Local elections: How much will they cost you?
We need political activism, but not to achieve a few councillors or MPs who simply join the corrupt and ineffective political system that’s already failed us all.
The local and mayoral elections in May will pass by without the intense scrutiny of a general election. Many people remain unsure exactly what local elections are for. We will probably hear of the Labour party making some gains, the Liberal Democrats becoming big losers and there will be the usual shock when one or two BNP candidates are elected onto councils. The impact to most people’s lives will seem remote.
In areas now densely populated with Muslims, the mainstream political parties have sought to recruit individuals from the local community who might be able to win elections. So increasingly there have been Muslim candidates in Muslim areas. Many people see this as beneficial for the Muslim community. They hope this will lead to greater support for issues such as Muslim schools, mosques and cultural interests. It might also provide a friendlier face to lend support with local businesses, housing, licensing and local public services.
Has the Muslim community got anything out of this participation?
Maybe! Mainly in the form of financial support for various community projects such as mosques and schools. Some of this money has come through the “Prevent” policies of the previous government, which seeks to support projects that teach a depoliticised version of Islam acceptable within British secular democracy.
It’s naïve to believe that individuals with special interests working within large political parties are likely to exert much influence however. The mainstream political parties such as the Labour and Conservative parties are institutions with long term political agendas and powerful supporters. To pursue their agenda they need their candidates to be elected whether locally or nationally to ratify their policies in order to see them implemented. Rebellious MPs or councillors are of little use to the political party as they cannot be relied upon to push through governmental policies and views. So, officials once elected represent the views of their parties first and foremost, not of those who elected them; otherwise they risk losing their party affiliation and its benefits.
So any benefit that may be garnered by working for mainstream political parties comes with a cost that, at its most basic level, is the support of that party’s political agenda.
There are lots of Muslim MPs now. What is their voting record?
There are 8 Muslim MPs in the House of Commons currently. Six are Labour and 2 are Conservative. Of the 2,846 times they voted in this parliament, these 8 members have only rebelled against their parties 10 times. Muslim MPs have overwhelmingly voted in favour of anti-terrorism legislation, much of which unfairly targets the Muslim community and demonises Islam. While Islam continues to be attacked in the media, the Muslim MP for Tooting Sadiq Khan, rather than defending Islam, appeared in the Daily Mail reportedly saying that “Shariah law is not fit for the UK.” He did not think that there was “that level of sophistication that there is in Jewish law.”
An obvious but commonly misunderstood point is that Muslim MPs can only represent Islam if the platform they stand on for elections is Islam. If they stand on a platform of liberalism or socialism that is the policy they will stand for in office. Therefore there is little difference in electing these members over any other candidate whether Christian or atheist. They share common political views and that’s why they are in the same political party.
Aren’t local elections different?
Yes, they are probably worse. National politics is carefully scrutinised. Although corruption is common, more effort is required to conceal it. Local politics is rarely investigated or reported in the media. While a councillor may become a route for the community to put forward views or concerns about local issues, a Muslim councillor also becomes the route for an anti-Muslim government agenda to find its way into our mosque committees and into talks at Jummah Khutbas (Friday sermons). He becomes the route to influence the curriculum in our Muslim schools.
Local elections do matter and the decisions they make affect housing, local taxes, businesses and expenditure on a variety of public services. But why should a Muslim candidate standing for a mainstream party then represent Muslims in his borough? His job is to serve the entire population of his area with the policies of the party he stands for, not just a special interest group, especially one that has been deliberately maligned by successive governments.
Western politics has the reputation of being dirty because it mostly is. Much of the time it’s legally dirty and occasionally it is also illegally dirty which is discovered from time to time. Does anyone really believe that rich Conservative party donors who were invited to have dinner with the prime minister exerted no influence whatsoever? Simply the ability to speak to the prime minister in private means that their voices are heard louder in the highest offices than the voices of the working or middle classes. Legal or not, money buys access and access leads to greater influence. For ordinary people even collective political action including demonstrations are not enough to change government policy – the most obvious example being the Iraq war.
