Rejoice! The number of Muslim MPs has doubled

I’m sure this post will upset lots of Islamophobes in the blogosphere.

I've just received in my inbox this press release (below) from the Muslim News, which has cheered me up (but has probably sent a shiver down the spine of Melanie Phillips, Douglas Murray, Charles Moore et al).

The number of Muslim MPs has doubled to eight in the closest elections in decades and saw the first three Muslim women -- all Labour -- elected to the 650-member House of Commons.

In addition, the Conservatives have gained their first two Muslim MPs, but the possibility of adding a third was dashed after Zahid Iqbal failed in overturning Labour's 3,000 majority in Bradford West, northern England.

Thursday's elections were marked by a swing from Labour to the Conservatives and resulted in one of two Muslim ministers, Shahid Malik, losing his parliamentary seat for Dewsbury in northern England by just over 1,500 votes.

But Transport Minister Sadiq Khan defied the swing to retain his seat for Tooting in south London with a reduced majority of 2,500 votes.

Khalid Mahmood also successfully defended his parliamentary seat for Labour in Birmingham Perry Bar for the second time, increasing his majority to more than 11,000.

In Glasgow Central, Anas Sarwar also increased Labour's majority to almost 16,000 in replacing his father, Mohammed Sarwar, who stepped down at the election after becoming Britain's first Muslim MP back in 1979.

Over 90 Muslim candidates of various political persuasions stood in the general election, including 22 women.

Three Muslim women, all Labour, became the first to enter parliament.

The first Muslim woman to win was Yasmin Qureshi, winning in the Bolton South-East constituency in north-west England, but by a reduced majority of more than 8,600.

Shabana Mahmood increased the majority of the outgoing former international development secretary Clare Short from under 7,000 votes to more than 10,000 in Birmingham Ladywood in central England.

Rushanara Ali won with a huge majority of 11,000, defeating Abjol Miah of the Respect party to third place in Bethnal Green and Bow. The Lib Dems' Ajmal Masroor came second.

The first Muslim Conservatives to be elected were Sajid Javid, who retained Bromsgrove [for the Tories] with an increased majority of more than 11,000 . . . and Rehman Chisti, who won by more than 8,500 votes in newly created Gillingham and Rainham in south-east England.

Nadhim Zahawi, chief executive of the online market research agency YouGov, also became the first Iraqi Kurd to become a UK MP by successfully defending the Conservatives' 10,000-plus majority in [Stratford-on-Avon], central England.

Congratulations to Labour and the Tories for electing non-white MPs in general and Muslim MPs, in particular, and shame on the all-white, male-heavy Liberal Democrats.

I should also add that if the Muslim population of Britain were proportionately represented in parliament, we'd have more than 20 Muslim MPs and not just eight. But beggars can't be choosers, I suppose . . .

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.