First posted: 26th August, 2010
"Faith is enormously important to millions of people in Britain, shaping their values and the way they live. We respect the importance of belief and welcome the contribution that people of faith make to our communities and society more widely." - Labour manifesto
The Labour Party responds to our questions
We have invited every party to respond to seven issues that affect British Muslims. Below is a response from the Labour Party
1. Anti-Muslim Hatred and Islamophobia
a) Will you support and sign on to an all party parliamentary committee on Islamophobia, that could finally look into and investigate Anti-Muslim hatred through accurate reporting and monitoring?
Labour is committed to tackling extremism, racism and discrimination in whatever form - backed up with the new Equality Bill to make this happen. This is described in more detail in the (b) part of this question. All party groups are set up by MPs on issues and so we will have to see who is elected in the next Parliament to see what groups are established but it would be a very welcome development. The APPG on anti-semtisim has been very effective and respected by government, and it is equally important that prejudice and discrimination against Muslims has a well organised and influential voice in Parliament. As you will be aware, Mohammad Sarwar, until the election was called, was a Labour MP for Glasgow Central. He is a strong supporter and sponsored your recent MCB event in March which called for the setting up of an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia. We are confident that Labour members of the next parliament, including the Muslim Labour MPs, will support the creation of an an all party parliamentary committee.
b) What will you do to promote cohesion and to reduce the current level of hostility levelled at British Muslims?
We believe it is essential to supporting strong and cohesive communities, with a shared sense of belonging that are resilient to extremism and racism. We have given £50m over three years to promote community cohesion with £34m given directly to local authorities most in need of help. We have allocated an additional £5m to tackle all racist groups and all other forms of hatred and intolerance. We also established a new programme Connecting Communities, last year in more traditional white working class communities, such as former industrial areas, to take on the myths and tackle the issues that extremists are trying to exploit and breed racism.
We are monitoring the threat of the organised far right and have banned marches by the EDL. Because of our action we have seen real progress - police, community groups, the authorities and faith groups including mosques – coming together to ensure these challenges are overcome in a way that did not happen in the decades before.
Since 1997 we have been making progress. Nationally the 84% of people believing their local area is cohesive and that is even more marked among British Muslims. Reported racially motivated incidents have halved since 1995. But we are not complacent.
Our manifesto is titled is ‘A Future, Fair for All’ and says exactly what a Labour Government means and how seriously we take these issues. The Labour Party manifesto is the only manifesto to mention the importance of faith, and we have a clear commitment to tackling extremism and discrimination in all forms. The Conservatives have said they would cut cohesion funding. This is what our manifesto says:
“Faith is enormously important to millions of people in Britain, shaping their values and the way they live. We respect the importance of belief and welcome the contribution that people of faith make to our communities and society more widely. We will actively combat extremist groups who promote fear, hatred and violence on the basis of faith or race.”
“New legislation and the Equality and Human Rights Commission will ensure that people are not held back at work because of their gender, age, disability, race and religious or sexual orientation. The new Equality Act will be enforced, promoting fairness across our society.”
“Fairness is central to what we believe and how we will govern - to build a fairer, more equal Britain, in all communities, for all people. This means a Britain where a person’s chances and opportunities in life are determined solely by their talent and effort - where there is racism and discrimination it will be challenged and tackled - backed up by a strong legal framework in the new Equality Bill, which Labour introduced.”
c) Newcomers have always contributed to the growth and prosperity of our country. And they continue to do so today. What is your position on immigration policy and what will you do to ensure that the tone of this debate does not fuel a racist agenda?
We understand the immense contribution that those coming from overseas have made to our country – economically, socially, and culturally – and we believe that not only is Britain’s history one of a nation that has always been outward-looking and receptive to trade, ideas and the talents of others - our future must be too.
We believe it is important to debate immigration, including issues around jobs, access to benefits and services, and housing. But unlike other parties, we will never seek to play on people’s fears.
Controlled migration brings undoubted benefits to our country but we also recognise people’s legitimate concerns about the impact it can have on communities if not properly managed. Our Australian-style points-based immigration system will allow us to be more selective so that only those with the skills that we need to build a stronger economy can come here, and to ensure that as growth returns, we will see rising levels of employment, skills and wages not more immigration...
... b) What will you do to promote greater participation, inclusion and coherence in our broken politics today?
... To further strengthen our democracy and renew our constitution, we will legislate for Fixed Term Parliaments and set up an All Party Commission to chart a course to a Written Constitution. We are proud to have brought in the Human Rights Act, enabling British citizens to t ake a ction in British courts rather than having to wait years to seek redress in Strasbourg. We will not repeal or resile from it...
... We know we need a new kind of politics in this country. As part of that, we need more Black and other ethnic minority men and women to get involved in British politics at every level and Parliament must better reflect the diversity of modern Britain. Labour already has a higher proportion of female and black and ethnic minority MPs than any other party – there are 53 Labour black asian and minority ethnic candidates standing at the election. Labour’s BAME manifesto can be found at...
