Exploring Iraqi-British perspectives on the upcoming UK elections

7 min read
28 June, 2024

A parliamentary general election has been called for July 4 and new tracker data from YouGov, published a month prior, reveals the order of issues considered most pressing in the country: Health, Immigration & Asylum, Housing, Crime, the Economy, Britain leaving the EU, Tax, Transport, Welfare Benefits, Education, the Environment, Defence and Security.

The data also shows that many voters who supported the Conservative party in 2019 no longer believe it is best equipped to address the nation's most important issues.

In an attempt to calculate public sentiment on the upcoming UK government, YouGov surveyed voters on which party they believe is best equipped to address the issues they consider most important.

The findings show that Labour enjoys a strong preference across several areas. They are particularly trusted on housing, with 49% of those prioritising housing as a top issue favouring Labour, compared to only 3% for the Conservatives.

Similarly, on healthcare, 49% believe Labour would manage it best, as opposed to just 7% for the Conservatives.

Zooming into Arab perspectives

Ahead of the elections, The New Arab wanted to understand the direction of UK politics in greater detail. 

The New Arab interviewed members of the Arab diaspora in the UK, primarily Iraqi-Brits living and voting in London, questioning them on the most pressing issues and their feelings of representation in the political landscape.

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For context, Iraq witnessed the exodus of millions of Iraqis due to the 2003 US-led occupation, subsequent sectarian conflicts, and ongoing political and economic turmoil.

At present, there are currently Iraqis in countries as far afield as the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Canada, as well as closer to home in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria.

While Iraqis are not exclusively concentrated geographically in any one area, the majority live in London, with concentrations in the boroughs of Brent, Ealing, and Kingston.

The New Arab spoke to the following Iraqis living in London: Hassan Abdulrazzak, an Iraqi playwright and writer based in London; Hassan Damluji, Co-founder of Global Nation; Dalia Al-Dujaili, Digital Editor of Azeema and founder of The Road to Nowhere; Ali Khadr, Executive Officer working at The British Institute for the Study of Iraq; and one other half-Iraqi who chose to remain anonymous.

Gaza identified as the most pressing issue

Known for plays like Baghdad Wedding and Love, Bombs & Apples, Abdulrazzak came to the UK at an early age.

He expressed his views and emphasised the importance of voting, having experienced his family's denial of free elections under Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. 

For Abdulrazzak, the most pressing issue in the UK is the Gaza conflict, where lives are at stake.

“The response from both main parties has been disappointing, to say the least. The contrast between the UK's response to Ukraine and the response to Palestinian suffering could not be starker,” Abdulrazzak said. 

Khadr, Damluji, and Al-Dujaili also identified the Gaza conflict as the most pressing issue.

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"The most pressing issue, in my opinion, has to be the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. We cannot consider this matter far removed from UK politics," Khadr told The New Arab.

"On the one hand, the UK seeks to represent itself as a global leader in atrocity prevention, pushing for a new convention on crimes against humanity that would improve accountability for atrocity crimes.

"On the other hand, UK politicians have been steadfast in their support for Israel during its assault on Gaza, both politically and economically, with the continuance of armed trade, military support, and surveillance," Khadr added. 

"This has persisted in complete defiance of an International Court of Justice order of provisional measures to prevent genocide.

"In contrast, the UK’s push for sanctions on Russia reveals a double standard that reflects the racial and religious discrimination that has manifested in UK foreign and domestic politics for over a decade."

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“British support for an Israeli government committing appalling war crimes is a historic mistake that puts us on the wrong side of both morality and global opinion, so I would like to see that addressed,” Damluji also commented. 

Al-Dujaili added, “In terms of international affairs, I believe our government is complicit in genocide by selling arms to Israel and facilitating Elbit factories in the UK.”

Damluji, Al-Dujaili, and Abdulrazzak commented on other pressing issues.

