How will it play in the mosques?

Observations on Iraq

Clare Short's bold stance on the Iraq question may be many things, but on a local level it is good politics. The International Development Secretary's constituency (Birmingham Ladywood) has Britain's fourth biggest concentration of Muslim voters.

Short, with a parliamentary majority of 18,143, has a potential Muslim vote of 15,184 in Ladywood. According to 1999 figures supplied by the Muslim Council of Great Britain, the country's biggest Islamic seat is Lord Hattersley's old redoubt, Birmingham Sparkbrook. It contains 27,808 Muslim electors, who between them could easily rub out the 16,246 majority of the sitting MP, the former bank clerk Roger Godsiff.

Does Labour have a Muslim lobby? That is for others to say, but of the top 100 Muslim constituencies, just four are Tory, one Lib Dem. The rest are Labour or Labour/Co-op.

Batting second in the Muslim Council's list is the backbencher Marsha Singh's Bradford West (21,746 Muslims), followed by Oona King's Bethnal Green and Bow. King must have an interesting constituency postbag. Her seat is in Tower Hamlets, which has the country's eighth heaviest grouping of Jewish voters.

Some gossips observe that criticisms of Israel by Gerald Kaufman (who is himself Jewish) don't half go down well with Manchester Gorton's Muslims. Kaufman's 11,304 majority outpaces the figure of 8,158 - the number of Muslim souls in his tender pastoral care.

The figures for Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, are more finely balanced. He has 11,982 Muslim constituents, against a majority of just 9,249. Hmmm. Not a group to antagonise if you want an easy life while jetting round the globe. Another minister with a big Muslim community is Stephen Timms, in East Ham: he has 14,362 Muslims and a majority of 21,032.

The other name to watch in the top ten Muslim seats is Mike Gapes (Ilford South). To say that Gapes is a Blairite loyalist perhaps understates his adherence to the party leadership. The man almost weeps for a government job. He has the ninth biggest potential Muslim vote (9,570 electors) - and a big Jewish population. The Redbridge area of Essex, which embraces Ilford, is 7.1 per cent Jewish, making it the third biggest Jewish part of Britain. At such times a politician learns the usefulness of that linguistic construct beginning "on the one hand".

The list for Jewish voter numbers, efficiently provided by the British Board of Deputies, is topped by Tory Barnet (nice old Sir Sydney Chapman, with his wrap-over hairdo), where 17.5 per cent of voters are Jews. Then we get Hackney (9.9 per cent), which has two left Labour MPs in Diane Abbott and Brian Sedgemore.

Apart from the Cities of London and Michael Portillo's Kensington and Chelsea, it is all Labour. The relevant MPs include the ministers Barbara Roche, David Lammy, Paul Boateng and Tony McNulty, plus Charles Clarke's PPS, Gareth Thomas. McNulty (Harrow East) and Thomas (Harrow West) both occupy former Tory seats. At the moment.

See John Lloyd and John Kampfner, this issue