LONDON // Muslims in the United Kingdom are three times more likely to vote for the ruling Labour Party in the upcoming general election, than for the opposition Conservatives, according to a new poll.
The findings have surprised political pundits in Britain not least because support for Labour among the country's two million Muslims plummeted after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But research conducted for Theos, a theology think tank based in London, shows that 57 per cent of Muslims say they plan to vote for Gordon Brown's party in the election, expected in May. The findings will be seen as a further boost for Labour at a time when the party has been eroding the Conservatives' hitherto double-digit lead in the opinion polls.
By comparison, the poll, conducted among 1,000 people by the ComRes group, found that 40 per cent of Christians said they would be voting Conservative. Across voters of all religious persuasions and none, support currently stands at 38 per cent for the Tories, 30 per cent for Labour, 20 per cent for the Liberal Democrats and 12 per cent others. Paul Woolley, the director of Theos, said: "The result of the election looks too close to call. We're in hung parliament territory. The balance of support among the different faith groups shows that the Conservatives cannot afford to lose the current support they have among Christians. Labour is in a position where it could benefit from reaching out, especially to Christians.
"The problem for Labour is that the people most likely to support Labour are also the least likely to vote. Only 32 per cent of Muslims are 'absolutely certain' to vote, compared with 47 per cent of the population as a whole. Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, pointed out in The Guardian yesterday that, in the months after the Iraq war, the main beneficiaries of the Muslim vote had been the Liberal Democrats, the only major party to oppose the invasion.
In 2004, an ICM poll for The Guardian found that voting intentions among British Muslims gave the Liberal Democrats 41 per cent, well ahead of Labour's 32 per cent and the Conservatives' 16 per cent. "The Tories failed at the time to gain from Muslim disenchantment with the Labour Party, almost certainly because they were viewed - entirely correctly - as being enthusiastic supporters of both wars," Mr Bunglawala wrote.
"What is more interesting is that the Tories are still failing to draw away significant Muslim support from Labour despite [their leader] David Cameron's recent attempts to position the party as being more inclusive of minority groups." Nick Spencer, director of studies at Theos, said the Iraq war and Tony Blair's "apparently unqualified support for a bellicose Republican administration [in the US] despised around the Muslim world, was deeply unpalatable."
Later, the government tried to outlaw religious hate speech, but this was seen by some as a desperate, ill-thought-out peace offering to woo disaffected Muslim supporters. "According to the new research, however, no wooing is necessary," Mr Spencer said. "There are good demographic and socio-economic reasons for that support. British Muslims are disproportionately younger and more urban. They come from lower-income households and experience higher levels of unemployment. These factors traditionally edge voters to the Left."
However, Mr Spencer said, Muslims' attachment to Labour might simply be because the party's rhetoric over the past 25 years has been more positive on such issues as immigration, integration and multiculturalism. "If this were so," he said, "it should be a cause of concern rather than comfort among Labour strategists. The Muslim vote is not [yet] large enough to decide elections, except in a limited number of constituencies. "It is far from insignificant, however, and if its connection with Labour is based on little more than historic associations and received wisdom, it may yet find another home." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org