Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Independent reports on the Institute for Public Policy Research latest publication detailing why British democracy must be reformed in a bid to combat political inequalities that are prevalent in the British political system.

The report, which evaluates the impact of marginal constituencies on political equality and political participation by social class, among other themes, concludes that Britain’s democracy has become increasingly divided in terms of who is given a political voice and who exercises electoral influence.

During the 2015 general election, less than half of 18–24 year olds voted, compared to nearly four-fifths of voters over-65, with the divide in voter turnout between the age groups having increased since the 1980s. The divide is also apparent in class-based cleavages with three quarters of registered voters from the upper and middle social classes (AB groups) having voted in 2015 compared to just over half of registered voters who were temporarily or long-term unemployed.

As IPPR point out in the executive summary, in 1987, turnout inequality by class was almost non-existent and age based differences were significantly lower. This suggests that in the last 25 years, older and more affluent groups have been better represented than their younger and poorer counterparts during elections, according to the IPPR.

The findings are evident in results cited in the IPPR report from data by Ipsos Mori after the 2015 elections in which 57% of 18-24 year old said they did not intend to vote compared to only 22% of over-65 year olds who said the same. In terms of socio-economic status, 25% of those in more affluent groups said they would not vote compared to 43% of those who were temporarily or long-term unemployed.

A recent IPPR/YouGov poll investigating unequal electoral participation rates found that 63% of individuals who were temporarily or long-term unemployed felt that democracy served their interests badly, while individuals from the upper and middle social classes were evenly split. IPPR argues that deep-rooted political inequality is compounded by class based disparities in political participation and influence and is undermining the legitimacy and strength of the British democratic system.

The IPPR report also found that the first-past-the-post voting system failed to deliver a parliament that was representative of how the British population voted during the recent 2015 general elections and advocates the adoption of a more proportionate electoral.

It was also found that the 2015 election outcomes were more disproportionate than any election held in the last 30 years with the electoral system having become increasingly disproportionate over time. It offers the examples of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, who won 12.6% and 7.9% of the vote respectively but, in contrast, only 0.2% and 1.2% of the seats. On the other hand, the Scottish National Party which won 4.7% of the votes during the election, won 8.6% of the seats. Similarly, the Green Party received 3.8% of the popular vote yet received the same share of seats as UKIP at 0.2%.

The Conservatives secured 50.9% of the seats despite only gaining just over a third of the vote, 36.9%, underscoring the tendency of the first past the post system to exaggerate the seat share of the largest party. Similar results were found in 2005 when the Labour government returned to power with a 66 seat majority despite only having secured 35.2% of the votes.

The IPPR explain that the disparity between vote share and seat share demonstrates one of the central flaws in the UK’s first past the post electoral system. In other words, it does not translate who people vote for into what they get in terms of representation. A prime example of this was found during the 2015 elections when out of nearly 31 million votes, 63% were cast for losing candidates and 331 of the 650 MPs having been elected with less than 50% of the votes in their constituency and 191 having been elected with less than 30% of the vote. The IPPR argue that without significant electoral reform, these inequalities in political influence will remain embedded in the system.

The report recommends that safe parliamentary seats should be abolished in order to boost voter turnout and modernise Britain’s outdated political system. It explains that voter engagement would rise if more people lived in marginal seats and believed their vote to make a difference to the outcome. Furthermore, the current electoral system effectively gives greater influence in the outcome of the elections to voters living in marginal seats, as their votes are more likely to decide the outcome of the elections. The IPPR propose that the Boundary Commission, which will redraw the constituency map next year, be given a new duty to increase the number of marginal seats and reduce the number of safe ones.

According to the IPPR: “Gerrymandering safe seats out of existence where possible will help increase the competitiveness of elections and reduce the oversized electoral power that voters in marginal currently have, and as a result it is likely to improve participation rates.”

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Safe seats are a massive burden on our democracy – making so many people feel like it’s not worth voting at all. We wholeheartedly share the IPPR’s goal of reducing the number of safe seats so that we have truly competitive elections – not ones that encourage apathy and disengagement.”

Changes to future elections are already on the cards with the Conservative party pushing ahead with a manifesto pledge to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 although the move, argued to favour the Conservatives, is likely to merely exacerbate the problems identified by the IPPR on current political inequality than address the issue.

This IPPR report comes amid a warning by Lord Falconer, the Shadow Lord Chancellor and the Shadow Secretary of the State for Justice, that “the future of our country is being decided by an increasingly narrow section of society” as 6 million eligible voters are not registered to vote.

