A LABOUR candidate for a town that has one of the highest proportion of Muslim residents in the UK has warned his party not to take their vote for granted.
Gavin Shuker, who is contesting from Luton South, a marginal seat in southeast England, told Eastern Eye he has had “many fights” within his own party to make them understand the Muslim community were not a “block vote to be traded”.
“I’ve been critical of my party for treating the Muslim community a block vote to be traded like any other,” he told EE.
“If that were ever true, it’s not true now, and increasingly less so.
“You got second, third, fourth generations and a huge upward pressure in that community for wanting change, wanting better candidates and better representation.
“I’ve had fights in my own party to try and secure that, to try and make our process fair, and allow talented people to come though.” Since 2013, Shuker has served on the Labour front bench as shadow minister for international development, with responsibility for development policy in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Luton South’s former MP, Margaret Moran, held the seat from 1997 until she stood down in the expenses scandal. Shuker retained the seat for Labour in the 2010 polls despite a 4.6 per cent swing to the Conservatives.
The 33-year-old, who grew up in Luton and lives there, believes he is best placed to represent the town because of his background.
“I’ve been living here most of my life. I don’t want to be complacent though, and am looking to secure every vote. Last time around it was a very tough election and we held on.
“Luton is in many ways a northern town with bread and butter issues about housing, jobs, about education. They’re all issues that affect all residents in the town.”
He believes extremists groups, which have marred the reputation of the town recently, which include the English Defence League, who formed in Luton, and radical Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, can be tackled through cultural changes.
“What are we doing for young people who demonstrate leadership, who care about the world we live in, have strong opinions, view politics as a legitimate way of dealing with that rather than feeling disempowered and disengaged? You have to understand the community.
“I’ve lived here all my life and that’s been hugely helpful because you view yourself as a whole community, rather than talking about the Muslim community.”
He added that he had been working with “peace makers across the town” to help ease tensions in Luton whenever EDL march through.
“I have also sought to place legislation in Westminster with regards to extremism and radicalisation, which is sensitive and helps but doesn’t exacerbate what is a very real problem.
“I didn’t just do that because the Muslim community felt hurt by it, I did that because there are actions that the UK government can take to make things easier, and better for the community, not make them feel more isolated which, in turn, leads more people towards extremism.”
He said he marched against the war in Iraq and as a front bench MP was influential in standing against military invention in Syria in 2013.
“I joined the Labour party in 2006 and there’s a small proportion of what happened in government that I disagreed with, but you change that by being engaged with politics. We’re not a generic block as politicians. I’m in the Labour party because I believe it best represents ordinary working people and if a town like Luton does well, ordinary working people do well.”