It is extremely sad when running a political leadership programme to see our ParliaMentors Facebook and Twitter almost completely awash with negative stories about the role of faith and identity in politics, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia. However, it is also immensely pleasing to know that this is not the full story.
Obviously it disturbs me to see that there is a need for a major party in the UK to set up an anti-Semitism inquiry. I am also shocked by the trend towards delegitimisation by association, rather than the actions of the person in question. It is absolutely right to firmly reject those who do and say things that we cannot abide by in a respectful and tolerant society. However, our engagement should not end there. If we want to come to an understanding and help reform these views then we must be able to have dialogue, and show the hurt their words can cause. If we withhold any contact until they renounce their views, we risk alienating them and the people that try to educate them. I do not believe that is an effective solution to the problem of a lack of compassion and understanding.
At times like this I also reflect upon the importance of continual engagement with all parts of society, not just when it hits the headlines. I read and chat on Facebook with The National Hindu Student Forum. They have conducted studies in their membership and published articles voicing their concerns with some members of the NUS and Labour party, these have not made the headlines, and have largely been left unaddressed. If we want a society that does not marginalise, blame and delegitimise then it seems to me that we should engage with minorities all the time, not just when scandal gives their view pertinence.
There are certainly great reasons for positivity despite all of this. Firstly, Sadiq Khan, who has been a fantastic mentor for many ParliaMentors, has been elected Mayor of London. He has made a choice to engage with all parts of his city, whatever their background and whatever their voting preference. This is a sign of progress in society and good leadership at the top. This is not what makes me happiest though.
Far more pleasingly, there are great signs at the community level of politics too. Where role models are formed and are accessible to their constituents. Among the ranks of the ParliaMentors alumni we are pleased to have a fantastic number of young people from all backgrounds becoming local councillors, running for the Greater London Authority, organising campaigns for mayoral candidates and working in the civil service. Just this week we were extremely pleased to see that Tamoor Tariq is not just the youngest councillor but now also the youngest member of his council’s cabinet, and the first Muslim to reach that position.
Tamoor also made clear how thankful he is to his mentor from his year on the programme, Jonathan Reynolds MP. Tamoor is not the only alumni to regularly talk about how their mentor has changed their life, their perspective on politics and helped them even when there is nothing in it for the MP. I just won’t embarrass any of the other alumni this time. This is wonderful evidence that most of the people in politics are actively working to encourage and assist good young people regardless of background.
Therefore, I want to express my gratitude to all the young people who are not sitting idly condemning behaviour online, but instead putting themselves into the public sphere, serving their communities, being recognised for their abilities. It is through this kind of positivity that we can most successfully undermine divisive narratives.