Damluji stated: “The most important issue for Britain is economic growth, of which we've had far too little since Brexit. Our public services are dire, we need to rebuild our credibility abroad and there is gross inequality at home, but we will not have the resources to fix these things problems sustainably without sustained growth.”

Al-Dujaili added: “Domestically, we face a monumental housing crisis and a cost-of-living crisis. Many young people in London are struggling financially.

“Another issue is arts funding; budget cuts have made it increasingly difficult for artists, writers, and creatives to make a living," said Al-Dujaili. 

“Climate change is also critical — the UK is extensively greenwashing its environmental policies while continuing to fund the sourcing of fossil fuels.”

Abdulrazzak commented on immigration, highlighting the government’s handling of it.

“Immigration is a convenient scapegoat for politicians. I don't believe the stresses on the NHS and housing are due to immigration but to chronic underfunding and a lack of political will.”

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Waning trust in mainstream UK parties and representation

In recent years, the percentage of individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK has increased, along with the representation of these groups in political and public roles.

Despite this representation, especially in UK politics, all interviewees expressed feeling unrepresented in today's day and age.

Abdulrazzak noted that neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party represents him well and that he has leaned towards the Green Party.

“Recently, I have been gravitating towards the Greens due to their stance on Gaza and their prioritisation of climate change, which few other parties prioritise,” said Abdulrazzak.

Abdulrazzak added, “I was impressed when the Greens called for a ceasefire when the two main parties failed to do so. Also, the deputy leader, Zack Polanski, who is Jewish, has pushed back against accusations that the Greens are antisemitic because of their principled stance on Gaza.”

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Khadr, who has also leaned towards the Green Party, says "I do not feel represented. For a long time now, ethnic and religious minorities and migrants have been disproportionately affected by harsh immigration policies and social welfare reform.

"The current UK political environment is not geared toward improving conditions for people from my background, and this certainly has not changed as the UK experiences a cost of living crisis.

"Now, with the genocide in Gaza, the right-wing political message against migrants, Muslims and Arabs has never been louder," Khadr added. 

"In political rhetoric, from Westminster to Portland Place (home of the BBC), people who look like me have been villainised and dehumanised to justify and legitimise the killing of Palestinians in Gaza.

"This has been paired with legislative efforts to increase police powers to impose conditions on peaceful protesters in the UK – a clear challenge to those of us who dare oppose the status quo.

"Not only do I feel unheard and unwelcome, but I feel that as a Muslim and Arab, I am actively being censored and silenced."

Damluji shared similar thoughts and told The New Arab: “I do not feel well represented because the two main parties have chosen to disregard my vote by courting opposing constituencies. I understand their electoral strategy, but it has left cosmopolitan centrists like me underrepresented.”

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Similarly, Al-Dujaili stated: “As an Arab, I do not feel represented, given the UK's ongoing colonial and aggressive foreign policies in the MENA region. However, despite our challenges, there are worse places to live than the UK.

“I am deeply grateful for the NHS, even though it is currently underfunded and struggling, and for my standard of living. As a middle-class person, I am not as severely affected by some of the government's policies as those in more economically and socially deprived areas of the UK," Al-Dujaili added. 

“If I were working class, my perspective might be different. This brings to mind the saying 'think of the most vulnerable person in society and vote in their favour'; please don't vote solely in your own best interests.”

One final interviewee, who chose to remain anonymous, explained their loss of faith in the mainstream parties, hence their move towards voting for an independent party.

They commented: “I feel that the mainstream political parties have all behaved appallingly concerning Gaza and I cannot in good conscience vote for any of them.”

Considering these perspectives, Iraqi-Brits are calling for a change in UK politics, focusing on issues like the Gaza conflict and better representation for minorities.

They urge voters to support candidates committed to these priorities in the upcoming election, aiming to bridge divides and achieve meaningful progress.

Zainab Mehdi is The New Arab's Associate Editor and researcher specialising in governance, development, and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region

Follow her on Twitter: @zaiamehdi