What Lord Ahmed’s suspension reveals about Labour’s relationship with minorities

by Atul Hatwal

The Lord Ahmed affair neatly encapsulates Labour’s problem with minority communities. It illustrates the dangers of a decades old neo-colonial deal that the central party has concluded with several so-called community leaders.

This isn’t just an issue for the Muslim community, a trip to Leicester, Southall or Harrow would reveal similar arrangements with the Hindu and Sikh communities.

The key to the deal is votes. This is what the community leader brings to the table.

Ahmed has long been one of Labour’s gatekeepers to the Pakistani community in the north. His position in the early 1990s as one of Labour’s leading Muslim councillors combined with his links to Mirpur in Pakistan (where the vast majority of Pakistani migrants to the northern mill towns originally came from) made him a kingmaker across northern parliamentary seats with large Pakistani communities, particularly when it came to Labour candidate selections.

He sat atop the pyramid of biraderi or clan based community politics which traditionally delivered result-swinging vote banks, happily doing the bidding of the central machine for several years.

In return for these votes, the party bestows two privileges on the community leader: establishment legitimacy that distinguishes them from other local leaders and a free hand within their community to do what they will – as long as nothing bad leaks out into the national news.

In Ahmed’s case, Tony Blair elevated him to the peerage. Lord Ahmed was the nation’s first Muslim peer. The party coddled and respected him and asked few questions about what he said or did within the community.

Until of course news of his offer of a “bounty” on President Obama’s head surfaced. Within hours of the story hitting the news, as per the deal, he was in trouble.

But the reality is that Ahmed has held and espoused similar views for several years. In this particular instance, whether he did or did not say what is claimed about Obama is irrelevant. He should have been suspended and potentially expelled because he was sharing a platform with and supporting Hafeez Saeed: an international terrorist who heads Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group which killed over 150 people in the terror attack on Mumbai.

That Ahmed felt entirely comfortable backing a militant terrorist, and did not fear sanction from the Labour party when planning his attendance at the press conference, speaks volumes about the nature of the deal where the most despicable views can be supported, as long as the votes keep flowing and no one from the mainstream media notices.

If Ahmed had been a little more circumspect, or there hadn’t been a reporter present, it’s likely he would not have been put under investigation.

This isn’t a failing of the current Labour machine. These deals were concluded twenty to thirty years ago and have been one of the party’s dirty little secrets for years.

Lord Ahmed’s troubles vividly demonstrates the dangers for the party of simply looking the other away when it comes to its so called community leaders’ beliefs.

Just three weeks ago, Bradford West similarly highlighted the dangers of relying on minority community vote banks that will not be in place forever.

If ever there was a time for Labour to junk these rotten deals with community leaders, and try some actual community engagement, this is it.

Ed Miliband was brave to visit Bradford and face real people rather than self-appointed community representatives. He will have heard first-hand the depth of disillusionment with way Labour has operated. At the meeting he promised action.

Time to deliver.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut


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18 Responses to “What Lord Ahmed’s suspension reveals about Labour’s relationship with minorities”

  1. ShafeezLal says:

    Has he now been expelled? I thought he’d only been suspended.

  2. Cocteau8 says:

    Suspension pending investigations on allegations, rather than expulsion. Get it right!

  3. Editor says:

    Editor – the article has been corrected, Lord Ahmed has been suspended not expelled

  4. Tony McNulty says:

    Atul
    I would not presume to speak about Southall or Leicester, but I have been involved in politics in Harrow for over 25 years and we have never had a ‘neo-colonial’ deal with ‘so-called community leaders’ ever. The Party’s relationships with all Harrow’s communitites is built on hard work and respect. Your passing reference to Harrow in this way is simply wrong and I would ask you to withdraw it or give me the detailed evidence behind such an assertion. It’s an insult to the work by party members and the communities in Harrow.
    In comradeship
    Tony McNulty

  5. Atul Hatwal says:

    Hi Tony,

    There are different dynamics to community relations in the different areas, but for Harrow I would suggest the manoeuvring around the Kanti Patel affair on all sides was unedifying.

    Atul

  6. Cyclefree says:

    Given the people Ken Livingstone has and continues to associate with, what on earth makes you think the Labour party will do anything about this?

    Labour cares nothing for liberal or progressive values if these come into conflict with getting votes and if it can get votes by cosying up to and appeasing and justifying people who openly state that it is OK to murder Jews, gays, apostates, mutilate and beat women and girls etc then it will do so. Indeed, it appears to be Livingstone’s only hope of victory in London.

