Monday, April 25, 2005

Labour and the Pakistani vote – Part two

Last week, on Tuesday April 19, the Guardian published a letter from Muslim scholars calling on Muslims to vote Labour. The signatories on the letter included Pir Ala’ud Deen Siddiqui who has since informed the Daily Jang that he distances himself from the letter. He does not advocate for any one party. It may be worth while tracing the origins of the letter. It would all have been so much easier if Mr Blair had decided against siding with the US on the Iraq war. A war in which ‘shock and awe’ firepower (another synonym for terrorism) was employed and a war that would have simply not transpired if Iraq was the second greatest carrot exporter in the world.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Are you drinking what we’re drinking?

The Tory campaign involving the use of hand writing on billboards is meant to stake the claim that the Tory party voices the concerns of the public – it is an attempt to reduce the distance between the Conservatives and common sense. This elevation of common sense or common parlance to a level of authenticity is problematic. It is selective for a start – it takes key Conservative proposals and finds an everyday expression of them. But the elevation of common sense is problematic because it is wholesale. Much common parlance is anti-Conservative and not particularly polite. Some of everyday conversation is also against the Westminster consensus, for example, on issues of crime and immigration. The shift in strategy though indicates a lack of depth and leadership in current political debate. This is not unusual as far as the two main parties are concerned because, as many commentators have already noted, this election is about the narcissism of small differences (within a managerial context).

Forward, not Left

One of the paradoxes about our current situation is the contrast between the citizenship approach heralded by the government towards the Muslim community and the present mass mobilisation of the community. A citizenship agenda has been championed by the Home Office and New Labour over the last year or so, and this has been at times pointed in the direction of the Muslim community. This agenda aims towards increasing involvement in political participation amongst other activities (e.g. voluntary work, engagement in civil society etc.). But what this election is showing us is that there is in fact a huge amount of political awareness and mobilisation within the community – all these young Muslims running around at present gathering support for the Liberals, Respect or anybody else for that matter are acting as good citizens, only in a way that Labour finds disagreeable. This peculiarly reveals a lack of cynicism towards the electoral process against the current climate and despite the behaviour of the present government.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Why School is Good for You

The following has been submitted by Abrar al Haq, a young Bradfordian. It is the first in a series of posts that will focus on educational standards in Bradford.

Ten reasons in favour of public schooling

1. Children who receive a one-on-one home education will learn more than others, giving them an unfair advantage in the marketplace—this is undemocratic.

2. Most parents were educated in the under-funded public school system, and so are not smart enough to home educate their own children.

3. How can children learn to defend themselves unless they have to fight off bullies on a daily basis?

4. Ridicule from other children is important to the socialization process.

5. Children in public schools can get more practice “Saying No” to drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

6. Fluorescent lighting may have significant health benefits.

7. Publicly asking permission to go to the bathroom teaches young people their place in society.

8. The fashion industry depends upon the peer pressure that only public schools can generate.

9. Public schools foster cultural literacy, passing on important traditions like the singing of “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg...”

10. Home educated children may not learn important office career skills, like how to sit still for six hours continuously.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Labour and the Pakistani vote

The recent conviction of six Labour councillors in Birmingham for electoral fraud has raised some interesting issues. Some commentators in the media have suggested that this problem is particular to certain communities, well, specifically they are referring to the Pakistani community.

How is this to be interpreted? Could one deduce from this generalisation that democracy simply isn’t workable amongst Pakistanis? Could this explain the rather cosy relationship between the American and British government and a certain military general? Perhaps it could. This is because, as many of us have known for quite a while now, Labour has not hesitated at the local level in choosing some rather colourful characters as councillors. (The other parties don’t fare much better). This has presented the role of councillor or political leader at the local level to the rest of us as a career path better left to others.

If one resists the temptation to generalise (as one should), and suggests that not all Pakistanis are prone to corruption, then the question is why do political parties choose such colourful characters as their local representatives? I would wish to suggest that this is because there is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between them that such councillors would be able to deliver X number of votes through the biraderi system (kinship networks). This not only requires a particularistic approach to the Pakistani community – a good example perhaps of multiculturalism being misinterpreted and misapplied – but also encourages and reinforces a culture of weak morality. A patronage system that celebrates the worst.

This issue is highlighted in Ann Cryer’s constituency. Ann Cryer has spent the last few years castigating the Muslim community and its hierarchical and oppressive structures. Yet her party has been busy working the same hierarchical and oppressive structure for votes in the lead-up to this general election. She would appear much more coherent if she refused the support of those who held up or advocated such hierarchical and oppressive structures since a problem greater than electoral fraud is political containment.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Tactical Voting

The election results for Bradford West from 2001 were as follows:

Marsha Singh, Labour 18,401
Mohammed Riaz, Conservative 14,236
John Robinson, Green Party 2,672
Rauf Khan, Liberal Democrat 2,437


This year, Marsha Singh is re-standing as the Labour candidate. Haroon Rashid is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats are proposing Mukhtar Ali as the Liberal candidate.

Haroon Rashid has been put through a difficult year. He was standing for the position of PPC for the Conservatives. He won the nomination but then allegations were leaked to a national newspaper about persons voting for him while they were no longer alive. These allegations were later found to be untrue and Haroon was exonerated by a nationally instigated Conservative party internal investigation. He is now the official Conservative candidate for Bradford West. Mukhtar Ali used to be a Labour councillor but has since joined the Liberal Democrats. The Iraq war has played a part in his change of allegiance. He is, like Haroon, a strong candidate.

In my previous post, I suggested that the Liberal Democrat party has the policies most suited to Muslim needs and values. I suggested at the end of the post that some Muslims may need to consider voting tactically. As can be seen from the figures above, the swing required for a Liberal Democrat victory is about 8,000 voters. This makes a Liberal Democrat victory unlikely. It is for this reason that I would not argue against voting for Haroon. He requires a swing of about 2,000 voters, this is much more likely. Bradford West, above all else, irrespective of faith and race, needs a strong MP.

Furthermore, it may be the case in certain constituencies that the candidate holds views against the party. For example, a Tory candidate could be anti-war, or a Liberal Democrat could be anti-high taxation. Again, because of this one needs to approach the candidate to question their exact view on the issues that matter and then vote accordingly.

The problem with the Labour party is that it has an administration which seeks to choose neutered candidates who are not allowed to ‘go off-message’. For a place like Bradford, this has serious consequences. A city suffering from major economic decline and community cohesion issues requires strong leadership which exhibits competence, professionalism and strategic thinking that will aide the upliftment of the city as a whole. Let us hope that this general election will return strong candidates to the House of Commons.