Our guest writer is Rt Hon Sadiq Khan, Member of Parliament for Tooting since 2005 and Labour candidate again in 2010.
Labour is, and always has been the Party of British Muslims, and indeed that of all religious and ethnic minorities.
I don’t pretend we’ve been perfect – indeed, in terms of our relationship with British Muslims there have been some problems – but I do believe if you really look at our record and that of the other parties you’ll agree that for British Muslims, Labour’s the only way to go. Something new always has a draw, an excitement. And it’s easy to think of the Liberal Democrats as a benign left-wing option, one that has not been tainted by power. But before deciding to switch take a look of the details of what they’ve actually said and done.
Labour believes, and always has believed, that it is our duty to promote equality and to tackle the problems faced by the most vulnerable in society. This isn’t empty rhetoric, Labour Governments have delivered time and time again, from founding the NHS to introducing the minimum wage. So it’s no surprise that we’ve always had a strong relationship with the British Muslim Diaspora.
It was a Labour Government that gave independence to India and Pakistan; it was Labour-friendly trade-unions that encouraged new arrivals to become union members and improve their working conditions; and it was a Labour Government that passed the first ever laws outlawing discrimination on the grounds of race. And over the past thirteen years we’ve continued to deliver. But not with the support of the Lib-Dems.
We’ve brought the law up to date to prevent discrimination on the basis of religion. The Racial & Religious Hatred Act’s made it illegal to threaten people because of their religion or to stir up hatred against a person because of their faith. The Liberal Democrats voted against our original proposals and have diluted the provisions of this Act (as did the Conservatives). Labour’s made it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their religion or belief in employment or when accessing goods and services. And we have now passed the Single Equality Act – although the Liberal Democrats tried to scupper a key part of this that helps Muslims.
In areas where minority ethnic communities are disproportionately excluded, we’ve introduced targeted programmes. The ‘Race for Health’ programme is helping to drive forward improvements in health for minority ethnic people. The Minority Ethnic Achievement Programme helped narrow the gap in educational attainment between minority ethnic pupils and the national average.
Like many others, I believe the invasion of Iraq was wrong and Labour must, and is, working to repair its relationship with Britain’s Muslims which has been damaged by the war. I was pleased that one of the first Acts Gordon Brown did when he became Prime Minister was to withdraw British troops from Iraq.
While the war in Iraq, and other aspects of our Foreign Policy. remain a huge issue, don’t let this obscure the work the Government has done for Muslims abroad. Bilateral Aid to Bangladesh and Pakistan has doubled and we continue to provide millions in humanitarian support in Gaza. Overall, Labour has trebled the aid budget since 1997, we’ve cancelled debt and increased trade with the poorest countries.
Looking at the makeup of the parties is illuminating too. Labour’s had the first black MP, the first Muslim MP, the first Black Cabinet Minister, the first black Leader of the Lords, and the first Asian Minister in the Commons. I’ve been lucky enough to be the first Asian, and Muslim, Minister to attend Cabinet. And we have dozens of Parliamentary candidates of Muslim faith standing in safe seats at this election. The Lib-Dems don’t have a single Black or Asian MP and are nowhere near having one.
So, come May 6th, I urge you to think about which party has done the most for British Muslims in the past, and with whom you can trust your future.