London (CNSNews.com) – With Britain’s parliament more diverse than it’s ever been, Muslim voters appear to hold an increasing amount of political sway.
Voters returned Prime Minister Theresa May to power in the general election last week but also elected more women and more members of ethnic minorities to the 650-strong House of Commons than ever before in its history.
There will now be 208 women serving as MPs, with the tally of non-white parliamentarians at 52.
According to the Muslim Association of Britain, there are also now 15 MPs with a Muslim background, eight of them women and seven men. This marks the highest number of Muslims ever. Twelve are from the opposition Labour Party and three from the ruling Conservative Party.
Layla Moran, a member of the Liberal Democrat party running in the Oxford West and Abington constituency, became the first ever MP with a Palestinian heritage.
Beyond the MP numbers, the Muslin Council of Britain said the general election revealed the strength of British Muslim communities coming out to vote.
The council, an umbrella of more than 500 affiliated groups, had identified 16 seats where Muslim voters could have a high impact before the election. These were constituencies where MPs had won the previous election with a relatively small majority and ones where Muslim voters numbered at least twice those margins.
In all 16 of the pinpointed constituencies Labour won, and in five it wrested the seat from the Tories. And Labour did so with a considerably larger share of the vote than it obtained on the national level.
Harun Khan, secretary general of the council, said in a statement Muslims did not vote as a bloc and it was not yet known exactly how they had voted.
Even so, he said that the results appeared to show what a young, enthusiastic and politically-involved Muslim community could achieve.
According to the 2011 census, there were 2.7 million Muslims in England and Wales, or 4.8 percent of the population. Roughly a third of them were below the age of sixteen.
Rashid Ansari, a doctoral student specializing in British politics at Bristol University, said Wednesday that while it was way too early to say with absolute certainty, it was plausible that the Muslim vote had an effect on the election.
He said many British Muslims are young, working class and urban. The economic message of the Labour Party appealed to them, as well as the anti-war policies of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The election of Sadiq Khan, a former Labour MP, as mayor of London in 2016 helped crack the glass ceiling, he said, adding that that would hopefully inspire other members of minority groups to seek office.
“This is a positive thing,” he said. “We want more people with a variety of backgrounds. That only strengthens our democracy.”
The Muslim community includes Conservative supporters too; All three Conservative MPs with a Muslim background were reelected last week with increased majorities.
Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said that if the last parliamentary session had lasted longer, more conservative Muslims would have made it through the selection process and become candidates.
(The last term of parliament was originally scheduled to last until 2020 but May called a snap election in April in order to take advantage of what was then a formidable advantage in the polls.)
Amin said in the 2010 general election, around 10 percent of the Muslim electorate voted for the Conservatives, and that increased to roughly a quarter in 2015.
He said that there was a deep, philosophical difference between Labour and the Conservative Party. While the former saw minority groups simply as voting blocs, the Tories treated everyone as individuals, he said.
Although British Muslims could not be lumped into one group, Amin said they tend to be pro-business, and attracted to policies that stress low taxation and family values.
He said that the problem with the Conservatives was not their policies but often the way they were presented.
“It’s the kind of message that needs repeating and sharing as wide as possible,” he said.