One third of Londoners are said to be ‘uncomfortable’ with the idea of a Muslim mayor according to a new YouGov poll for LBC radio. What seems to have excited some especially is the revelation that 73 per cent of UKIP voters in London felt the same. But can they really be blamed?
The reason some of the people who are ‘uncomfortable’ is undoubtably going to be a level of xenophobia. But the majority, I believe, will have been subconsciously internalising the public performances of Muslim politicians in the United Kingdom, and will rightly be concerned by them.
Critics might point to the fact that UKIPers, across the board according to the poll, are less “progressive”, leading the field in discomfort for the idea of a female mayor (12 per cent), a homosexual mayor (26 per cent) and an ethnic minority mayor (41 per cent). Well, yes, UKIP is a party of traditionalists and conservatives first, and libertarians second. I don’t think anyone should try and hide away from that, or try to explain it away. But the discomfort about a Muslim mayor (73 per cent) requires some deeper thought.
Look at the shining examples we have of high profile Muslim politicians in the United Kingdom: Baroness Warsi, former Mayor Lutfur Rahman, Ex-UKIPer Amjad Bashir, and of course one of the people tipped to challenge for the Labour candidacy, Labour MP Sadiq Khan.
“But wait! What about Syed Kamall? Sajid Javid? Khalid Mahmood? Rehman Chisti?” I hear you ask.
By and large, Muslim politicians in the UK tend to be far more… divisive… to be polite. There are several camps. Some, like Lutfur Rahman and Baroness Warsi, have Islamist links. Some have questionable backgrounds, such as the defence of Louis Farrakhan, or Guantanamo Bay detainees (Sadiq Khan) and one, especially, let UKIP down in a big way, while being investigated for improper behaviour (Amjad Bashir).
Others engage in sectarian politics at a whim. George Galloway, though he doesn’t claim to be a Muslim (others claim he converted) divided and conquered in Bradford West and was, as a result, turfed out. Politicians like Ali, Mahmood, and Qureshi are united by their demonisation of Israel, and the rightly perceived tolerance of extremism as a result of this position.
And Tory elected officials like Kamall, Javid, and Chisti are precisely why Conservative voters in London are more comfortable (39 per cent against) with a Muslim mayor. One of their leading candidates is a practicing Muslim – they’d have to be.
Perhaps the argument can be made that UKIP voters are not ‘xenophobic’ or anti-Muslim – although one might argue they are more likely to be anti-Islam, and that’s a discussion for another time – but rather, that they have simply been paying attention.
When you couple the backgrounds of a lot of leading Muslim politicians in Britain, with the more objective, black and white worldview that UKIP voters have, they are naturally predetermined to be more sceptical.
You might argue that UKIP voters shouldn’t see things in such a clear cut way, and shouldn’t attribute the failings of one Muslim politician to others. There are evident trends, similarities, and commonalities, but that contention, in reality, would be a decent, compromise approach.
Unfortunately, while there are a handful of decent Muslim politicians in Britain, I can’t help but think that the highest profile ones have let people with my name, and my background, down. It’s no different to UKIPers being sceptical of a Conservative Mayor, or Labour being sceptical of a Tory one.
Maybe I should run for London Mayor on a UKIP ticket? Or maybe not.