The Last Word

By Darwish, Adel | The Middle East, May 2010 | Go to article overview

The Last Word


Darwish, Adel, The Middle East


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The hung-parliament expected to emerge following the British elections on 6 May is likely to have both direct and indirect effects on the Middle East region. To form a working majority government, 43-year-old Conservative party leader David Cameron (who, according to the pollsters led at the outset by 7-9% over Labour but still needed another 6% of the votes), or 59-year-old incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, will have to woo smaller parties largely unknown to many Middle Easterners--and accommodate at least some of their policies in order to woo them into a coalition exceeding the 326 seats required to secure an overall majority in the House of Commons.

There are an estimated two thirds of a million Middle Eastern Britons of whom 300,000 are eligible to vote; but there is no 'block' Arab vote in UK, perhaps with the exception of Britons with Yemeni origins based, for the most part, in industrial, working-class areas who traditionally vote Labour. Younger British Arabs overwhelmingly vote as individuals in line with their economic interests.

The old British democracy is based on one elected member of parliament (MP) to represent each of 650 constituencies. An MP is accountable to his or her local constituents and is expected to be available to meet with them regularly in his local office. Performance of individual MP at Westminster is scrutinised by journalists in the constituency who keep a keen eye on progress.

With the exception of mega-rich investors, British Arabs' voting patterns have not changed in generations, although British Muslim voters are increasingly making their presence felt in the British political arena.

Most Arab Britons are economic migrants or middle-class educated individuals who travelled to the UK with the aim of continuing their education or broadening their horizons outside their homelands.

Predictably, they compare Britain's welfare system and civic service to what is available at home, and are frequently encouraged to live and work in the country by the liberal democratic lifestyle and rule of law.

The May election results will however, have effects beyond the Arab British community: some are expected to reach as far as the shores of the Gulf and southern Mediterranean, especially if, as expected, neither Cameron nor Brown (with only a predicted 32% share of votes) managed to attain the crucial 326 seats.

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