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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May 2005, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Muslim vote shifts against Labour
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Voters at the polls in Brick Lane, Bethnal Green
Large numbers of Muslim voters appear to have deserted Labour in an anti-war backlash.

In many constituencies with large Muslim communities, Liberal Democrats saw their share of the vote rise.

Labour's greatest loss came in Bethnal Green and Bow where the Respect Party's George Galloway unseated Oona King.

However Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saw off a well-organised anti-war Muslim campaign which had threatened his majority in Blackburn.

For the two years since the Iraq war, Muslim leaders in the have predicted that Labour would witness an electoral backlash, such was the opposition to military action among the community.

Coupled with the continued fall-out 9/11 and widespread Muslim concern over the anti-terrorism powers, the election has seen unprecedented political debate in mosques throughout the UK.

Throughout the campaign, Liberal Democrats emphasised their opposition to the war, some of the anti-terror laws and also attempted to put clear ground between themselves and other parties over immigration.

Forty seats

According to the 2001 Census, there are some 40 constituencies where Muslims comprise at least 10% of the population.

In one, Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath, they number half the residents, some 57,000 people.

The biggest shift in the political landscape came in Bethnal Green and Bow, the second largest Muslim seat in the country - 45,000 residents making up 40% of the population.

George Galloway, thrown out of the Labour party over his opposition to the Iraq war, successfully ousted former colleague Oona King after his Respect Party anti-war campaign captured thousands of Muslim votes.

Mr Galloway had characterised his campaign as one standing against a "war on Muslims". Labour figures claimed Mr Galloway's victory had more to do with manipulating complex ethnic and community relations.

Respect also mounted major challenges in three other key Muslim seats, coming second in both East and West Ham, and Birmingham Sparkbrook, all of them Labour strongholds. In the Birmingham seat incumbent Roger Godsiff saw his majority cut by a third after Salma Yaqoob came second for Respect.

Blackburn battle

In the run up to polling there had been murmurs of concern that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's 9,000 majority in Blackburn could be threatened if the seat's 26,000 Muslims made a stand over the war.

Birmingham Sparkbrook Small Heath: -21%
Bethnal Green and Bow: -16.5%
Bradford West: -7.9%
East Ham: -19.2%
Birmingham Ladywood: -17%
Blackburn: -12/1%
Poplar/Canning Tow: -20.3%
West Ham: -18.7%
Bradford North: -7.2%
Ilford South: -10.7%
He witnessed a 12% swing towards the Liberal Democrats but held his seat with a still comfortable majority of 8,009.

Mr Straw said that he acknowledged the war had been an issue for some Asian constituents - but he accused Muslim campaigners from outside Blackburn for orchestrating a "pretty unpleasant" campaign to try and unseat him.

Clare Short, who initially stayed in the Cabinet but then quit over Iraq, saw her majority in Birmingham Ladywood constituency slashed, the fifth most Muslim seat in the country.

A fifth of voters in the seat swung from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, although Ms Short returns to Westminster with an absolute majority of 52% of voters.

Two of the surprising Labour defeats of the evening could be partly attributable to a shift among Muslim voters. Rochdale, home to 17,000 Muslims, ejected Labour's Lorna Fitzsimmons with an 8% swing towards the Liberal Democrats' Paul Rowen.

In Hornsey and Wood Green, the Liberal Democrats pulled off a surprise win in their 77th target seat. They ousted Labour's Barbara Roche with a 14.6% swing against the former minister.

Some 7,000 of the seat's residents are Muslims, although Labour's David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, suggested more subtle demographic changes could have played a part. The Muslim vote may have also played a role in Labour's defeat in Manchester Withington.

Muslim candidates

However, in some other areas, the picture was more complex. Labour's attempts to win back Brent East, taken by the Liberal Democrats' Sarah Teather in a by-election, failed despite the party putting up a female Muslim candidate, Yasmin Qureshi.

Khalid Mahmood, the defending Muslim candidate for Labour in Birmingham Perry Bar increased his majority over 2001 on a higher turn out.

Shahid Malik, a member of Labour's National Executive, became the new MP for Dewsbury on a reduced share of the vote but only a small shift to the Liberal Democrats.

In Glasgow Central, defending Labour candidate Mohammed Sarwar was returned to Westminster despite suffering a 7% swing in the Liberal Democrat's favour.


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