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GE 2024: A Close Shave

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How Jess Phillips MP nearly lost Birmingham Yardley

There was something in the air as we walked to the community centre to cast our votes. The polling station staff were unusually energised and cheerful. Asian women electors were coming and going.

We had almost decided not to vote at all. Our constituency is by tradition ultra-safe Labour. In 2019 Electoral Calculus put Jess Phillips’ odds of winning at 99%; this time, after boundary changes, 96%:

The forecast underestimated two factors: Nigel Farage lately taking the reins at Reform, and a Muslim bloc galvanised by what it sees as ‘genocide’ in Gaza.

Peter Hitchens had alerted us to Gordon Brown’s proposals for further emasculating Parliament, urging us to hold our noses and vote for anyone at all who stood a chance of stopping Starmer’s Labour.

On the face of it, Jess’ expected margin of victory was so great that she would win even if it halved. A flyer from the LibDems said they offered the best chance of defeating her; I didn’t believe it.

However the vehemence of Muslim feeling nationally about Palestine suggested to me that the new contender running under the flag of George Galloway’s Workers Party might prove interesting. I toyed with the idea of opting for him to lessen Labour’s joy, but I couldn’t do it. Galloway’s policy promoting a unitary Palestinian state may be simple idealism, but it threatens a bloodbath. Millions of Gazans have the Jew-hatred common to Muslim worshippers, but have had it intensified by the long, slow-burning conflict with their next-door neighbour and also by a disgraceful Hamas education system that fans the flames through the curriculum. After the open warfare following 7 October 2023, what peaceful coexistence could there possibly be?

Since there seemed no chance of successfully voting against Labour here, I could back Reform with a clear conscience, hoping that it might send a message to all three major parties about the people’s dissatisfaction with their Europhilia and complete failure to stop massive-scale immigration.

The pollsters were wrong. If my wife and I had chosen the Workers Party man, and 692 others had done the same, Jess Phillips would now be out. It could have happened so easily, because the turnout was only 49% (Wikipedia says 50.3%, possibly counting spoiled ballot papers.) 700 votes out of 35,000 abstainers – just two per cent of them – would have been more than enough. As Tony Benn warned Parliament in 1991: ‘Apathy could destroy democracy. When the turnout drops below 50 per cent., we are in danger.’

By apathy he meant despair of dismissing the government using democratic means. We have managed that; what we cannot do is appoint an acceptable alternative, at least one that I and millions of others would like to have. On crucial matters – e.g. the EU, what to do about Covid – we have had no proper Opposition to voice our concerns.

Benn went on to warn of two other dangers. One was riot which ‘has historically played a much larger part in British politics than we are ever allowed to know.’ This year’s ‘pro-Palestine’ demonstrations in London, which also featured a degree of intimidation, had a flavour of barely-restrained riot and the police appeared to control them very gingerly, certainly not as firmly as they did counter-protestors.

The other peril named by Benn was nationalism – something positively encouraged by New Labour’s regional devolutions, and on a smaller scale inherent in the further plans that Starmer tasked Brown with designing – how long before Yorkists fight Lancastrians again?

Yet now that the UK’s Muslims account for six per cent of the population, the most pressing challenge presented by over-zealous group identity has taken an ideological form.

Enter Jody McIntyre, a British convert to Islam who first visited Gaza in 2009.

Here is the flyer we received some days before the election – it was personally addressed – so we had a copy each; the printing bill must have been great. Look at the skill demonstrated in its composition:

How many of the problems he mentions can be laid at Jess’ door, or blamed on Birmingham’s Labour council, or on the national Labour Party? What could McIntyre do to make things better?

The killer point – it’s classic rhetorical technique – is saved for last: ‘funding wars overseas.’ Some might read that as including Ukraine, but surely the main thrust is at Jess’ membership of the Parliamentary group Labour Friends of Israel, as his Twitter/X feed shows:

As the national press has noted, the declaration of Jess’ victory was accompanied by unpleasant behaviour – booing and the chanting of Palestinian slogans. During her speech, McIntyre was shaking his head and when she came to shake hands with her rivals he declined (see third clip on that link.) This may seem small potatoes but the refusal of losers to concede graciously strikes at the heart of the democratic system.

McIntyre has since gone further:

This road leads ultimately to woe and blood. Britain has suffered from intransigent absolutists before: Henry VIII enforcing his Church of England, Mary Tudor determined to reinstate Catholicism, Cromwell the Puritan dismissing Parliament and ruling as Lord Protector. If we followed Bible fundamentalists we would still be burning witches today.

Most Muslims in this country – at least, those who have been here long enough to appreciate the benefits of a fairly well-ordered society – live quietly, look after their families and pursue their business interests.

However recent arrivals from much more violent and intolerant societies – ones that set little store by literature other than their holy scripts – are another matter.

So too is an element of the young who even though born here are excited by the opportunity to get power and status quickly using the potentialities of Islam. Think of Shamima Begum, abandoning the restricted life of a schoolgirl and dutiful daughter in favour of marriage to a heroic jihadi in Syria: with a single bound she was one up on her mother! On 13 September 2011 at a Birmingham school where I taught part-time, I was confronted by a trio of teenage Asian boys, whose leader was exceptionally bright; speaking for all of them he said ‘What happened on Tuesday, Sir – good, innit?’ How do you like that ‘Sir’ by the way – bearing in mind he was vocally contemptuous in every lesson?

The Muslim wife of our neighbour has expressed an interest in reading and learning more about her faith. There must be many like her here – just doing the right thing in daily life without getting into all the detail of their religion. Like the neglected underbrush that resulted in catastrophic fires in California, Portugal and Australia, they await a spark of controversy such as Gaza to set our politics alight.

What fools our representatives – especially on the Left – have been, celebrating diversity without considering any consequences other than annoying their political opponents! Let them read and fully understand what is in the Koran and Hadiths.

Conflict is not inevitable, if we stand strong for our values. Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad and the mighty Western emperor Charlemagne exchanged precious gifts. Yet give way too easily and it will be as Osama bin Laden said: ‘When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.’

Liberalism has to be defended as stoutly as any hotheaded dogma. It begins with free speech, mutual respect and a firm hand with those who seek a short way to power.


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