    As for Lord Ahmed, he should have been expelled from the Labour Party when he threatened to get 10,000 Muslims to march on Parliament in order to stop an elected MP from a fellow democracy speaking at that Parliament. Or did Labour think that threatening mob violence and intimidation was OK?

    There is a moral and political bankruptcy at the heart of Labour which will damage it and the rest of us if it is not dealt with and soon. I have no confidence that the leadership have any understanding of the problem let alone the balls to do anything about it. Poor Labour; poor us.

  7. Tony McNulty says:

    Atul
    The ‘Kanti Patel’ affair was a disgruntled member who allowed himself to be thoroughly abused by the Tories, but who was, and remains, a Labour Party member and friend of mine – I saw him only last Saturday. Quoting that as an example of life in Harrow is again, simply wrong and very,very misleading. It’s not a problem if you don’t understand the dynamics in Harrow – but you can’t use it as an exam
    Le of neo-colonial anything in the way you have done. Sorry to repeat myself, but this is important. Tony

  8. tokyo nambu says:

    “He sat atop the pyramid of biraderi or clan based community politics which traditionally delivered result-swinging vote banks, happily doing the bidding of the central machine for several years.”

    Which is why Labour is so keen on postal votes: it makes it impossible for young and female voters in those communities to have a secret vote, and hands control of large portions of the electorate to “elders”. That’s why the rates of postal voting are immensely higher in predominantly ethnic minority areas than elsewhere, and why Respect has been working hard to overturn postal voting on demand. Labour talked a load of nonsense about wanting to “improve turnout” which hasn’t happened, but what it really wanted to a diabolical deal to allow the “community leaders” to hi-jack votes, at which it has been extremely successful.

    Galloway is a pillock, and his election is the sort of thing that makes politics into a laughing-stock, but the defeat of a third-rate Labour candidate whose entire campaign assumed that if he could win the elders, he’d get the votes of their families in the same envelopes, makes Gorgeous George’s elevation more tolerable. Respect made a serious effort to go straight to women and overturn the assumption that they didn’t have an independent vote, and succeeded. Labour’s engagement with ethnic minority communities has been non-existent, because the corrupt use of postal votes means that a handful of trusties have been able to deliver votes.

  9. Erica Blair says:

    Lord Ahmed did nothing wrong. His proposal that Blair and Bush be put on trial for war crimes is to be welcomed and would prove to be a popular move – not only in this country but all over the world.

    I suggest the Labour Party NEC should investigate Dan Hodges and Atul Hatwal for their repulsive and scurrilous campaign against Ken Livingstone. They could not have done more to promote Boris Johnson.

    The Labour Party would be a much better, and cleaner place without them.

  10. Colin says:

    Yes – criticising Ken Livingstone is morally no different to backing the terrorist behind the Mumbai massacre.

    After all we can’t allow disloyaly can we? Ken backed the independent Islamist Lutfur Rahman against the Labour candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets. He’s not disloyal. Lord Ahmed called for a former Labour Prime Minister to be charged with ‘war crimes’. He’s not disloyal.

    Hatwal and Hodges are the real enemies. Put a bounty on their heads.

  11. @EricaBlair: Yes, let’s investigate Atul and Dan, two people who actually care about the Labour Party. Not Lord Ahmed, who hugs terrorists.

    Yes, that makes total sense.

  12. swatantra says:

    Its high time that the politics of Mirpur, or anywhere else, were kept off the streets of Bradford, or anywhere else. Break these clan monopolies and let them think for themselves, and vote Labour.
    By all accounts the ‘traditional’ Labour vote has broken down, and Labour has the hard job now of selling its policies on their merits . And that can only be a good development for everyone. Good for Labour and good for the communities.

  13. Farzana Hakim says:

    Slightly Frustrated to read this as some valid points re Labour’s relationship with minorities but factually wrong on Lord Ahmed. I helped get him into the Lords and it wasn’t because he was a community leader who brought in votes. At that time there were so few ethnic minority members of any seniority around and he was heavily promoted by his trade union USDAW and was very active in the Party. Unfortunately like many Peers he was convinced he should have been promoted to become a Minister and became increasingly disillusioned when he didn’t. things have changed so much for the better in the past 15 years in terms of the numbers and calibre of ethnic minorities involved in the Party and he would never be chosen as a Peer now but you have to put the choices we made into context no matter how dissapointing the outcome.
    What is true is that the Party did become lazy in many seats and thought it could rely on a few community leaders to pull in all the votes- insulting to the communities and also assumed this would carry on with younger generations. This by the way is certainly not limited to Labour. The inquiry I was part of into Bradford West in the mid 1990’s found that community leaders would happily tell voters to switch between The Tories and Labour depending on who gave them what hey wanted.
    Hopefully the Bradford result is a wake up call to the Party that we to start engaging with voters as individuals again rather than as voting blocks.

