Parliament: Muslim community welcomes the rehabilitation of Sarwar

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The Independent Online
MOHAMMED SARWAR'S political rehabilitation was under way last night after the Labour leadership lifted his suspension from the parliamentary party. With the Govan MP's acquittal of attempting to pervert the course of justice after a marathon High Court trial, any further disciplinary action by the party would have been unthinkable.

During Mr Sarwar's trial in Edinburgh he admitted lying to a party inquiry about details of the allegations of bribery and electoral corruption that engulfed Govan shortly after his election as Britain's first Muslim MP in May 1997.

Mr Sarwar had a two-hour meeting with Alex Rowley, general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, in Glasgow yesterday afternoon and shortly afterwards the lifting of his long suspension was announced. The MP will return to the Commons on Monday.

Mr Sarwar's supporters were basking last night in the pleasure of his acquittal and reinstatement. The move was seen in his Pollokshields heartland as having lifted a shadow from the whole Muslim community, some 5,000 of whom live in the grid of sandstone tenements at the heart of the MP's power base.

Jubilation at Mr Sarwar's win two years ago turned to collective shame only a fortnight later when he was embroiled in accusations of corruption.

On the streets yesterday there was a little anonymous sniping at the MP's character. Mr Sarwar, 46, is a self-made cash-and-carry tycoon and, as one Pakistani put it: "When one of us is successful like that, some are jealous."

Typical of the majority was Mohammed Ali Zia who said he had listened to Mr Sarwar and Badar Islam, who stood as a fringe candidate in the election, and had never believed the MP did anything wrong. Mohammed Aslam, revisiting Pollokshields after having moved to Huddersfield, said there was relief among Muslims right across Britain.

Few agreed with the suggestion of George Galloway, the Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin and close ally of Mr Sarwar, that the case had racist parallels with the Stephen Lawrence affair. "The police were right to investigate the bribery, but the jury were right too," said one shopkeeper.

However, Bashir Mann, the veteran Glasgow councillor who paved the way for Asians entering politics, said he was sure there was "an element of racism" in the electoral fraud charge. Registration officials raised the alarm when 279 people, most with Asian names, sought late inclusion on the Govan electoral roll. Just four names reached the trial indictment and the charge was withdrawn when the prosecution case fell apart. Mr Mann said Asian names were "very visible to petty officials" looking at late registrations or party membership lists. "If you look at the history of candidates from ethnic minorities, they have always been hardest hit by accusations of entryism and of packing meetings," he said. Many Asian political activists were failing to get elected because they were afraid to follow the standard advice to "get your people out" at selection contests and the like, he said.

There are some 200 Asian councillors and five MPs across Britain, but Mr Mann calculates there would be six times as many if their population was fairly reflected in town halls and Parliament.