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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Did Muslim vote cost Labour?
Votes
Labour suffered a number of losses

Opposition to war with Iraq played a role in Labour losing control of a key local council and seats in others, Muslim community leaders have claimed.

Following Labour's loss of Birmingham after 19 years, Mohammad Naseem, the chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said a broad cross-section of voters opposed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Muslim organisations elsewhere in the UK said the "Baghdad backlash" was behind other defeats.

But Labour leaders have played down the significance of the anti-war sentiment.

Anger?

Birmingham's inner city wards, which have a high percentage of Muslim residents, were among 11 of the 39 seats lost by Labour.

Mr Naseem said: "There were a great many people who demonstrated against the war in Iraq and not just from the minority or religious communities."

He was asked about anger over military action among worshippers at the central mosque.

"Up to the last man they were against the Labour Party policies," he said.

'Too early'

Labour MP Sion Simon, who represents Birmingham Erdington, insisted that the war against Iraq was justified and that the result was a "blip".

But he added: "I think it would be foolish to try to pretend that there has not been a degree of Muslim abstention perhaps because of the war."

Labour has been punished because of its involvement in the war
Manzoor Moghal
Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicestershire

Birmingham council leader, Sir Albert Bore, whose party now has just 57 of the council's 117 seats, said he was disappointed at the result but not "altogether surprised".

He said that Birmingham has once been regarded as a "pendulum" authority and it was too early to say if an anti-war protest vote affected results.

The leader of the council's Liberal Democrats, John Hemming, said anger over the way the council had been run and a "war factor" both played a role in the result.

'Concerted campaign'

The Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicestershire said the anti-war feeling led to a revolt against Tony Blair's party.

Iraq is a Muslim country and local Muslims have been very very concerned, and many of them very opposed to the war
Patricia Hewitt
Trade and Industry Secretary

Its chairman, Manzoor Moghal, said Labour lost nine seats in Leicester, including six where the Muslim vote played a significant part.

"There was a concerted campaign in the Muslim community in Leicester to vote against the Labour Party because of its involvement in the war on Iraq," he told BBC News Online.

He said many voters in the Muslim community, which does not have a very large Iraqi population, were traditionally Labour supporters.

But he said a strong feeling among the city's Muslims, mainly from south Asian and African countries, was that the war was an unjustified attack on a Muslim country and their sympathies fell with Iraq.

"How many stay with the Liberal Democrats is a question for another time and depends on how events develop in the future," he said.

'Vast majority'

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said she was not surprised at the lack of support for Labour in local Muslim communities.

The MP for Leicester West said many local Muslims had been very opposed to the war.

"But I have to say the for the vast majority of people in my constituency in Leicester the war has simply not been a factor," Ms Hewitt told BBC's Vote 2003 programme.

She said people were more concerned about public service reform.

The Labour Party Chairman, Ian McCartney, acknowledged that his party had suffered losses.

But he told the BBC: "You can't say that because of Iraq there has been a loss of Labour seats.

"Last night tens of thousands of Muslims voted Labour."





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