  14. Erica Blair says:

    Rob Marchant says:
    April 17, 2012 at 8:10 pm
    @EricaBlair: Yes, let’s investigate Atul and Dan, two people who actually care about the Labour Party.

    Atul and Dan care so much about the Labour Party they are actively undermining the campaign of its candidate for Mayor of London.

    ‘Not Lord Ahmed, who hugs terrorists.’

    Now who was it hugged and kissed Colonel Gadaffi?

    Why, Rob Marchant’s political hero, ex-boss and war crimes fugitive – Tony Blair.

    ‘Yes, that makes total sense’

    Glad you agree with me.

  15. Atul Hatwal says:

    Tony,

    Clearly I’ll cede to your knowledge of the nuances within Harrow, which by the provenance and culture of the local Gujarati community is quite different to areas such as the northern mill towns, but I would make 3 points.

    1. During Kanti Patel’s pseudo-defection in April 2010, the basis for his unhappiness was heard across large parts of the London Indian community – not just the Gujarati community. I’m not talking here about what was written in the local paper, but what was discussed at events and socials.

    The terms of the discussion about what happened were very much along the quid pro quo I outline in the piece – community leader does his bit for the party, delivers community support and should receive his expected advancement. The response from Navin Shah and some Labour councillors, was again conducted within those terms, I refer to the debate over whether Kanti Patel was in fact a ‘community leader’.

    2. While the episode may have been discussed in this manner in the Indian community, I can see that there would have been a large element of heresay and hyperbole and the primary colours of a community discussion would not necessarily reflect the reality of what happened on the ground.

    3. The fact that the debate was framed in this way within the Indian community though reflects a broader cultural point about the way the community engages with politics and vice versa that the Labour party as a whole has not been interested in changing.

    This is not to say individual MPs and activists have not challenged the old ways of working and I know that this is not how you or indeed several others operate. But institutionally, Labour remains a party comfortable with the community fix.

    One point where, on reflection, I was wrong, was to use the term neo-colonialist. The reality is that the old top down way of engaging with minority communities through ‘community leaders’ was not foisted on the local communities by the political parties as implied by mentioning colonialism, quite the reverse in fact.

    The problem comes now with 3rd and 4th generations of minority communities who no longer want to do business in the old way, but where older party members from the local community along with older party managers in the area persist in their established routines.

    Anyway, bit of a rambling response but I hope it answers some of your points.

    Atul

  16. Atul Hatwal says:

    Faz,

    Again, as in my response to Tony, I cede to your knowledge on Lord Ahmed. The one thing I would say is that some of the folk around Lord Ahmed have markedly played up his community position.

    Ahmed’s links to Mirpur and presence within Pakistani politics have given him a particular status within the community – or so I’ve been told on more than one occasion.

    Equally I do see that, as much as people might say this, it’s just their opinion. I’ll go back and see what they have to say in response to your points, and maybe can work into a follow-up piece at some point.

    Atul

  17. rol says:

    If freedom of speech is meant to be a fundamental component of democracy why should the right to use it be negotiable ? If a person can become a criminal by abstract expressions of their mind the law is an ass. Exactly who instructs parliament to vote for laws which classify words or phrases in a person’s speech as inciting hatred ? Has anybody thought of questioning the rights governments have accumulated to infringe an absolute god given right people have to think whatever they wish without any coercion whatsoever?

  18. DAVID BRENT says:

    HOW ABOUT KEN LIVINGSTONE SUPPORTING AN INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE IN EAST LONDON AGAINST THE OFFICIAL LABOUR CANDIDATE. THIS IS TOLERATED – WHICH MINORITY DOES HE BELONG TO (LEADING QUESTION I KNOW………).

    IVE NOTHING AGAINST KEN BUT THIS ARTICLE IS ALL ABOUT RACIST STEREOTYPES.

    AND WHEN YOU SAY: “He sat atop the pyramid of biraderi or clan based community politics which traditionally delivered result-swinging vote banks, happily doing the bidding of the central machine for several years.” I THOUGHT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT A WHITE TRADE UNION LEADER.

    MUCH OF WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT AHMED ETC IS PROBABLY ACCURATE BUT IT COULD ALSO BE TRUE OF MANY WHITES AND JUST BECAUSE YOUR A BAME IT DOESNT GIVE YOU A LICENCE TO DEMONISE BAME COMMUNITIES!

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