British Muslims, already unhappy with the Labor government over the Iraq war, have accused it of betrayal for scrapping plans to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.
Community representatives warned that the country’s 1.1 million Muslim voters would remember the affront when they cast their ballots in a general election on May 5.
Labor leaders in the House of Commons and House of Lords announced this week that the government had decided to drop the religious hatred proposal, which had run into strong opposition from opposition parties in the House of Lords.
The controversial measure formed part of a wide-ranging crime bill, and rather than lose the entire bill when parliament is dissolved on Monday, the government chose to sacrifice the problematic section.
In its efforts to win Muslim support, Labor has used the religious incitement proposal to distinguish itself from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Senior Labor lawmaker Mike O’Brien wrote an editorial in another Muslim newspaper earlier this year laying out his reasons why Muslims should vote Labor despite being “understandably . . . very angry about the war.”
Among ways in which Labor had “delivered” for Muslims, he said, was the government campaign to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.
“Ask yourself what will [Conservative Party leader] Michael Howard do for British Muslims,” O’Brien wrote. “Will his foreign policy aim to help Palestine? Will he promote legislation to protect you from religious hatred and discrimination?”
The religious incitement proposal drew the opposition of a coalition of lawyers, lawmakers, human rights campaigners, religious groups, journalists and secularists, and members of parliament were lobbied.
Support for the measure came from Muslim groups, the Law Society and a senior police body.