Labour in commanding position as UK votes today

Labour in commanding position as UK votes today

LONDON: With major polls predicting a landslide victory for the Labour party, voters in the United Kingdom go to polls today (Thursday) in 650 constituencies across the country.

With political experts saying the fall of the Conservative government is a fait accompli, the question for the Rishi Sunak-led party now is simply how large a political sinkhole will open up if Labour is to indeed bag 40 per cent of the vote, leaving 20pc or less for the Tories. Still, ahead of election day and despite the majority of polls pointing to a massive win for Labour, the party led by Keir Starmer is fighting the impression that victory is a done deal.

After 14 years of Conservative rule, polls say Labour is set to bag 484 of the total seats as the Tories will lose in Conservative heartlands. Key issues such as the economy, immigration, inflation, and the Gaza conflict are at the forefront of the British political discourse, influencing campaigns and voter sentiment.

“The Labour Party wants to be able to convince voters that it’s absolutely central that they turn out and vote, because otherwise the Tories will win, and the Tories are desperate for people to think that they have still got a chance, and therefore, it’s worth turning up,” Britain’s top polling expert John Curtice told CNBC.

In all this, it is important to also look at how many seats are bagged by Nigel Farage’s populist Reform Party, which has been accused of racism and misogyny in its campaign. The Guardian reports that the party could see at least 18 members joining parliament after today’s vote.

British-Pakistani candidates

Approximately, a dozen British-Pakistani candidates are running in various constituencies, including Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Bradford, Bedford, Dewsbury, London, and Scotland.

In the key constituency of London (Holborn and St Pancras), Labour leader and potential future prime minister Keir Starmer is being challenged by British, Pakistani lawyer Mehreen Malik, representing the Conservative Party.

Born in Lahore, Ms Malik is the niece of former Senate chairman Waseem Sajjad and daughter of Shahid Malik. Other contenders for this seat include Andrew Feinstein (independent), Wais Islam (independent), Senthil Kumar (independent), John Poynton (UKIP), David Roberts (Reform UK), Tom Scripps (Socialist Equality), Bobby Smith (independent), and David Stansell (Green).

In Birmingham (Ladywood), it is Shabana Mahmood, a prominent Labour candidate and Oxford graduate who has served as an MP since 2010, running against Conservative Shazna Muzammil and independent Akhmed Yakoob.

Ms Mahmood, one of Labour’s most senior Muslim MPs, was elected as the MP for Birmingham Ladywood in 2010. She was born and brought up in the heart of Birmingham, attending a local school as a child and living within the constituency. She is among Labour members who have challenged the party leader over his Gaza stance, and has publicly said that Labour lost Muslim voters’ trust over Gaza.

Also running from Birmingham (Perry Barr) is Khalid Mahmood, Labour’s longest-serving British Pakistani MP. His primary opponent is independent Ayoub Khan, a former Liberal Democrat councillor.

In Bradford West, the well-known Naz Shah, a high-profile Labour MP, is defending her seat against independent candidate Muhammed Ali Islam, who is focusing his campaign on the Gaza conflict. Ms Shah effectively quit her frontbench seat at the end of 2023 in defiance to Sir Keir over Labour’s stance on Gaza.

In Coventry South, Labour’s Zarah Sultana, an activist first elected in 2019, is seeking re-election. She faces opposition from Reform UK’s Chris Baddon and independent candidate Joshua Morland. Ms Sultana is also a vocal supporter of a ceasefire in Gaza, and in May called on the UK government to end licensing arms sales to Israel.

Rehman Chishti of the Conservative Party, first elected in 2010, is running in Gillingham and Rainham. His family originates from Muzaffarabad, AJK, and he has held various advisory roles.

Labour’s Afzal Khan, elected in 2017, is running from Manchester Rusholme. His opponents include Conservative Alexandra Marsanu and independent Faraz Bhatti.

In Scotland, Anum Qaisar of the Scottish National Party and Labour’s Dr Zubir Ahmed are notable candidates in Airdrie and Shotts and Glasgow South West, respectively.

Impact of poll results on Muslims

Could Labour win be positive for Muslims as Europe shifts right?

The results of the European Parliament elections have shown that populist radical right parties performed well, and France is inching closer to the unthinkable scenario of an anti-immigration far-right government taking power for the first time. As hard-right forces gain ground in Europe, what impact with UK’s election results have on minorities — especially Muslims?

Some prominent Muslim voices feel a change in government in the UK could act as a counter-balance to Europe’s rightward swing, which has seen anti-Muslim leaders such as Dutch politician Geert Wilders gain a hold, and far-right parties make serious gains in France and Germany during recent EU elections.

Scharjil Khalid, the imam of Khadija Mosque in Berlin, said in one interview: “The opinion is, very surprisingly, hopeful because the Muslim community in the UK is so strong and diverse that it’s hard to imagine that any government can restrict the rights of Muslims.”

He added: “On the other hand, nobody was really expecting Brexit, but it still passed. Everything can happen in these times where we see a shift towards the right in Europe and the whole world. Recent polls show that the right-wing party Reform UK is growing and if they get into government, that would be a big problem.”

Mr Khalid also said that post-Brexit, some of his relatives cannot visit family in the UK as easily as before. “So the hope is that would change, along with the asylum system. But when I speak to UK diplomats, they’re not really hopeful and recent polls show that most people are voting for parties in favour of Brexit.”

However, Egyptian novelist based in Madrid, Ahmad Abdulatif said: “I don’t think a new UK government can change the difficult situation, either in the UK or in Europe. The root of the problem is in the language: calling immigrants ‘Muslims’ and not Turkish, Moroccan, or whatever nationality they might be. When Europeans come to the Middle East they are not called Catholic or Christian. This classification on the basis of religion needs to change.”

Hania Chalal, president of the Forum for European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations in Strasbourg, said: “We would like to see the new [UK] government paving the way in the fight against Islamophobia and bigotry. I would love to see a strong stance against Islamophobia and all forms of racism. There is a need to actively protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, including religious and ethnic minorities. We would also like increased representation of Muslims in the UK government, which would be seen as a positive sign by Muslims in other European societies.”

Chalal also said an effective measure would be the recognition of Islamophobia as a distinct form of racism. “We want to see rigorous enforcement of legislation against hate crimes and discrimination, and mechanisms to assess the scope of the issue, which tends to be highly underestimated. The new government should take a strong stance against the violation of fundamental rights, vocally oppose Islamophobia and advocate for the implementation of effective frameworks to combat all forms of Islamophobia, from the individual to the organisational level.”

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