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Published in the 16-31 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Will Blair survive?

By M Ghazali Khan

The Milli Gazette Online

London: Not only is Tony Blair the first Labour leader to have led his party to a third term victory, he is also the first Prime Minister to face humiliation in triumph. Throughout the election campaign his misadventure in Iraq continued to haunt him and in addition to having become the first Prime Minister to be continually and blatantly called a "liar" he also faced the constant reminder of his murderous policies by the father of a British soldier killed in Iraq, Mr Reg Keys, who had stood as an independent candidate against him.

Even on the day when the results in his constituency were declared and his victory was announced, the grim faced Prime Minister had to hear a bitter and sombre speech by Mr Keys. "I hope in my heart that one day the Prime Minister will be able to say sorry, he will say sorry to the families of the bereaved and one day the Prime Minister will feel able to visit wounded soldiers in hospital." Mr Keys said.
"Fighting this campaign has not been an easy task for me, but I had to do it for my son Thomas, who was sent to war under extremely controversial circumstances. If this war had been justified by international law I would have grieved but not campaigned. If weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, again I would have grieved but not campaigned." He added.

However, with his reduced majority to 67 seats, down from 167 in 2001, Blair's worse nightmare is the victory of the leader of the anti-war Respect Party, George Galloway, from Bethnal Green in East London, an area with 50% Muslim population mostly of Bangladeshi origin.

Mr Galloway, a former Labour Party MP was expelled from the party for his outspoken attacks on Tony Blair for his policies on Iraq. "It is one of my first missions to bring him in front of a court in The Hague and behind bars." Mr Galloway has promised his constituents at a victory rally. 

Mr Galloway's Repect Party had fielded 26 candidates all over the country nine of whom were Muslims including Ian Ridley, the British journalist who reverted to Islam after her arrest and release by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The other three main political parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, had put up 48 Muslim candidates, most of them in un-winnable seats. Thus altogether a record 74 Muslim candidates had fought these elections. In relatively winnable areas they merely helped in dividing Muslim votes. In Small Heath area of Birmingham Respect Party candidate Salma Yaqoob who would have become the first Muslim woman MP with hijab lost to Labour's sitting MP, Roger Godiff as Conservative and Lib-Dems had also fielded respective Muslim candidates in the area.

In at least other 10 areas where Labour could suffer loss, Muslim votes were divided between Respect Party and Lib Dems.

This was the first ever election when British Muslims have demonstrated an unprecedented political interest. As a result four Muslims, Sadiq Khan, Shahid Malik Muhammad Sarwar (re-elected) and Khalid Mahmood (re-elected) have entered the House of Commons. However, it would not be wrong to say that Muslims have also committed political blunders. Among these was the active campaign by the Chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) Mr Iqbal Sacranie in favour of Labour candidates despite MCB's policy to maintain neutrality. The MCB is an umbrella body of Muslims embracing different organisations with members of different political affiliations. Before the election MCB had distributed to Muslims a list of 10 pivotal questions that they were supposed to ask the prospective candidates and vote only for those who answered positively.

Then there was the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC) that worked tirelessly to make Muslim community politically active. But with its positive contribution to the community it also showed extreme political immaturity in targeting Jack Straw to the extent that it also waged what it calls "political jihad" against Muslim supporters of Mr Straw like Lord Patel. Mr Straw's constituency, Blackburn, has a large number of Muslims from Gujarat. MPAC opposed him for his policy of the invasion on Iraq. Mr Straw's Muslim supporters argued that he was actually only a reluctant supporter of Blair's policies, and had in fact supported Muslims by presenting, in 1989 Early Day Motion in the Parliament in the wake of the publication of The Satanic Verses when they were virtually a marginalised community. They also argued that if it was not for Mr Straw British High Commission would not have conducted an inquiry into the Gujarat genocide and Modi's government would not have come under a formidable pressure. 

With this visible ever-increasing involvement of Muslims in British life, sinister movements are also at work. Organisations like Al-Muhajiroun campaigned to convince Muslims that it was haram to vote for anyone in Britain. In Islamic Cultural Centre its members disrupted a meeting of the MCB and attacked its Chairman Iqbal Sacranie. In East London they disrupted a meeting of George Galloway. They have published a booklet arguing against voting. However, their appeal has been largely ignored by Muslims.

Having weakened Blair, British public, specially Muslims, have given their verdict on his policies on Iraq. "I know ... that Iraq has been a divisive issue in this country…But I hope now we can unite again and look to the future." Blair said after retaining his seat. Has he learnt any lesson? "I have listened and I have learned." He confessed. 

But it may be too late for Blair to learn his lesson. There is a wide speculation that he is being seen as a liability by his MPs. Labour's only reason of coming back to power has been its economic policies for which the credit has been given to Chancellor David Brown. Most of the voters who have supported Labour have been hoping an internal rebellion. Traditionally Labour supporter Guardian's columnist Polly Toynbee's pre-election opinion is a good example: "Even if Labour wins a sizeable majority Blair's time is over as the ground shifts fast beneath his feet; he is yesterday's man". (4 May 2005)

However, according to the latest report (Guardian 8 May 2005), "Blair has made clear he has no plans to quit early and has given Brown no date for his departure. The timetable being discussed within his private circle is for him to trigger a party leadership contest in July 2008 and remain as Prime Minister while the succession is resolved, allowing the new leader to take over that autumn. 'The best thing would be to get in at party conference 2008 - that gives you a year to establish yourself but not become over familiar,' said a Downing Street source."

There can be no doubt that there is an internal opposition to Blair's leadership but during the mass anti-war protests and strong protests from his own MPs, Blair has shown remarkable guts and survival abilities and it would perhaps be too early too predict his future.
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