The Socialist Unity Network
Myths of the Moslem vote.

Writing in "the Socialist", Hannah Sell of the SP correctly states: "In the City and East London constituency, an area with the highest concentration of Muslims in the country, Respect polled 15.03%. Across Birmingham the average vote was 7.4%. These votes were mainly based on large sections of the Muslim communities in those areas voting for Respect"

However she goes on to rather unfairly conclude that: "If this had been achieved by appealing to working-class Muslims on a class basis, it would be a very important positive achievement. ... ... However, Respect made an opportunist, rather than a class, appeal to Muslims. ... ... Does Respect consider itself the party for 5,400 Muslim millionaires in Britain, many of whom made their money by exploiting other Muslims? Or for Mohammed Al Fayed, the billionaire owner of Harrods?"

Respect's appeal to the Islamic community was based on three main issues: opposition to imperialist war, defence of civil liberties and opposition to the racist backlash. All of these are working class issues, and even if that was the sole reason that a higher proportion of Moslems voted for Respect that would be a progressive vote. Respect did not stand on an Islamist platform, it stood on a platform very similar to that which the Socialist Party contested the elections on June 10th. What does however seem possible is that the issue of the war was more likely to be the key issue deciding how Moslem's voted.

Indeed the Moslem communities are not politically unsophisticated, and Islamic supporters of the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory parties will have made sure that the far left component of Respect was fully appreciated by likely voters. The same was achieved by the attacks on Respect by The independent and Guardian columnists.

Nevertheless, Hannah does draw attention to the weighting of Respect's vote towards areas with a larger Moslem population. Some people, in their hurry to distance Respect from this accusation of relying on a communal vote, use some very strange arguments, for example we read in one internal document:

"When people go on about Respect's vote being an 'Islamic' vote clearly haven't been down to their local bus garage or hospital. ... ... If you want to answer the idea that Respect's vote was an 'Islamic' vote ask why we did so well in Soho (12.2%) & Lozells (8.2%) in Birmingham - the wards covering Handsworth where the Muslim vote largely stayed with Labour but we got a bigger share of the Afro-Caribbean vote."

Well actually, in England and Wales 91.3% of the population is white and 3% Moslem, so in all honesty more of your local bus drivers and health workers are likely to be white and non-Moslem, so it is not clear what point is being made here. But as a marvellous example of myth making what is being suggested about Handsworth? Firstly the ethnic mix of Soho ward is not typical of most of England:

34.8% white
28.7% afro-Caribbean
34.2% Asian (of which 19.7% Indian)
2.3% other non-white
I don't have the religion figures, but based upon ethnicity we could estimate 13% Moslem, 12% respect - sounds right to me.

Secondly, how on earth dies the author know whether the Respect vote came from afro-Caribbeans or Moslems? Was he in the polling booth looking  over their shoulder? This sounds like tittle tattle based on a couple of conversations and a bit of urban myth. Next week we will be reading about how there are crocodiles in the sewers, and if you wear tinfoil under your hat it stops satellites picking up your thoughts.



July 2004


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