Posts tagged "Reading"

Tell us what you really think, Rob

Yes. This is a blog about same-sex marriage and Rob Wilson, but before we get to the meat and two veg, some disclosure from me is probably apt.

Being Muslim, I’m acutely aware of the common-or-garden opinion of people of a religious bent, and probably Muslims in particular. The prevailing view - and it might well be correct - is that religious nutters view homosexuals as, as one guy on Twitter put it, ‘abomination’.

I don’t roll like that.

Many religious commentators on this issue seem to be presenting a dichotomy in which those ‘with religion’ present and perceive themselves not only as perfect, but also as arbiters of how those who are either not religious or who do not conform to their interpretation of religious doctrine should live their life. I utterly reject the view that homosexuality is an abomination. Who am I to judge how consenting adults should experience and express love?

So, how others live their personal lives, how they practice religion, how they express love and who they express it to and with is no concern of mine. But how my MP votes affects how my friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers live their lives. It’s my responsibility to protect my friends and neighbours from discrimination, from hatred, from ignorance.

The overwhelming opinion from all different parties - at least across my Twitter feed - seems to be in support of the same sex marriage Bill, voted on tonight. And my gut instinct is to support it, and I know the majority of Liberal Democrats nationally, and in Reading, clearly feel the same.

Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East has chosen to hide his personal feelings from his constituency. His explanation of why he abstained from voting in favour of same sex marriage gives a litany of what appear to be reasonable points against the same sex marriage bill. But the really telling thing is what he left out of the vanilla press release.

In amongst telling us how many letters and emails he read, and how many people he met, and how he has concerns that the Bill itself wasn’t in the Conservative Manifesto or the Coalition Agreement, Rob deftly neglects to tell us only his own personal opinion on same sex marriage. But his voting record on equal gay rights (as terms it) gives him away, and for a man who hardly ever votes against the party line, abstaining on this issue, at this time, perhaps highlights how strongly he feels.

We judge people by their deeds, not their words, and Rob’s deeds in this area seem to leave a lot to be desired. And that’s before we get the chance ask why he apparently makes time for Twitter based sarcasm.

In abstaining, Rob Wilson placed himself, as some are saying, on the wrong side of history, and his obfuscation from us of his actual personal opinion on this issue is rightly a concern. This is a matter of Human Rights. Of course the same sex marriage legislation isn’t perfect, but it’s a start, and I don’t believe for a moment that every piece of legislation that Rob Wilson actually votes for is perfect. Legislation evolves, and this is a step in the right direction. I’d have thought that Rob Wilson could have got that straight.

3 reasons why the Lib Dems are not ‘The Fourth Party’ in #RDG

I’ve seen and heard a few off-hand comments about the Liberal Democrats becoming ‘The Fourth Party in Reading’ on the basis that the Green Party out-polled Lib Dems locally. But though it makes a snappy soundbite to say that, the facts tell us something different.

  1. Whilst it’s true that Liberal Democrats in Reading had a difficult local election, it’s also true that we came out fighting, in the end doing better than last year by holding Tilehurst (with a frankly unstoppable candidate - Meri O’Connell). The final results also show that where Lib Dems have our hard working Councillors in place, the Green Party cannot out-poll the Lib Dems.
  2. I apologise in advance that this is pedantic, but the Lib Dems do have 4 Councillors to the Green Party’s 3. If you are going to claim that the Greens are ‘the third party’ at least make sure the numbers stack up. It’s like saying UKIP are ‘the third party’ in national politics. It just isn’t so. 
  3. The 2012 election results show that the Liberal Democrat vote stayed at home, for reasons which Liberal Democrats in Reading - and nationally - understand, but the Green vote, which in such conditions one would think would go up - by virtue of being disconnected from the national economic narrative - was also suppressed, and in the majority of wards where Greens stood candidates - even in Park - those candidates polled fewer votes in 2012 than in 2011.

You don’t have to be in power to wield power, as the Liberal Democrat council group demonstrated in Reading, when, at the last budget, they won concessions for residents from Labour that the Green party, despite propping up the minority Labour control, could not or would not negotiate for.

Sure, the mathematics are different for the next few years, but the canny political experience that the Reading Liberal Democrats apply both inside and outside the Council Chamber at crucial moments counts for something here. It also helps that the Liberal Democrats regularly hold the Labour administration to account. I’m not sure the same can be said of the Green Party Councillors given their record over the past 12 months.

Looking forward to 2014, the Greens face a dilemma. The logistics of fighting for a potential win in different wards are different from those of doggedly plugging away in a single ward. Given that the Green vote fell in nearly all wards in 2012, it’s difficult to pinpoint where they might focus their attention beyond the confines of Park ward.

Labour, and Muslims, and George? Oh My!

There was recently furore in Reading surrounding allegations of racist ‘dog-whistle’ politics. A leaflet which mentioned a Labour Candidate as ‘born and bred in Reading’ and being ‘one of us’ was distributed in a ward where the opposing Conservative candidate for the election is of Pakistani origin.