Commenting on the change to electoral registration rules and the shortening of the deadline in the move from existing registers to new ones, Lord Falconer explained the influence wielded by older voter who were more likely to be registered to vote; 95% of over-65s are on the electoral register compared to around 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

Lord Falconer described the electoral register as “the beating heart of our democracy” and argued that the entire political system runs the risk of being compromised if flawed registers are adopted which omit a significant number of voters.

The problem is further compounded among BME communities who have low voter registration levels compared to the general population, with 78% of Pakistanis and 73% of Bangladeshis having been registered to vote in the 2010 election, around 20% less than the rest of the population.

The IPPR report is an important contribution to the serious issues about making every vote count and every vote equal in future UK elections.

The Ilford Recorder reports on an alleged anti-Muslim hate crime in Woodford, east London. The Woodford Muslim Cultural Centre had a brick thrown through its window on Monday night in a suspected hate crime incident.

The Woodford Muslim Cultural Centre has been the target of several hate crime incidents in the past including having the word “bacon” daubed regularly on the door and a note pinned to it stating “A mosque is not wanted in Woodford. The rivers of blood are close to overflowing.”

The centre was granted planning permission in July, following an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate after failing in its bid first time. The centre has been “unpopular with residents” according to the local paper.

In light on this recent incident and following previous hate crimes committed on the premises, local MP Wes Streeting said “There can be no excuses for this appalling act of vandalism and I hope that the police investigation finds those responsible so that they can face the full force of the law.

“This attack follows other reported incidents at the centre that appear to have been fuelled by anti-Muslim hatred.

The Express and Star reports that plans to turn a community hall in Wolverhampton into an Islamic learning centre were withdrawn after almost 1,500 people signed two petitions objecting to the proposal.

Local residents became convinced that the site would become a permanent mosque, despite the city council having insisted that it would not. However, Wolverhampton council have now withdrawn the plans to lease the building citing that “the potential impact on car parking and vehicle movements in the area” was the problem.

The council had received a bid from an unnamed Muslim group to turn Goldthorn Park Assembly Hall into an Islamic learning centre. An online petition was later set up opposing the plans and titled “Stop Goldthorn Park Assembly Hall, Himley Crescent, from being converted to a mosque” despite no suggestion that a place of worship would be established on the premises.

A second petition opposing the plans and calling for an alternative use of the premises was also circulated gathering around 400 signatures.

The anti-Muslim hysteria surrounding planning applications and mosque developments has been a growing problem in recent years with self-styled “mosque buster”, Gavin Boby, having boasted of disrupting the progress of 16 out of 17 mosque planning proposals submitted to local councils.

Mr Boby, a planning lawyer who is director of the Law and Freedom Foundation, calls for people to come to him for free professional legal help in opposing mosque proposals and claims that Islam encourages “paedophilia, sexual abuse and pimping”. Most recently, the Law and Freedom Foundation has claimed that it has disrupted 20 out of 24 mosque planning proposals submitted to a number of councils around England, with 3 disruptions out of 5 having been successful thus far in 2015.

A number of far right groups have all made mosques a major target of their anti-Muslim activity. Britain First have on a number of occasions “invaded” mosques, and asked committee members and ordinary worshippers to withdraw mosque planning applications and the EDL have frequently protests all over the UK brandishing placards that stated “no more mosques”.

Earlier this year a Muslim group in Exeter were forced to withdraw a mosque planning application after hostile leaflets titled jihad free zone” and showing two “beheaded” figures were circulated in the area by a group called the St Thomas Residents Awareness Alliance.

The Caerphilly Observer reports on UKIP’s suspension of its candidate in the Bedwas, Trethomas and Machen council seat by-election on 3 September after he was found to have posted racist and Islamophobic comments online.

Bobby Douglas was removed as the party’s candidate following an investigation by the party prompted by the local paper’s unearthing the offensive comments online.

Douglas is said to have ‘liked’ several pages associated with the English Defence League and the English Volunteer Force, and has shared posts by another far right organisation, Britain First.

The newspaper observes that last year, Douglas posted a comment on Facebook referring to migrants as “sponging, scrounging parasites” and stating, “Gas the b******s if they don’t go. If it’s good enough for badgers it’s good enough for scum.”

Douglas is also said to have “labelled Muslim men paedophiles after claiming marrying children is sanctioned by Islam”, according to the local paper.

