British Elections '05: Race, Immigration and the War on Terror

Immigration policy and the War on Terror are the top issues in the first British general elections in the post 9/11 era. Many recent immigrants who are ethnic minorities and especially Muslims believe that all the political parties are vying for the 'bigot vote' by using seemingly prejudice advertising tactics. In today's UK being called an immigrant has racist connotations.

Most notably the British National Party (BNP) has been the main culprit for creating huge (and non-existant) fear and hysteria around the country's new citizens.

"That is my bugbear," said east London resident and BNP supporter Jill Jones in a recent Guardian report, jabbing her finger at a picture of a woman in a full burka. 'I'm not a rabid racist but I feel isolated from those people when they wear their veils." The picture had a tagline: 'Ladies in Barking [east London] today, thanks to Labour and Conservative immigration policy.'

"The only reason I am voting for the BNP is because the Afro-Caribbean people are given grants to come here," said Paul Houlihan in the same interview. "It is nothing personal against other races but we do not have the resources for these extra people."

He is talking about the BNP claim that London boroughs - including Tower Hamlets - have given 'Africans' up to £50,000 ($80,000) to move to Barking and Dagenham. When the newspaper contacted Tower Hamlets council it said the 'cash incentive scheme' , which helps people in council housing to buy homes, was taken up by 54 households in 2003/2004. Of those just five moved to east London, of whom three were white British, one mixed race and one unknown. On average they received £19,000 or just over $30,000.

Nonetheless, because of the party's extremist views it is highly unlikely any BNP officials will be elected based on news reports. BNP has become the butt of jokes by many politicians, including Conservative party leader, Michael Howard, who said BNP was "a bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party."

But the Conservative party's views immigration strongly parallels those of BNP. Michael Howard has said that his party favors a quota on refugees and asylum seekers and implementing ID cards. Activists have openly opposed the party's proposed policies. Herman Ouseley, former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, belives the conservatives are only trying to make inroads in BNP voters.

"While it may not be racist to talk about immigration, it certainly is to do so with the intention of capturing every bigot's vote, said Ousely, "Michael Howard knows that he cannot win the election without capturing those votes that were destined for the BNP, Ukip and Veritas. That is why he cannot let go of the anti-asylum/immigration agenda."

The Labour party, with a more 'comfortable' position on the immigration question by opposing quotas, doesn't escape Ouseley's scorn. "...And the New Labour government has not countered any misinformation [from the Conservative party] with facts over the past eight years," said Ouseley in the same editorial, "Instead, they have claimed for themselves the tough guys' role, bringing in more and more legislation to keep "undesirables" out. Even though they have a rampant deportation machine that removed nearly 15,000 people in the past year, and have clamped down on deficiencies in the shambolic management inherited from Howard's days in charge of the Home Office, they want people to be thinking that they're "tough on asylum and tough on immigrants."

Although Labour wants to be seen as tough on immigration to appease most voters, they also want the ethnic minority vote at the same time. But even the vote of people of color, especially among Asian Muslims, seems to be up for grabs - somewhat. Tony Blair's blatant support for the invasion of Iraq has alarmed many British followers of Islam and has made them feel resentful.

Derwala Takdir, who works for the Active Women's Group, agrees: "Islam and terrorism, Islam and terrorism, the words always appear together in the media. It has become very difficult to be a Muslim in Britain. We feel isolated."

Tony Blair is not the only Labour politician trying to hold on to their seat. Oona King, the infamous Bethnal Green & Bow MP, is running for re-election. She is a stong supporter of the war in Iraq and has been called by opponents 'Tony Blair's lap dog." Her position may cost her in her constituency because it is a Labour stronghold. King being black and Jewish doesn't help in Brick Lane which is predominately populated by Bangladeshi Muslims. King was giving a speech recently in Brick Lane to a group of Muslim women and and she was interrupted by a passionate outburst from a young woman: 'We believed in you so much ... we were shocked by what you did on the war ... it was like you had been bringing up a child, feeding it and pampering it, and then when it had grown up you just shot it! I'm sorry, but this is how we felt you treated us.' The young woman's attack raises a murmur of approval from the other women in the room. King is taken aback, but defends herself by pointing out that well before the invasion of Iraq she had called for Saddam Hussein to be ousted because of his 'genocide' of 500,000 Iraqi children.

"Moral Values" have also seem to cross the Pond into this particular election. Many of King's Muslim constituents are opposed to her support on such issues as gay rights. George Galloway, King's main opposition in the race who left the Labour party because of Blair's stance on Iraq, is using this opportunity to his own advantage. "I have religious beliefs and try to live by them,' Galloway said, "I have all my life been against abortion and against euthanasia - in fact, on Question Time two weeks ago I was the only panellist to inveigh against the creeping euthanasia in our society. I am not surprised if my position on these issues strikes a chord."

As of today, Labour has a slight edge in the race, despite steep competition and new revelations about Blair's knowledge about the Iraq war. But Herman Ouseley summed up his reaction:

"Seeking power irrespective of the morality that should unambiguously underpin the arguments for election is now a part of the corrupt promises made by political parties and their leaders. The result is the current high level of cynicism and mistrust of political parties, politicians and the electoral process. "


At Friday, May 06, 2005 9:16:00 AM, Anonymous shani m said...

It is no surprise Oona King got kicked out. She was just too pro Blair. In November she was pelted vegetables and eggs at a Holocaust memorial by people who opposed her stance on Iraq.



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