can be arrested for objecting to flags. Extremists are more than capable of using the elite language — “discrimination”, “stereotyping” — against society.

Although Nick Timothy’s list of actions to take — a register of imams, shutting down extremist TV channels or charities, deporting Islamists, banning the burqa and so on — includes some things which would help, they are often things which have been tried in France, which suffers even worse than Britain from Islamist violence. Ending the negative effects of immigration on our politics will require not only greater restrictionism, but also a shift in elite culture.

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