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.


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