Furthermore, he allegedly “shared a letter penned by [the English Defence League] in January calling for school pupils not to be taught about Islam in religious education. The letter attacks Islam as “intolerant” and says pupils can be taught about all other religions”, the local paper reports.

UKIP have responded to say the party “has suspended Bobby Douglas as a candidate in the forthcoming by-election.

“His name will still be on the ballot paper as a UKIP candidate due to the late change, but he will not be representing the party.”

UKIP has struggled with the sheer number of candidates who have been found to have formed unsavoury alliances online with far right organisations, or who have posted messages in support of far right organisations and who have made comments of a disparaging nature about race, immigration and Muslims.

Speaking on a BBC programme earlier this year, former MP Julie Hilling argued that “the rise of UKIP has unleashed racism in this country again. I think that we’re not doing enough to educate people [about immigration].”

Her sentiments certainly echo the results of the British Social Attitudes survey which showed that 1 in 3 Britons professes to harbour racist prejudice, and other data from the BSA survey which reveals the persistence of anti-Muslim prejudice in the UK.

The Daily Post reports on a North Wales fire service employee who quit his job amid an investigation into anti-Islamic posts that he allegedly made during work hours to a far-right website.

Articles that were allegedly written by the fire service employee highlighted mainstream UK media stories about offences committed by Muslims while other articles focused on crimes committed by immigrants. The articles also involved blaming Muslims for a number of societal problems and claimed that “jihadists” were being recruited by councils in Northern Europe. The site was also allegedly used to publicise demonstrations by the English Defence League (EDL) by the fire service employee. The Norway based far right website to which the posts were allegedly made is described by its critics as “one of the main forums for Islamophobic debate”.

The site was quoted during the trial of mass murderer and convicted terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in 2011 and was found to have regularly commented on the far right website’s forum.

The Daily Post quotes Martine Aurdal, op-ed editor for Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet, who said the far right website was one of the “largest Islam-sceptic, right-wing Norwegian web site[s]” which had a
“highly active commentary field” and that “The founder is well educated, well formulated and one of the main Islamophobic figures in Norway. It is the main forum for Islamophobic debate in Norway”.

An inquiry into the allegations was first made about 3 months ago and was carried out by the fire department following a complaint made by a member of the public. A freedom of information request was made by a member of the public asking for information about the former employee’s internet use during working hours but this was refused on data protection grounds.

The fire service’s strategic equality plan states that it is “committed to the elimination of discrimination and promotion of equality and opportunity”. It further adds: “We aim to maintain a culture in which prejudice and discrimination are not tolerated and where staff are able to challenge unacceptable behaviour.”

The North Wales fire service made no further comment in respect of the investigation into the alleged conduct of the former employee stating “Any allegations of this nature are treated seriously and they are being investigated. We are not in a position to make any further comments.”

Media coverage solely blaming Muslims for a number of societal ills, such as sex grooming and terrorism, supplemented with alarmist reporting on Muslims with scaremongering stories, such as the growth in the Muslim population in Britain, Islam being “incompatible” with British values and the “Islamist” threat in schools, has been a growing phenomenon in recent years and has led to a shift in the way Muslims and Islam are perceived.

Research by the University of Northampton analysing survey results from a questionnaire put to 6,000 schoolchildren between 2012 and 2014 found that 35% agreed or partly agreed that “Muslims are taking over our country”. An Ipsos MORI poll in 2013 also found that Britons believed Muslims made up 24% of the UK population, and a poll by Channel 4 found that local populations in cities in the UK were more likely to overestimate the size of the Muslim population that lived in the region than underestimate it.

A study by Lancaster University investigating the representation of Muslims in the British press between 1998-2009 found that a clear media bias existed against Muslims, with negative connotations regularly being applied to Islam and its adherents. The study emphasised the tendency of the British print media to portray Islam in a negative fashion with violence, conflict and terrorism dominating news coverage on Islam and Muslims.

Indeed, in his inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, Lord Justice Leveson argued that “The evidence demonstrates that sections of the press betray a tendency, which is far from being universal or even preponderant, to portray Muslims in a negative light. […] While newspapers are entitled to express strong views on minority issues, immigration and asylum, it is important that stories on those issues are accurate, and are not calculated to exacerbate community divisions or increase resentment. Although the majority of the press appear to discharge this responsibility with care, there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice in parts of the press, rather than an aberration.”

