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25.02.2024, 19:39 434

British Muslims are mobilising against Labour and the Tories, and Turkish Cypriots need to join them

In the second half of 2024, voters in the United Kingdom are expected to head to the polls to elect their next government. The incumbent Tories will be hoping to extend their 14-year run in power, but with many British voters feeling the bite of the ongoing cost of living crisis, which many blame on years of economic mismanagement by the Conservative Party, Keir Starmer’s Labour could possibly find themselves back in the driving seat for the first time since 2010.

But while Labour looks set to gain a number of seats in what have been Tory strongholds as of late, they are at risk of losing seats in constituencies that have a significant number of Muslim voters. Many British Muslims have grown disillusioned with the party since 15 November 2023, when the majority of its MPs failed to back a call for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

According to Muslim Census, a think tank monitoring the voting habits of British Muslims in the UK, only 4.8 percent of Muslims plan to vote for Labour in the next General Election, compared to 71 percent who voted for the party in 2019. Birmingham Ladywood, Bethnal Green and Stepney, Leicester South, Ilford North, Slough, Rochdale and Barking are just a few examples of Labour constituencies where Muslims command a strong presence but feel they were let down by their MP during the parliamentary ceasefire vote.

However, this is not necessarily good news for the Conservatives either, as their support rate among British Muslims dropped from 9 percent in 2019 to just 0.6 percent at the end of 2023, the think tank found. In fact, according to findings, as many as 40 percent of British Muslims plan to completely abstain from voting in the next election, with another 21 percent saying they’d instead vote for independent candidates. A further 17 percent said they’d vote for the Green Party, while 10 percent said they’d vote for the Liberal Democrats. Overall, 94.6 percent of British Muslims polled by the think tank said their votes will be going to neither of the two dominant parties in 2024.

On the back of this development, a new grassroots movement called The Muslim Vote aims to unite Britain’s 4 million Muslim voters behind a selection of independent candidates who will run for election in constituencies where British Muslim voters are likely to make a major impact. Among those 4 million voters are of course an estimated 300,000 Turkish Cypriots, whose numbers equate to around 7.5 percent of the British Muslim vote.

Although they are not among the most visible of Muslim communities in the UK, Turkish Cypriots have been living in Britain for a very long time, and are arguably one of the most well-integrated, dare I say most assimilated, Muslim communities in the country. Turkish Cypriots have typically been based in a number of North and East London boroughs such as Hackney, Haringey, Enfield and Waltham Forest, and even have elected councillors in these areas. They also have a presence in South London, in places such as Bexley, Bromley, Lambeth and Croydon.

But despite their success on a local level, they are yet to elect a Turkish Cypriot MP to the UK Parliament. This is due to several reasons, but one of those reasons is arguably because most of them share their constituencies with Greek Cypriots, who are equal to them in number but are seemingly better organised, as well as being miles ahead in their lobbying efforts, hence the reason why Enfield Southgate, which should ideally be a Turkish Cypriot fortress, instead has a Greek Cypriot MP in Bambos Charalambous.

Also, in Enfield North, the Turkish Cypriot voice is often drowned out by the Alevi Kurdish community, which is also well-organised and has made huge strides within the Labour Party. The Alevi Kurds undoubtedly owe that progress due to their long affinity with left-wing politics, which over several decades has to a certain extent helped shape their modern-day communal identity. Turkish Cypriots, however, despite being intrinsically inclined towards voting Labour, have not enjoyed as much success within the party, and this, one can argue, is because of a mismatch of values.

Of course there is a lot of overlap when it comes to domestic interests that British Turkish Cypriots share with their fellow constituents. Just like everyone else, Turkish Cypriots are concerned about things like house prices, NHS funding, inflation and immigration. Understandably, Turkish Cypriot voters take these factors into consideration when deciding how to cast their vote. When it comes to these issues, we have more often than not seen a healthy cooperation between the Turkish Cypriot community and other communities in their constituencies.

But there are other issues that primarily concern the Turkish Cypriot community that are often overlooked by all of the mainstream political parties, such as the recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), direct flights from the UK to Ercan Airport, and trade embargoes on the TRNC. It is in these matters where Turkish Cypriots face resistance on both a local and national level, as well as in the international arena.

