The traditionally quiescent community finally mobilised themselves on Thursday to ensure a Liberal Democrat defeated a Labour candidate in a by-election in Brent.

 

Sarah Teether snatched a large majority from Labour to win the parliamentary seat for the London constituency by more than a thousand votes.

 

Muslim groups are hailing the result as a negative verdict on Blair’s dogged pursuit of war on Iraq.

 

They are claiming from now on if governments do not listen to them they will hit them where it hurts: at the ballot box.

 

Nothing to gain

 

Ihtisham Hibatullah, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said Muslims have traditionally refrained from voting because they felt they had nothing to gain.

 

But he said: “I think things are gradually changing now and we are noticing the big foreign policy issues - like Palestine and Iraq – are giving Muslims an incentive to go out and vote.”

 

And Masoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said the Brent result means the government can no longer count on the support of Britain’s one and half million Muslims.

 

“This vote shows that Muslim disillusionment with the Labour party is very deep rooted,” he said.

 

“Muslims voters are more educated about their rights these days and are sending out a clear signal that they will not be manipulated or marginalised.

 

Next target

 

"They may have traditionally supported Labour but if the government does not listen to what they are saying this could be a thing of the past.”

 

Tony Blair has alienated many
Muslims

He added: “Labour has done nothing for the Muslim community whatsoever. Just look at recent laws like the anti-Muslim terrorism acts, or the fact that Muslims get none of the legal protection in this country that Jews or Sikhs get.”

 

And Shadjareh said the next target for Muslim voters may well be the British Foreign Secretary.

 

Jack Straw, who represents a constituency in the north of England with a large Muslim population, has upset many by staunchly supporting the Iraq war.

 

“There are active campaigns to target him," said Shadjareh.

 

"The thinking is: 'Instead of getiing rids of lots of insignificant MPs why not go after the big fish'. That would send out a clearer and more powerful message.”

 

Tarnished legacy

 

After years of Conservative government, Blair's Labour Party stormed to power in 1997 with a mandate to make big decisions.

But the catastrophic 29% drop in Labour's vote in Brent will justifiably be regarded as a direct verdict on Tony Blair's personal leadership and the government's foreign policy.

He now knows he can no longer rely on the "Trust me, I'm Tony" approach to win the next general election, expected in 2005.     

And if Muslims continue to make their voices heard they just may help to put Blair’s dream of making Britain in his image at risk.