Next week’s election promises a swathe of new faces in the House of Commons. Not only are we witnessing the largest number of MPs to retire in 60 years but, with a record number of Asian women also standing, Britain could have its first female Muslim MP.
This breakthrough moment in politics has already happened for Muslim men with Mohammad Sarwar voted in Glasgow Central in 1997. Khalid Mahmood was the first in England when he won the Birmingham Perry Barr seat in 2001 and the race to be among the first female Muslim MPs could also be played out in the second city.
Salma Yaqoob, according to one newspaper the most prominent Muslim woman in British politics, is the Respect Party prospective parliamentary candidate for the Birmingham Hall Green constituency. Labour’s Shabana Mahmood is fighting Clare Short’s seat in Ladywood along with Nusrat Ghani, who is standing for the Conservatives.
Sparkbrook – within the Hall Green constituency – and Small Heath now broken up between different wards – has the largest percentage of Muslim voters of any UK constituency at 48.8%, according to the 2001 census.
At least 80 Muslim candidates of various political persuasions are involved in a spectrum of intriguing contests for parliamentary seats around the country. The chances are that up to 15 could be elected, although more realistically it is likely to double up from four in 2005.
The outcome in the elections, which are going to be the closest for decades and includes so many uncertain factors, is likely to see both the first Muslim women MPs that could help more than double Labour numbers and the first Muslim Tory members in the House of Commons. In the frame with outside chances are also a couple of Liberal Democrats and different Respect candidates among many others who are in un-winnable seats.
Labour has no less than seven Muslims, including three women, defending seats, the Conservatives one and another selected to capture the Party’s number one target seat in Gillingham and Rainham. Respect also has chosen a Muslim candidate in Bethnal Green and Bow to stand instead of George Galloway, who is seeking re-election in the newly created Poplar and Limehouse next door. But Abjol Miah faces the unique challenge of Muslim rivals selected by all three main parties in the most populous Muslim constituency.