... Labour are taking seriously what the Speaker’s Conference concluded and the Equality Act contains two important measures to help improve things:
• Political parties will have to monitor and publish data on their candidates from Black and ethnic minority communities in order to improve transparency. If you cannot see the information, you cannot make progress.
• The Equality Act will also allow political parties to significantly increase the positive action measures that they can take to better support political candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds at local and national level. This means that a party could decide to have a shortlist of almost all ethnic minority candidates which is something they may choose to do in an area where there was a diverse local population.
4. Foreign Affairs
a) What will you do to ensure that the UK is a fair broker in efforts to secure peace in the Middle East?
Britain has a key role to play in working for a lasting peace in the Middle East. There is now a unique international consensus on the terms of what has to be negotiated – spurred on by the election of Barack Obama as American President. Our government remains determined to do everything possible to achieve a comprehensive peace. That includes supporting US efforts with the newly launched proximity talks, working with EU partners to ensure the EU is ready to contribute to the implementation of any deal, using our influence with players in the region and working with the Palestinian Authority to help them build state institutions.
We are clear in our objectives: a two-state solution based on 1967 borders; Israel secure from attack and recognised by and at peace with all its neighbours alongside a peaceful, democratic and territorially viable state of Palestine with Jerusalem the capital for both; and a just settlement for refugees.
There are clearly challenges to be overcome, but we need to build on the possibilities that exist. We have a US administration that is engaged like no other, the Arab Peace Initiative remains on the table and Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted the vision of a 2 state solution.
We are clear that settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. We continue to call for a full settlement freeze in accordance with the 2003 Roadmap. Without such a freeze, settlements risk making a two state solution impossible to achieve. That is not in the interests of Israel nor any other party. We call on all parties to stop any actions which put at risk the chances of finding peace.
We will do all we can to help the Palestinians get the state they want and deserve and to ensure Israelis can live in peace and security with their Arab neighbours. Only that will offer a credible, just and lasting peace as part of a comprehensive peace settlement for the region.
b) What will you do to ensure we avoid the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Faced with an unpredictable security environment we are committed to taking the necessary action to protect our national security – that is why we are fighting to defeat terrorism in Afghanistan. Labour will not give up in Afghanistan because we know that a more stable and secure Afghanistan is essential for protecting Britain’s streets.
It remains a vital goal of British foreign policy that Iraqis are able to build a democratic, federal and peaceful country which will also be able to show the value of democratic institutions in the wider Middle East. I know that Iraqis themselves are keen to make their own contribution to rebuilding Iraq, and I am glad we can work together to this end.
The action we are taking to achieve a more peaceful and just world goes beyond our commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether through our continued campaign for an International Arms Trade Treaty, our work to promote democracy and respect for human rights and sustained pressure for a two state solution in the Middle East, Labour will keep working hard to help create a safer world.
5. Security and Counterterrorism
a) Will you work to revoke provisions under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act following the ruling by the European Court that it conflicts with the individual’s right to family and privacy as protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights?
We are currently appealling the outcome of that judgment so it wouldn't be appropriate to commit at this stage to legislative change. But we have made very clear in our guidance to police that officers should use s44 powers appropriately and sensitively and indeed some forces, such as the Met, have taken steps to limit the circumstances in which they use the powers. The result has been a significant fall in s44 stop and searches over the last year.
b) Will you support the Communities Select Committees call for a full independent investigation into claims of the Prevent programme spying and blackmailing Muslims?
We recognise that while Al Qa'ida inspired terrorism is the most serious terrorist threat facing Britain it must never been seen as the defining issue for British Muslims or for the government's relationship with Muslim communities. The typical Muslim family - like families across the country - is much more concerned about jobs, housing and education; and for the vast majority of Muslims, as for members of other faiths, their faith is a source of comfort, inspiration and strong values, not a call to violence.
On Prevent, we are very clear, it is a crime prevention programme, aimed at ensuring that our fellow citizens do not commit acts of terrorism against Britain or British people and that we all abide by and respect British counter terrorism laws. Finding and catching the people who are already committed to acts of violence is not the job of Prevent. It is the job of the police and of the security services.
Prevent can only work because the vast majority of Muslims oppose violent extremism. The programme supports the resilience of Muslim communities to tackle the small minority who would create the space for violent extremism in which terrorists recruit and act. It is important that Muslim communities do not feel that are being ‘singled out’. The threat from Al Qa'ida inspired terrorism remains the greatest threat but we are committed to oppose extremism wherever it exists, providing extra funding for this.
