Last Thursday’s election in Birmingham’s Handsworth Wood Ward illustrated the way in which religious affiliations continue to be used for ensuring votes over and above any attempt at political debate.
The Conservative Candidate was a Sikh who persuaded three Gurdwara Councils to display his posters and then to press members of the congregation to support him. It worked, since some 2,200 people voted for him as against 1,900 last year when Labour had a Sikh candidate. Labour still managed to win with 2,600 (they polled 3,300 last year) with an African-Caribbean candidate who may well have her church connections to thank. (She is a Deputy Pastor according to The Stirrer).
From their literature I’m not sure what the political agenda of the two candidates was. I as the Socialist Labour candidate raised the issue of the privatisation of public services, which the many people we spoke to on the doorstep also disliked strongly. I received just over 1,000 votes for which I thank them. One person told me that the Labour candidate was an advocate for Blair’s academies, which is part of the programme to put schools in the hands of the private sector. This weakens councils’ control of public services even more: if you’re a councillor it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas. I’m told that this candidate has greater ambitions than staying as a lowly councillor. She is after Clare Short’s Ladywood seat and then a place in Cabinet as Secretary of State for Health.
Among those pressing for a Conservative victory were individuals who are members of the Labour Party. They stood outside the polling station with a ballot paper on which was written that the councils of the Gurdwaras were supporting the Sikh candidate.
They had a point since as a Labour Councillor the Conservative candidate had succeeded in helping the large Soho Road Gurdwara in securing considerable funding for a state-of-the art community centre. It’s President has always made a point that the Gurdwara was built without need of public funds, and indeed its members have gone to Amritsar to help re-gild the Golden Temple.
The Single Regeneration Budget had been intended to help people out of poverty in the region, however our now Tory candidate went to the lengths of acquiring a house in the SRB 6 area to qualify himself as eligible to stand as a member of the board. He did this along with others, including friends and relations, who exploited a known weakness in the voting procedure.
All this is now history, water under the bridge. Since no one will act then the door is wide open to opportunists, gangsters and all comers.
Note: if you doubt whether I’m serious about mixing politics and religion just look here.