The myth of ‘the Muslim vote’

Activists want to portray British Muslims as a monolithic bloc. Don’t fall for it.

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

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The English local elections earlier this month were something of a mixed bag for Labour. Despite the defeat of Tory councillors across the country, the draining away of British Muslim support should leave Labour with cause for concern.

Labour lost control of Oldham Council, while Labour councillors in other heavily Muslim towns like Blackburn and inner-city areas of Bradford were defeated by a wave of independent, pro-Gaza candidates. Granted, Labour did secure an impressive victory in the West Midlands mayoral election, defeating Tory incumbent Andy Street. But the performance of pro-Palestine independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob will no doubt worry Labour, particularly given that Yakoob now plans to run for MP in Birmingham’s Ladywood constituency in the upcoming General Election.

There is no doubt that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the Gaza conflict has played an important part in this loss of British Muslim support. In an LBC interview last October, Starmer suggested that Israel would be justified in cutting off the water and electricity supply to Gaza – something that would likely strike many as unjust, regardless of your position on the Israel-Hamas war. While he has since ‘clarified’ (ie, retracted) his comments, they have left many British Muslims with the impression that Starmer and his party are largely indifferent to the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

Declining Muslim support for the Labour Party has created a vacuum. Numerous groups have tried to step in, claiming to be the ‘voice’ of these disaffected British Muslims. In particular, a campaign group called The Muslim Vote (TMV) has been given a great deal of exposure by a variety of media outlets, to the point that it is being treated as some sort of representative outfit for Britain’s four million Muslims.

This could not be further from the truth. And the sudden embrace of TMV speaks to an unedifying tendency on the part of the media to elevate almost any group that claims to speak on behalf of a minority, regardless of its actual reach or base of support. Indeed, TMV only has a few thousand followers on social media. It also has no idea what British Muslims want. It seems preoccupied with fashionable, activist talking points, while ignoring the bread-and-butter issues most Muslims care about.

Last week, TMV took to X to issue a list of 18 ‘demands’ Starmer must fulfil in order to supposedly win back Muslim voters. This included adopting an alternate definition of Islamophobia, cooked up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, that would classify so-called Islamophobia as a form of racism. This could easily be used to shut down any kind of criticism of Islam or individual Muslims and severely limit freedom of speech.

Another TMV demand is ensuring that all Muslim pupils are allowed to pray in school. This is clearly a response to Katharine Birbalsingh’s controversial ‘prayer ban’, which she introduced at her strictly secular Michaela Community School in north-west London. Birbalsingh brought in the ban for the sake of community cohesion, to stop children of all faiths and none segregating along ethno-religious lines. But identitarian campaigners are trying to dishonestly portray it as an assault on Muslims in particular.

Even more bizarrely, TMV demands that Starmer ensures that car insurance ‘doesn’t cost more for someone called “Muhammad”’. This is pure nonsense. Yes, insurance costs more, on average, for British Muslims. But only because of the community’s relatively youthful population, which is disproportionately located in denser, inner-city areas. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these two factors are strongly associated with a higher incidence of road accidents, and therefore irritatingly higher insurance quotes.

All of this ignores the things that would actually garner support among British Muslims. We know that Muslims tend to favour many of the same things that non-Muslim voters do: political stability, community values and ample opportunity for upward social mobility. If Labour wants to attract Muslims, or any group for that matter, it should focus on these fundamentals. The average British Muslim cares far more about small-business regulation and access to NHS services than he does about whether Israel participates in Eurovision or what exactly is meant by ‘Islamophobia’.

The truth is that a back-to-basics brand of politics is seen as boring for most MPs and local councillors now. They would much rather play-act as pro-Palestine freedom fighters than address the issues voters actually face.

British Muslims are not a monolithic bloc. The so-called Muslim community is made up of a diverse array of ethnicities, political persuasions and religious beliefs. They certainly do not need a group as divisive as The Muslim Vote to speak on their behalf.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


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