There would certainly be no shortage of articles from the mainstream media “about offences committed by Muslims” or “articles blaming Muslims for a number of societal problems” to share with far right enthusiasts.

The steady and systematic presence of anti-Muslim stories in the media that include complete fabrications and incendiary headlines is not only fuelling prejudice and hate crimes against Muslims and anti- immigration, rhetoric but it is also being used as a means to goad the far-right. Grave concerns about the Government’s handling of far right extremism in the UK, with anti-Muslim media coverage fuelling a far-right backlash against British Muslim communities, have been voiced in the past to little effect.

A senior Home Office advisor interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme stated that the government had “underestimated” the threat of the far right in Britain due to its heavy emphasis on countering violent extremism among Muslim communities. He said: “This is one of the most worrying periods in right-wing extremism, given the growth in right-wing groups and the recent news events which are making them more angry”.

The Guardian reports on the growing frustration of Prime Minister David Cameron into the delayed publication of the Chilcot report.

David Cameron added further pressure on the chairman of the Iraq inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, to set a timetable for the publication of the long delayed report into the Iraq war, after MP’s demanded that the report be published “within a matter of weeks” in January 2015.

The growing impatience in Downing Street follows on from threats of legal action against Sir John by the families of soldiers killed during the Iraq war if the report was not published in this year. The initial inquiry began in 2009 and completed taking evidence in 2011. The inquiry has cost taxpayers £10 million to date.

In January, Cameron wrote to Sir John calling for a timetable for publication of the report and was said to be “fast losing patience” with it. Speaking on Friday, Cameron said: “It’s frustrating. We want this inquiry finished. It’s for the good of the families. It’s for the good of the country. People want to know the truth. They want this inquiry out and so do I.”

Sir John, appearing before the foreign affairs select committee told its chairman, Sir Crispin Blunt, that he was still waiting for witnesses to respond to planned criticisms in the report, under the Maxwellisation process, where anyone likely to face criticism is given a chance to respond prior to publication.

However, a witness to the inquiry said: “You can’t go on forever. You can’t have endless exchanges with those involved. In the end, there will be differences of opinion.”

In recent days twenty nine families of soldiers killed in Iraq have issued an ultimatum to Sir John that they will seek a judicial review if any further delays occurred to the publication of the findings.

Last week, The Independent reported that several inquiry sources were furious over the pressure placed on Sir John to publish the findings, claiming there was a British political establishment plot to smear the inquiry in order to dilute the significance of its findings. The report is said to have sent “shockwaves” through Whitehall over its purported criticism of the Government of the day.

The report into the inquiry has been riddled with delays and controversy with the Daily Mail having called the delay to the publication of the inquiry’s report the “worst cover up of our time”.

Former Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister, Norman Baker said: “The British people have a right to know what was done in their name without it being filleted by those who would like to keep some matters secret.”

The Daily Mirror and Daily Mail report on the death of the elderly Muslim man, Muhsin Ahmed, who was brutally assaulted in the early hours of Monday morning, 10 August, as he made his way to the local mosque for the dawn prayers.

Muhsin Ahmed, 81, was found by officers and was said to have suffered “life-threatening head and facial injuries” in the assault. Det Sgt John Yoxall of South Yorkshire Police appealing for witnesses to the assault said last week: “The assault on this elderly and vulnerable man was brutal. There’s little doubt that if the victim had not been found by officers this could have been a murder inquiry.”

Ahmed died in hospital last Friday.

The Yorkshire Post reports on a vigil held in Rotherham’s All Saints Square, to mark the sombre occasion.

Two men have since been arrested in connection with the incident. Damien Hunt, 29, and Kieran John Rice, 21, appeared at Rotherham Magistrates’ Court on August 14 charged with section 18 assault with intent.

Two other men, aged 24 and 29, have been bailed while officers continue their enquiries into the incident.

Mr Ahmed’s son, Yoseff Ahmed, speaking before his father passed away said “We hoped that after all these years [my father] would be safe taking his morning walk to prayers, but unfortunately these days society can’t guarantee that to any of us. Should this turn out to be racially motivated we wouldn’t dream of labelling everyone, we need to remember they are criminals of the lowest order.”

The Daily Mail quotes a friend of the family who spoke of the climate of hostility in Rotherham in recent months, following far right protests in the town amid the publication of the Jay report into the council’s failings on tackling child sex grooming gangs in the city. Mohammed Rashid told the paper that Mr Ahmed, “always wears the traditional robe and headgear” adding that “it’s possible, with some things that have been blamed on Muslims, that this is the reason he has been attacked”.

