Opinion: ‘I’ve sensed voting shift coming’

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 2:00 pm
Terraced housing in Batley pictured on the penultimate day of campaigning in the Batley and Spen by-election.

It has been by-election time again, up in West Yorkshire.

Batley and Spen is yet another seat that’s been Labour for decades.

But they just about managed to scrape through by the tightest of margins.

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It is another example of many voters turning their backs on Sir Keir Starmer’s Party.

Unlike Hartlepool, but like Peterborough, it has a significant Muslim population. And the result suggests those Muslim voters are also turning their backs on Labour.

I’ve always sensed this shift coming. We had early signs of it here in Peterborough, with a strong Conservative base within the Muslim community, and excellent Muslim Conservative councillors.

Obviously, this local change pleases me. It’s encouraging that many Muslims no longer automatically identify with the Labour Party. Choosing between candidates and political parties is how democracy should work.

Religious beliefs influence our values, but there is never a simplistic translation from religion to a political viewpoint. It is a matter of personal reflection.

Just as Labour have lost popular support in Scotland, and within some communities in the North of England, the same could happen among Muslim communities. The Labour leader is in a bind. Jeremy Corbyn left his party in a dire state.

It’s completely understandable that Muslims in this country feel strongly about suffering in Palestine and Kashmir. Although complex, much of this is about human rights. I am a co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of Kashmir and the All Party Parliamentary Group for a British Muslims. I have taken on these positions because my Muslim constituents deserve a voice at the top. I make no apology for speaking out clearly on their behalf:

To be fair to Labour locally, I know they must be frustrated by their party leadership on these matters.

But where Labour go wrong is that, while they dance around international issues, they are reluctant to also address matters they consider controversial here at home. The latest example is that Labour MPs refused to endorse a report seeking to address the fact working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in England’s education system. Just 16% of white working class kids on free school meals go to university. The figures for the Pakistani community aren’t much better. We need everyone to work together, cross-party, to address this.

Much like supporting one another during the pandemic, this is something that unites us all. The Local Government Minister himself called Peterborough a caring city in a recent parliamentary debate I participated in, and where I mentioned just some of the countless individuals and organisations that went the extra mile. It doesn’t matter which community you are from, we all came together as one City.

I may have egg on my face, and Labour might triumph at the next general election, and the numbers here in Peterborough are always tight.

I may lose at the next election. Any temporary smile at a Labour’s latest misfortune in engaging the Muslim community should be taken into context. We need a strong opposition.

It keeps the Government on its toes and makes for good policy decisions.

I hope that they work with me and other Conservatives on cross party issues.

What is the point of the Labour Party? Like working-class voters, Muslim voters are rightly struggling to see one. Although not in my interest, it’s important for Britain, and for all of us, that they get their act together.