LONDON – Muslim voters delivered a stinging rebuke to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday over the Iraq war, voting a loyal member of his Labour Party out of office in favour of an anti-war candidate. In a major upset, Blair loyalist Oona King — who strongly backed the March 2003 conflict supported by the prime minister — lost her Bethnal Green and Bow seat in east London to George Galloway from the left-wing Respect Party. “Mr Blair, this is for Iraq. All the people you killed, all the lies you told have come back to haunt you and and the best thing the Labour Party could do is sack you tomorrow morning as soon as they get back to work,” Galloway told cheering supporters following the announcement. Galloway, a former Labour deputy thrown out of the party for defying Blair over the war, specifically targeted King as her seat contains a high proportion of Muslim voters, mainly of Bangladeshi origin. King, who is half-Jewish and half-black, won her seat in 1997 at only 30 years of age and proved a popular local MP, winning a 10,000-vote majority in the 2001 election. However in Thursday’s election, she lost out of Galloway by just over 800 votes. Such a turnaround reflects the bitter feelings the Iraq war provoked in many British Muslims, as well as a fearsome campaign by Galloway. The election battle between King and Galloway, a flamboyant political veteran known as “gorgeous George”, was perhaps the most bitter individual fight in the entire election. King accused Respect activists of spreading word among the 40-percent Muslim district that she was Jewish to hurt her chances, something Galloway’s officials vehemently denied. Unknown attackers threw eggs at King at a Holocaust memorial service, and she was later again pelted with eggs and had her car tires slashed by a gang of youths protesting her support for the Iraq war. Galloway also placed himself under heightened security after being threatened with death by a group of Islamic extremists. Blair has acknowledged that Britons remain divided over the conflict, but on Friday said that he felt they wanted to “move on” and look toward the future. The vote results indicate otherwise, countered the Liberal Democrats, pointing to the “significant impact” the party had on battles across the country, where its candidates often gained in the popular vote although they did not win. “I attribute some of that to the anti-war platform, but our other policies have also played a significant role,” said deputy party president Fiyaz Mughal. “In areas where there are higher minority populations, which will primarily vote for us because of Iraq, you’re having major swings,” Mughal said, pointing to areas like immigrant-heavy Hornsey and Wood Green, north London, where the Liberal Democrat candidate overcame a gap of more than 12,000 votes to oust a Labour incumbent. “There is clearly a lot of disaffection among British Muslims about the Iraq war, the application of draconian anti-terror laws and the manner in which sections of the media have used sensationalism to stigmatize our entire community,” Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the umbrella organization the Muslim Council of Britain, said in a statement. The council, which had urged the country’s 1.6 million Muslims to vote, said the results showed that Iraq had clearly become a “mainstream concern”. Analysts said the Iraq question affected non-Muslim voters by undermining Blair’s trustworthiness. The premier “lost the public relations war,” Chris Brown at the London School of Economics said. Still, several direct challenges to Labour heavyweights over Iraq failed, including a contest in Blair’s home constituency of Sedgefield, northern England by Reg Keys, the father of a soldier who died in Iraq in June 2003. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also beat off challenges in his closely-watched race in Blackburn, near Manchester in northwest England, where 25 percent of the voters are Muslim.
Up to 2000 people from more than 50 Islamic organisations in Britain have demonstrated in London to condemn what they called heavy-handed procedures in the fight against global terrorism. “The basic message is that the Muslim community wants to voice its opposition to what it views as the oppression of the war on terror,” said Imran Wahid of Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of the groups behind the protest march. He said Muslims were angered by so-called control orders imposed by the British authorities on terrorism suspects, and by the US detention of terrorism suspects without trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There were no incidents as the protesters – led by a banner reading United Against the Oppression of War on Terror – made their way to Paddington Green police station in west London, where terrorism suspects are questioned. “It is kind of symbolic because a lot of people are taken there and released without charge a couple of days later,” Wahid said. The march occurred five days before a general election in Britain which Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes will give his Labour Party a third straight term in office.
Liberal Democrats will have for the first time a Muslim, and that a woman, in the Parliament, reports The Muslim News. Mrs Kishwer Falkner, 49, was selected among 46 new working peers appointed today to the House of Lords. The list, approved by Prime Minister, Tony Blair, included no Muslims selected for peerages by either the Labour Party or the Conservatives. None of the seven new independents are Muslim. Falkner said that she was “honoured and delighted to take up this new role”. “I see this as a recognition of the contribution that so many immigrants make to life in Britain. I look forward to be a voice for diversity in the House of Lords,” she told The Muslim News.