The leaflet is reproduced below, (courtesy of Lib Dem Voice) so the reader can make up their own mind.

Personally, I’d say it’s a hard judgement call to make. It can at best be said that this is a very poor choice of words for a leaflet in that particular ward.

But some of the people that support the Labour Party in Reading do appear to have some views about Muslims that I don’t recognise as being consistent with reality.

In his analysis of George Galloway’s victory in Bradford in March, John Howarth demonstrates what I believe to be a myopic view of the Muslim community in the UK*, as well as demonstrating poor judgement in his choice of words.

Howarth says:

Some communities from the 50s-60s wave of immigration engage or otherwise with UK politics on a UK level, but in many Pakistani populations the politics of ‘the old country’ and the Muslim world still matter a lot.

To some extent, I do take this point, but no Muslim (Pakistani or not) I met ever talked about the politics of ‘the old Country’.

It is all a somewhat complex and volatile mocktail.

Ahhh yes. Those ‘volatile’ Muslims eh? Primed and ready to explode in a political rage of non-alcoholic fruit juice! Watch out for the cranberries!

There is also a significant degree of resentment between the generations, particularly in their relationships with ‘community leaders’.

I definitely disagree with the first part of this point.

From whence does the evidence of ‘resentment between the generations’ come from in UK Muslim communities? In fact, I think there is a lot of respect and love between the generations, probably no more or less than love and respect between other religious or non-religious groups.

Successive generations of Muslim immigrant populations have become increasingly better educated, more self-confident and more aware of what they can do and achieve politically within UK society.

Parents, who themselves faced language barriers, who perhaps hold few formal educational qualifications from within the UK themselves, and who simply had to focus on sustaining a stable household, want their kids to build on their success. To assume, as Howarth seems to, that the majority of the younger generations of Muslims active in UK politics today are both ignorant of these facts and resentful of the previous generation, is stretching credulity.

An informed analysis of the Muslim vote for Galloway in Bradford can be found over on Huffington Post, where Reyhana Patel writes:

Gone were the days where Labour could woo the Muslim community by promising extensions to homes and funding for Muslim initiatives. What we are seeing now is a generation of Muslim youth who are disgruntled, disengaged and fed up of the constant negative media spotlight on their religion and names.

Indeed. Muslim youth are disengaged and disgruntled with politics generally, but in particular with the foreign policy that the Labour Party actively pursued.

Howarth is right about a growing resentment towards so-called ‘community leaders’. Though ‘the community’ itself is aware of this, so much so, we can all laugh at the ridiculousness of them. But is this really so different from any other community where power is concentrated in the hands of an older generation that built and support complex power structures, and who, occasionally, cling to them tightly?

Mr G has tailored his politics, or at least his presentation, toward this audience.

Politicians should tailor their presentations to their audience, but one thing you can say about Galloway is that his politics have been demonstrably consistent. Across decades.

Labour List tells us of Bradford and Galloway that the Muslim youth was disenfranchised and “who campaigned for him on mass [sic]”.

Galloway also sent a letter to mosques setting out his position, his long record, and his apparent authentic claim as a Muslim.

This had the effect of showing the Labour candidate up as nothing like the kind of, ahem, ‘community leader’ which Muslims of any age would support. It seems that Galloway united Muslims (and a significant majority of non-Muslims also!) both young and old in Bradford, so Howarth’s analysis of this situation has gaps.

Howarth does seem to flirt with offensiveness, saying:

It is also a sad fact that there remains, though some don’t like to admit it, a section of the white population who prefer not to vote for a Muslim


So Mr G was perfectly placed. A ‘friend of Muslims’ playing to the ‘Brothers’ but not involved in ‘community’ in-fighting, a White guy who other White guys can vote for instead of voting for a Muslim…

Where to start? I guess the obvious point is that - shock, horror - white guys can be Muslim. Islam is not a religion that is confined to a particular skin colour.

Also, the idea that ‘White guys’ so inclined to vote along either racial or religious lines, preferring “not to vote for a Muslim”, were not aware that Galloway is “a friend of Muslims” with an, shall we say ‘indefatigable’ history of courting the support of Muslims, or the ongoing debate as to if Galloway is Muslim or not (Google it!) does not stand up to scrutiny.

All in all, it’s disappointing to see such a high-profile Labour figure in Reading draw some of the conclusions that Howarth draws about Muslims and ‘White guys’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying Howarth is being racist. But after reading his post I came away with the feeling that he - and perhaps the Labour Party itself when we recall that Phil Woolas lost his seat in 2010 for trying to get “the white vote angry" - has a narrow understanding of the Muslim social and political experience in the UK.

* Disclosure: I was brought up in what was a liberal Muslim household in many ways, and which was conservative in other ways. Many of my relatives either are Muslim or were brought up in the Muslim tradition even if they don’t now follow it, and I’ve known many Muslim friends. Knowing as I do people raised in the Sikh and Hindu traditions, I think it wouldn’t be unfair to say that some parts of this article could also apply to them.

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