Two years ago, Mohammed Saleem was murdered in Birmingham on his way back from the local mosque by far right fanatic, Pavlo Lapsyn.

The Muslim Council of Britain said Mr Ahmed’s death was one of a “spate of violent attacks against Muslims”.

Local news site GetBucks reports on a Thames Valley police notice about an arrest relating to a religiously/racially aggravated public order offence committed at The Big Fish chip shop in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire last week.

Simon Edwards, 49, is due to appear at Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court on 9 September 2015 after he was arrested and charged on 20 August with a religiously/racially aggravated public order offence.

Edwards is alleged to have threatened and verbally abused staff at the takeaway shop at approximately 7pm on 19 August 2015. No further details have been released by Thames Valley police about the incident.

The Daily Mail reports on the presence of a Lord Kitchener style poster at The Moon on the Square pub in Feltham which tells Muslims to “get the f*** out of our countries”.

The poster, on display on a noticeboard at a JD Wetherspoon establishment in Feltham, Middlesex, was noticed by a customer.

The poster is the work of “Infidels against Islam/ The Infidel Brotherhood” and is modelled on the Lord Kitchener war recruitment poster. It features Lord Kitchener pointing his finger along with text which reads:

“MUSLIMS

Are you unhappy with our countries?

Are you offended by our culture?

Would you prefer to live under sharia law?

Get the f*** out of our countries, and go back to the monstrous s***holes you came from.

You can live under Muslim rule there and enjoy it as much as you like.”

The customer who noticed the offensive poster was at lunch with a Muslim colleague from work when he saw the poster pinned to a noticeboard on the wall on 20 August.

The customer said: “I’ll never go back to one of their pubs ever again. They should have employees making sure racist propaganda like this will not be tolerated in this country.”

A spokesperson for the pub chain apologised for the racist poster. In a statement, the pub said: “A poster was displayed on the notice board at The Moon on the Square, by a customer at the pub, without the knowledge of the pub staff.

“As soon as this came to light, staff immediately removed the discriminatory material.”

The choice of content for the poster is interesting given the references to Muslims being “offended” by “our culture”. The frequency with which the British press publishes articles about Muslims allegedly being “offended” by one thing or another is hardly, as the poster illustrates, without consequence.

Kent Online reports on an arson attack on a mosque in Folkestone that was not judged to be a hate crime because the perpetrator was drunk and showed no prior membership of hate groups.

Phillip Donovan, 29, tried to put burning tissue paper through the letter box of a mosque on Foord Road South, Folkestone in the early hours on 5 March. The mosque’s imam, Abdul Awal, was inside asleep at the time. Donovan also set a Volkswagen car on fire in the same street.

Donovan was charged with two offences in March this year. Appearing at Canterbury Crown Court, his lawyer argued that the attack was not a hate crime because Mr Donovan had drunk up to 13 cans of lager before the attack in March 2015. Defending Donovan, lawyer Kerry Waitt told the court, “This is not a case where there is any suggestion of a racial element to the crime, no suggestion he harbours any unkind thoughts towards any religion or race. Waitt said Donovan had a low IQ and a psychiatric report revealed he was someone vulnerable to suggestions by others.

CCTV footage showed Mr Donovan carrying lighted paper to the mosque at 4.02am. Prosecutor David McNeill said: “He was stumbling and seemed to be drunk. He was carrying tissues which were on fire. Fortunately the tissue paper fell on the outside and not on to the floor of the mosque, where there was dry carpet. No damage was caused to the mosque; had the tissue fallen inside, then far more serious harm could have been caused.”

The owner of the car that was burned, Michal Miskovic, left her home at 4am to find the rear of her vehicle alight. Kent Police were alerted to the arson attack on the car and discovered tissue paper had been put through the letterbox of the nearby mosque.

After Mr Donovan was arrested he told officers he did not belong to any hate group. His lawyer had stated that CCTV footage revealed other people were also present who “may have encouraged him to behave in this way”.

The Crown Prosecution Service accepted Donovan’s defence of not harbouring racial or religious ill-will toward particular groups and did not prosecute the offence as racially or religiously aggravated.

Donovan pleaded guilty to two charges of reckless arson and was given an 18 month jail sentence, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to pay £250 in compensation.