Religion,  UK Politics

You Can’t Do That

Nick Spencer, writing in the Guardian, can’t understand why British Muslims continue to vote for the ‘Islamophobic’ Labour Party:

The Iraq war was supposed to have poisoned Labour’s relations with British Muslims. Tony Blair’s apparently unqualified support for a bellicose Republican administration despised around the Muslim world was deeply unpalatable. Years of anti-terror legislation were judged by some to have stigmatised Muslims and fanned Islamophobic flames.

Well that’s the accepted wisdom among large parts of the Metropolitan chatterati whose contact with ordinary Muslim citizens is limited – but what do the voters say?

If there were a general election tomorrow, 35% of voting Muslims (meaning those Muslims who claim they are more likely than not to vote) would vote Labour. This compares with 22% of voting Christians and 23% of the entire voting population. By comparison, whereas 30% of the voting population would tick the Conservative box, only 13% of voting Muslims would do so.

Hmm. So the consensus that Muslims can’t bring themselves to vote for a party which helped remove Saddam Hussein and continues to fight clerical fascism in Afghanistan is at odds with the voting intentions of actually existing UK voters. How to explain that headache-inducing paradox?

There are good demographic and socio-economic reasons for that support. British Muslims are disproportionately younger and more urban. They come from lower-income households and experience higher levels of unemployment. These factors traditionally edge voters to the left.

What, you mean class is more important than religion when it comes to the ballot box? Wow. Is this an example of some common sense breaking out at the Guardian? This should be encouraged.

If this were so, it would imply that much of what we think we have learnt about identity politics over the last two decades is questionable.

Double wow.

If those Muslims who choose to vote, vote according to whether they are young, urban, poor or unemployed rather than because they are Muslim, it would mean that attempts to court the Muslim vote, or even engage with the Muslim community, are misguided.

Hallelujah! They’ve got it at last.

But, what’s this? It looks like Spencer’s not quite ready to join the reality-based community yet.

That might make psephological sense but intuitively it seems wrong. The shift from ethnic to religious identity politics over the last two decades cannot have been one big mistake.

Oh, Nick. Just when we seemed to be making such progress too. The figures clearly show a political phenomenon – that Muslims are generally well-disposed to Labour – but that can’t be true because it clashes with received liberal wisdom about what Muslims think.

Engaging fully with the evidence and reaching the obvious conclusion – that Muslims are individuals who can make up their own minds about politics instead of squeezing themselves into pre-formed moulds fashioned by upper middle class journalists would also entail admitting that the latter had got it wrong about Muslims for quite a long time.

And we can’t have that, can we?