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Lutfur Rahman Voted in for Tower Hamlets: Are Muslims Finally Calling it Quits with Labour?

Lutfur Rahman Voted in for Tower Hamlets: Are Muslims Finally Calling it Quits with Labour?

Categories: Latest News

Friday May 20 2022

The local elections, which took place on May 5 2022, show that the UK’s political map is changing with voters swinging to other parties. The Conservative Party lost nearly 500 seats in England, Wales and Scotland. Meanwhile, Labour failed to make significant gains in England’s ‘Red Wall’ areas. 

Amid Labour’s failure, the party’s performance among ethnic minorities and Muslim strongholds revealed significant losses – with Croydon, Harrow and Tower Hamlets being amongst those who ousted Labour, perhaps signalling the dissolution of ‘traditional’ BAME and Muslim ties to the Labour Party. 

Labour lost its seat in Tower Hamlets to Lutfur Rahman, who stood for the Aspire party. Rahman’s Aspire defeated the sitting Labour mayor John Biggs, securing 40,804 votes to Biggs’ 33,487. Likewise, in the council elections, Aspire took control by winning 24 seats to Labour’s 19. The drastic change occurred as Muslims and Bangladeshi minorities felt let down under Biggs, who had made several cuts to vital frontline services, including provision for special needs children, adult social care day centres, youth provision and more. Additionally, Biggs came under scrutiny in 2017 when Shiria Khatun, then deputy mayor of Tower Hamlets, accused the former mayor of Islamophobia and sexism. These allegations arose amidst rising Islamophobia, and while Biggs represented a borough with a sizeable Muslim populace. Consequently, it is unsurprising that Muslim voters feel undermined by the party, leading them to seek out candidates who bring impact to their community.   

In July 2021, the Labour Party almost lost the by-election in Batley and Spen (a parliamentary constituency in West Yorkshire), one of the top fifteen seats in the UK where Muslim voters have the highest impact. Yet, a Labour official anonymously briefed the MailOnline that the party were “haemorrhaging votes among Muslim voters” because Muslims were “united in their bigotry” over gay rights and Palestine. Indeed, Muslim support for the Labour is in decline. 

In the 2017 General Election Labour Party enjoyed 85% support amongst Muslims. However, it appears that this support is changing. The recent survey conducted by  Labour Muslim Network explored the perceptions of Muslim members and supporters of Labour. When posed with the statement, “I believe the Labour Party represents the Muslim community effectively”, only 5 % “strongly agreed”, whereas 39% “disagreed” with the statement, a 23-point increase since the 2020 survey. Despite generally having been long-standing supporters of the Labour party, Muslim constituents are inevitably becoming disillusioned with the Labour Party’s long-standing failures to address issues of Islamophobia within its party. 

Consequently, the victory of Lutfur Rahman is unsurprising given that Labour has been accused of failing to tackle Islamophobia within its ranks. Councillor Joyce McCarthy, who has been administratively suspended for spreading racist and Islamophobic comments, had appeared on the ballot paper for the recent local elections. Instead of taking action against the candidate, Labour tweeted, pledging support for McCarthy. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident as Labour persistently show indifference towards Islamophobia, whilst failing to engage with its Muslim supporters actively. 

Undoubtedly, a series of unaddressed issues of Islamophobia and general indifference to the matter has led to a high level of dissatisfaction with the Labour Party from British Muslims. Ultimately, the Labour Party and its leadership must recognise that their policies neglect issues impacting Muslim voters. It is commendable that Labour has adopted a zero-tolerance against antisemitism; however, they must adopt the same stance against Islamophobia. Thus, MEND urges Labour to take concerns of Islamophobia seriously and that they eradicate it within their ranks to rebuild the trust of the Muslim community. It will be interesting to see if they see Mr Rahman’s victory as a wake-up call to stop taking the Muslim vote for granted.

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