Turkish Cypriot lobbyists have however succeeded in winning over some individual MPs and members of the House of Lords. Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, Iain Duncan Smith, has long proven to be a friend of the Turkish Cypriot cause, most probably because his constituency is home to a significant number of Turkish Cypriots, who unlike their counterparts in Enfield, don't live so much in the shadows of a well-organised Greek Cypriot or Alevi Kurdish community. Meanwhile, some sympathetic parliamentarians, who I will refrain from naming in this article, have personal investments in the TRNC, which they anticipate will appreciate in value with the end of the country’s isolation. 

In other words, Turkish Cypriots only have a small handful of supporters in Parliament, and most of that support is motivated by selfish interests. The few who actually take a moral stance in favour of the Turkish Cypriots usually find themselves at odds with their party policy. Furthermore, many of the parliamentarians who do express sympathies for the Turkish Cypriots will also express similar sympathies for other causes that most Turkish Cypriots deem to be contradictory to their values and ideas. Those same MPs might, for example, also recognise the so-called Armenian Genocide, or support for PKK-affiliated Kurdish militant groups in Turkey and Syria. Or, coming back to our main topic of conversation, they might be ardent opponents of any lasting ceasefire in Gaza, an issue many Turkish Cypriots hold dear to their hearts.

The historic relationship between the Turkish Cypriots and Palestinians aside, many Turkish Cypriots are looking at what’s happening in Gaza and reflecting on what could have happened to them in Cyprus had Turkiye not militarily intervened on the island in 1974. They also fear the apparent free rein Israel has seemingly been given by the international community to commit genocide, violate human rights and illegally annex Palestinian territory will set a bad precedent for the Greek Cypriots should Turkiye ever withdraw its troops from Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots remember all too well what it was like to be on the receiving end of similar treatment prior to 1974, when the UN sat back and idly watched Turkish Cypriots face the threat of ethnic cleansing at the hands of a fanatical Greek Cypriot regime. They’d hoped that in the event of Turkiye pulling out of Cyprus, the UN and EU would be there to ensure their safety and security, but now they cannot be too sure.

But with British Muslims now coming together to put up a united front against both Labour and the Conservatives in reaction to their unwavering support of the Zionist regime in Israel, Turkish Cypriots are finally being presented with a platform that could transform the way they’ve been engaging in British politics. As all candidates being supported by The Muslim Vote will be running as independents, they will not be bound by the same party policies that have stifled Turkish Cypriot progress within the British political spectrum. Candidates would be able to argue in favour of Turkish Cypriot causes without restraints, the same way they’d argue for the Palestinian cause, as well as other causes that Muslims give importance to, such as China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang (East Turkestan), the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and India’s occupation of Kashmir.

Should these candidates be successful, Turkish Cypriots would be presented with a new selection of MPs who can be lobbied and more easily convinced to raise Turkish Cypriot concerns in the House of Commons. What’s more is that these MPs wouldn’t necessarily be motivated by personal interests. Rather, they’d be driven by a deep conviction and sense of solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters from Cyprus. Who knows, maybe we could even see the first Turkish Cypriot MP elected through this method.

Ultimately, however, it's the participation that counts. Even if this new movement isn't able to elect any independent Muslim MPs, it will still demonstrate the power of the Muslim vote in the UK to those who are elected, and that in itself could be enough to get those in office to start listening to Muslim voters in their constituencies. It would make the Shabana Mahmoods, the Rushanara Alis, the Jonathan Ashworths, the Wes Streetings and the Margaret Hodges of this world think twice before abstaining from voting for a ceasefire in Gaza again. And, if Turkish Cypriots showed themselves to be part of this movement, those in power might even consider listening to demands for direct flights to Ercan or an end to trade embargoes on the TRNC.

But for this to work, Turkish Cypriots themselves need to start listening to the pleas of their fellow British Muslims. They need to find their place in the wider British Muslim community and put on a united front with them in both domestic and international campaigns. For the Turkish Cypriot cause to become a British Muslim cause, the British Muslim cause must become a Turkish Cypriot cause as well. It's a two-way street that will require the building of inter-communal bridges, fostering personal and professional relationships, and honouring promises and obligations. This will no doubt be a huge learning curve for many Turkish Cypriots, but taking this path will, in my humble opinion, come more naturally to them and potentially bear more tangible fruits than their decades of lobbying uninterested, self-serving and two-faced Tory and Labour MPs ever has.

To register to vote in the upcoming General Election, you can visit the UK government website. The Muslim Vote is urging all British Muslims to register and encourage at least five other Muslims around them to do so as well. They are also requesting that British Muslims follow and share the #RegisterMyMuslimVote hashtag on social media in an online drive to get as many Muslims registered by March 8-9. For more information, visit themuslimvote.co.uk.

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