Promises and manifesto pledges are meaningless because after an election, any number of reasons can be found to abandon them. Before the last general election the Liberal Democrats pledged in their manifesto that they would “scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income.” In power with the Conservatives they voted for an increase in fees to £9000 per year. It is possible to produce an extensive list of broken promises for every parliament in every Western democracy. Everyone can think of examples. The “too big to fail” mentality implies that the interests of multinational banks and corporations become everyone’s interests. If they fail, everyone loses and so their success becomes more important than the disgruntled poor who found their vote did not really have any impact.
Local politics is no different. There are local business people and groups who have specific interests in the local area and will therefore seek to influence council decisions, which is probably easier to achieve at the local level. Local politicians balance the influence of their political peers, local influential people and special interest groups and their supporters and try to keep enough people happy to achieve re-election. Compromise and deceit are the orders of the day in a democratic system. It’s not what they say, it’s what they don’t say and then do.
So are we simply in need of integrity in politics?
Integrity is required, but the history of Western politics suggests that will be hard to achieve. As Muslims, there is an additional concern. We know that when Allah (swt) says:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
I have only created Jinn and Men so that they might serve me (TMQ 51:56)
that means that our outlook in all matters must be that which is consistent with His (swt) worship. In the Qur’an Allah (swt) reproached the people of the book if they failed to apply the Law that he had revealed in the Torah and:
وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ
“those who fail to judge by what Allah has revealed, they are like the disbelievers” (TMQ 5:44)
The mainstream political parties in the U.K. are opposed to the application of any religious law, in particular the Shariah. The policies of these parties and acts of parliament do not reflect Islam, either in letter or spirit. Even if a policy can be justified by Islam, it does not originate from it. It represents the views of the party and its backers. So those who stand with these parties also stand for the rule of something other than Islam, regardless of their personal belief.
Standing on the platform of a secular political party obliges you to publically disregard the Shariah as a basis for law and policy. This means Muslim members of secular political parties never publicly argue for or against their party on the basis of the Shariah but use other principles. Sometimes they hold different views in private. The correct English word to describe such behaviour is “hypocrisy.”
يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللّهِ مَا قَالُواْ وَلَقَدْ قَالُواْ كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُواْ بَعْدَ إِسْلاَمِهِمْ
“(The hypocrites) swear by God that they have said nothing (wrong); yet most certainly have uttered a saying which amounts to a denial of the truth, and have (thus) denied the truth after (having) professed their Islam”.( TMQ 9.74)
Should Muslims isolate themselves within their communities to avoid dirty politics?
Much of what Muslims have already achieved in this country was achieved without direct participation in the political process. Muslim communities have built mosques and schools while developing their communities to provide basic requirements for life as Muslims such as food. Muslims have been successful at every level within the UK and are represented in every profession. However, Muslim communities, especially within the inner cities are plagued with high crime rates, drug abuse and gang culture. While the government wants to focus on the minority of young Muslims who might in the future have the potential to violently express their anger at Western imperial policies, they sit idly by while thousands of young Muslims destroy their lives within failing schools, heroin addiction and gang violence. A crude estimate of the gross personal income of Muslims in this country would be around £75 billion.
We do not need to compromise our principles and beliefs in order to participate in a corrupt political system while that political system continues to fail not just Muslims but all of the young people of this country and many of the old. We need to work as communities to establish and fund programmes that will deal with our problems and requirements. The local elections are a smoke screen, disguising the fact that this political system was never designed to care for what the people consider to be their interests. We cannot waste our time with false solutions, there is too much to do. We need political activism, but not to achieve a few councillors or MPs who simply join the corrupt and ineffective political system that’s already failed us all. We need to develop the politics of the prophets where the interests of the people were looked after and Allah’s word came above all others.