Muslim communities must not be duped into misjudging Lynton Crosby and overlook his central role in promoting minority engagement within conservative politics
Muslims, and many more communities, were understandably startled by an allegation making the rounds this Sunday that Lynton Crosby, the man the Conservative Party has hired to run their 2015 election strategy, used the phrase “f****** Muslims” whilst working for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The Mail on Sunday ran with the front page title “PM’S NEW FIXER IN RACIST RANT AT MUSLIMS”; the left leaning New Statesman followed this up by reminding readers of Mr Crosby’s use of the “race card” in the past. Today, Labour’s Michael Dugher, a Shadow Cabinet Minister, has called for an investigation into the allegations and said, “if they are true, David Cameron must condemn them.”
The Tory Party, to many, is a natural fit for such diatribe. The Prime Minister’s party has not had a successful record of engaging with Muslims in Britain. His policy on the issue of extremism – in particular his speech in Munich in February 2011, felt by some to be a direct attack on everyday Muslim practices in Britain – has proven to be deeply unpopular. Other actions that have been unpopular include his lack of action on the far-right English Defence League, as well as his party’s attacks on mainstream democratic Muslim institutions like the Muslim Council of Britain and FOSIS, the national Muslim student body.
Yet we would be fooled to believe what we read in the tabloids – is this too good to be true? Muslims especially should know better than to believe the Daily Mail just because it is suddenly championing anti-Muslim bigotry. Indeed, one does not need to be a Tory enthusiast to realise the political spin at play.
In reality, Lynton Crosby has been central to efforts in engaging the Tory Mayor of London beyond traditional Conservative voters with new demographics – including Muslim communities – and this makes many people quite uncomfortable, not least sections of the Tory Party itself.
Let us consider some examples. Babar Ahmad was the longest ever serving British detainee without charge, accused of raising funds for terrorism. 149,000 British citizens petitioned Downing Street for him to be tried in the UK. Following Boris Johnson’s engaging election campaign, masterminded by Lynton Crosby, the Mayor of London campaigned for Babar Ahmad to not be extradited – he was the most senior Tory to do so, against the will of his party. Labour were ineffective as a party, despite the long-term efforts of the Shadow Lord Chancellor, Sadiq Khan MP, for whom Mr Ahmad was a constituent. Notably, Boris’s most recent remarks, whilst not successful in halting extradition, were made well after election season.
Moreover, during the election campaign itself Lynton Crosby reversed the tide of Tory detachment with Muslim communities by organising a major engagement event with Boris at Regents Park Mosque, and followed this with a debate with Ken Livingstone on Muslim issues. Both events, attended by various grassroots Muslim community leaders in London, did well to begin healing wounds inflicted well before.
There are further examples. Mr Crosby’s campaign led to Boris Johnson giving his support to the building of a major proposed mosque in London. Most recently, in late October, Mr Crosby held an event together with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Minister Chris Grayling. The event included a majority of young Muslims who travelled to Parliament from around the country, and who learned about campaigning and political engagement from Mr Crosby.
To some, Lynton Crosby is simply an effective campaigner, pragmatic at winning votes – to others, an actual reformer. But this is all far from the Islamophobic monster being depicted in the right-wing tabloid press. Whilst Mr Crosby has denied his comment (though he should have flatly done this rather than claiming that he could not recall it) he is going to prove to be a major problem for at least two groups ahead of the upcoming election. Firstly, the hard right and neoconservative wing of the Tory Party, who fear the repercussions of engaging with the Muslim minority; secondly, the left, who will be salivating at the prospect of Muslims rebelling against the Tories come the next general election, without having to work with local Muslims for their vote.
Muslim communities, as citizens, do not necessarily engage in politics (or vote) as “Muslims”, but they do represent a bloc that will not trespass a red line (for example, anti-Muslim-hatred). As Whitehall observers point out, they also increasingly make up a large demographic in Britain (with roughly 3 million Muslims in Britain according to the credible Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life). And beyond left-leaning international positions, many Muslims abide by socially conservative values within their faith tradition that would sit comfortably with the Conservative Party.
Boris was smart to realise that his political success needed the support of London’s Muslims. Now the Tory Party faces an internal challenge and must clearly decide the path it will take with ethnic minority communities. As for Muslim communities, they must not fall into the trap of further disengaging from the right; this is precisely the result that an influential neoconservative core desires. Rather, a stark realisation of the communities’ own potential should recognise, with confidence, that this is precisely the time to engage – and the likes of Lynton Crosby are the figures to be doing this with.
Image from: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/406464/20121119/lynton-crosby-racist-muslims-michael-dugher-mp.htm
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