It is easy to forget with the domination of the EU referendum in current political debate that there are a number of elections that will take place in May, ahead of the plebiscite in June, which are no less important or interesting. It is perhaps something readers here would much rather forget given the disparaging manner in which these topics have been broached but race and religion have loomed large in recent weeks in the London mayoral and EU referendum campaigns.
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It is a matter of disgrace that while politicians are vocal and condescending about the need for British Muslims ‘to integrate’, a major tool to facilitate that process, political participation, has been diminished by the intermittent mudslinging we have witnessed.
I hope British Muslims will not be deterred by the, at times, incendiary campaigning and retreat from electoral and political engagement. Not least because these elections matter for a number of reasons, among them the elected offices that are being contested and the powers at their disposal.
The Hansard Society’s most recent Audit of Political Engagement based on a survey conducted in 2015 highlighted major issues relating to political participation among minority groups that we have known for some time. For example, interest in politics is higher among White groups than among people from BME backgrounds, 60% compared to 35%. Knowledge of politics follows a similar pattern with White groups more likely to report some knowledge than BME groups; 57% compared to 43%. Perhaps most concerning is the finding that fewer among BME groups say they were ‘certain to vote’ if an election were held tomorrow; 37% compared to 62% for Whites. With the elections just over a week away, that figure is a startling reminder of just why we have to work to overcome apathy among BME groups about voting as an essential building block to wider and deeper political engagement.
The survey also, rather optimistically, shows that BME groups are more likely to display higher levels of satisfaction with the current system of governance, 38% compared to 32% and are more likely to feel that getting involved is effective; 45% compared to 34%.
The Audit further observes a “strong correlation” between familiarity and favourability; that is, the more you know about political institutions and policies, the more likely you are to want to engage with it.
At MEND, we have been rolling out masterclasses on media and political literacy for four years now and we have designed these with this very purpose in mind: improving familiarity as a basis for advancing favourability. That is, increasing the likelihood of British Muslims engaging in politics and media by knowing more about both.
In 2012 we published a manifesto for the first Police and Crime Commissioner elections. One of our pledges was to ask candidates to commit to recording Islamophobia as a separate category of hate crime as is done with anti-Semitism. By 2014, we had secured commitments from 10 out of the 42 forces in England and Wales. In October 2015, the Prime Minister announced that all forces will be statutorily required to start recording Islamophobia as a separate category of crime from April 2016. This is just one example of how much change can be affected through engagement.
For the 2016 PCC elections, we have gone further and sought information on the costs of policing far right protests, which blight communities and place unnecessary burdens on police budgets. We have reviewed all the annual reports by PCCs over the last four years to evaluate progress on tackling Islamophobia, supporting victims and making it easier to report hate crime. We have assessed the quality of policing available to Muslim communities examining the number of third party reporting centres set up to serve local Muslims and uncovering group representation on Independent Advisory Groups to ascertain who speaks for Muslims in critical dialogue with the police (we are still looking for answers!). We have also published data disclosed under FOI (Freedom of Information) relating to the number of Channel referrals by police forces and the sectors responsible for referrals. Did you know the majority come from the education sector, or that recording the profession making the referral is non-mandatory meaning that even the numbers we have do not tell the whole story?
The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, has said that many of the problems associated with the PREVENT policy fester due to lack of transparency. I would say the problem is the whole PREVENT policy, but that does not diminish the relevance of greater transparency. So asking PCCs to publish data on Channel referrals annually on their websites, much like forces currently do in relation to stop and search, is one of the commitments we are seeking. The impact of stop and search practices on police and community trust has been widely acknowledged and data on stop and search is more accessible to maintain trust and bolster the principle of ‘policing by consent’. We want to see the same in relation to Channel because we think it no less harmful to relations between the police and the communities they are supposed to serve.
We have done all of this because we want Muslims to know more about what the office of Police and Crime Commissioner does and why familiarity with its powers and services can help Muslims engage with it more effectively. We want British Muslims to be in a position to air their concerns about local policing matters and to get elected officials to respond to their needs.
For the London Mayor and GLA elections we have produced a separate manifesto which covers a range of issues from policing to persisting inequalities facing Muslim Londoners. With the large proportion of British Muslims residing in the capital, after the national parliament, the London Mayor and GLA are the second most important political office in terms of decision making powers that impact on British Muslims.
The Metropolitan Police Service is the largest police force in the UK. 42.4% of all religious hate crime recorded in the UK occurred in London in 2014/15. In the same period, London accounted for almost a third (28%) of all police recorded hate crime motivated by racial or religious hostility. The Mayor of London is responsible for policing in the capital and we want Muslim Londoners to raise their concerns about the rising level of Islamophobic hate crime and what the Mayor and the Met are doing to tackle it.
Muslims suffer disproportionately from low levels of labour market participation compared to other groups, even when education and qualification levels are the same. Whereas 53% of Londoners aged 16-24 from White British backgrounds are in employment, just 33% of BME Londoners of the same age are in employment. Only recently the TUC revealed that BME graduates are 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed compared to their White counterparts. Data published today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, reveals that Black and Asian graduates aged 21-30 have lower median salaries compared to White and Other ethnic groups.
Why in a city like London which accounts for 22% of the UK’s GDP and where the ethnic minority population accounts for 44% of the capital’s total are BME groups doing comparatively badly in the economy? And what will the next Mayor of London do to progress equality in the capital in housing, education and, yes, employment?
These are just some of the issues we are raising in these elections.
Last week, President Barack Obama told a young audience in London, “Reject pessimism, cynicism and know that progress is possible. Progress is not inevitable, it requires struggle, discipline and faith.”
We have published these manifestos because we want to encourage familiarity and drive favourability so that British Muslims might be better placed to play their part in advancing progress.
The full London Mayor & London Assembly Elections manifesto can be found here (67 pages)