Because the effectiveness of Prevent depends on public support and consent we have listened and made changes- which has seen increasing supports and success in local areas. We have dropped the labels that caused difficulties in some areas; we have changed the funding to enable more cross faith and community work; we issued guidance to local areas and reiterated that is not the job of Prevent to demand that everyone agrees with or takes a particular view on the government's foreign policy; and we have said that if Prevent is enveloped by suspicion or misunderstanding it will not work.
Prevent is not about spying on innocent people or collecting intelligence. The aim is to stop people being drawn into terrorist activity and violent extremism. We must have complete openness and transparency. The Secretary of State for Communities John Denham and Shahid Malik, the Labour Ministers who lead the Prevent programme in communities, have been touring the country discussing these issues and answering questions, being very frank and open.
Both John Denham and the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, have been very clear that Prevent is not about spying on people and any suggestion that it is a cover for the intelligence services, or anyone, to spy on people is completely untrue. Any allegation that has been made has been thoroughly investigated. There should not be any information gathering or information sharing about the community aspects of Prevent which cannot be openly acknowledged with the community. The security services are not a partner in any local Prevent projects and Prevent projects are not set up to indiscriminately acquire or share secret intelligence. Without trust and openness it will be difficult for local partnerships to function effectively. There are, in any case, only a limited number of purposes where information gathering can be lawfully justified. They are the same as for any other type of crime prevention. Whether we are talking about drugs, knife crime, theft or any other type of crime we recognise that it is better to step in early before someone has established criminal behaviour.
The Labour Government welcomed the Communities Select Committee's report on Prevent, in particular the recognition that a targeted Prevent programme is necessary. We were disappointed that it did not reflect the measures put in place during the last year to address criticism of Prevent as outlined above. The claims of spying have already been investigated, however, no accusation of spying or intelligence gathering through Prevent has been verified, despite requests for evidence to back-up the assertions. Alan Johnson and John Denham have provided assurances that the government will investigate fully where there is evidence that local areas have not followed this guidance correctly. As we have said there must be confidence in Prevent for it to work effectively.
c) Will you ensure that activism amongst the Muslim student population is not conflated with radicalism and extremism in our universities?
Yes. Our campuses are not hotbeds of extremist activity. Higher and Further Education institutions have sometimes seen extremists try to recruit or radicalise vulnerable or isolated students but there is no systematic radicalisation taking place in UK Universities.
The situation is continually looked at and our challenge is to make sure that we ensure that campuses are not places where those who seek to undermine our fought freedoms can flourish. Guidance to Vice Chancellors was issued in January 2008 which set out to provide support so they can work with the staff and students to isolate and challenge the very small minority who promote violent extremism. Each University has a designated Police officer has with whom any issues of concern can be discussed. The Labour Government through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is providing targeted support to Institutions which are in areas with the greatest risk of violent extremism...
... 6. Education and young people
a) In 2004, based on the 2001 census, an analysis by the Office for National Statistics revealed that British Muslims were the most deprived faith group in our country with the fewest educational qualifications. What will you do to highlight and address this?
... Within the muslim community, the current picture is mixed with some groups increasingly successful but others are still experiencing high levels of poverty. The gap for example between Bangladeshi pupils and the average has practically been eliminated and the gap in employment rates between minority ethnic groups and the average has narrowed by 5.2 percentage points since 1996. But we have said we are committed to tackling all inequality and disadvantage wherever it exists. If the cause is racism and discrimination we will tackle racism and discrimination. If the cause of disadvantage is social class, we will promote opportunity. And if the cause is a combination of racism and social class we will tackle both together. This is backed up by the Equality Bill, which all public services including schools, will have to comply with and ensure that equality is at the heart of everything they do.
Breaking the link between poverty and underachievement is everybody’s business, schools in urban and rural areas, in disadvantaged areas but also those in relatively affluent areas too. This is why narrowing the attainment gap is not just a challenge to some heads in some schools but a challenge to all heads in all schools...
... 7. Employment
a) The recently-passed Equality Bill and the ‘positive duty’ was aimed at addressing the problems of the poor ethnic minority labour market participation and reverse the cycle of stagnant mobility which disproportionately affects Muslim communities in the UK. In 2004, based on the 2001 census, an analysis by the Office for National Statistics revealed that British Muslims had the highest level of disability and unemployment. What will you do to highlight and address these issues?
The ethnic minority employment rate gap has been closing steadily over the past 10 years and has remained constant during this recession. But we recognise that ethnic minority groups still suffer unemployment more than other groups and are working with the Ethnic Minority Employment Taskforce to tackle this...
... b) Will you uphold the ‘positive duty’ obligation in the Equality Bill and what further action or causes will you champion to improve the labour market participation of all disadvantaged people?
Yes. All employers will be allowed to use positive action to recruit and promote ethnic minority candidates if they want to diversify their workforce and we know that there are many business reasons for why they may want to do that. This will help private sector companies and also public sector employers like the police. The Conservatives have said that if they were elected they would not bring the pay transparency or positive action parts of the Equality Act into force.