Labour plans to win back Muslims with ethnic groupings

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is seeking to win back Muslim voters disillusioned by the war on Iraq by allowing ethnic minority groups to set up a separate black caucus inside the Labour Party.

Tony Blair is seeking to win back Muslim voters disillusioned by the war on Iraq by allowing ethnic minority groups to set up a separate black caucus inside the Labour Party.

A confidential report by the party's ruling national executive committee warned Mr Blair that there had been a decline in support among the ethnic minorities, particularly among Muslims, since the war on Iraq. A working party set up by the NEC said Muslim voters were disengaging from politics or some were switching their votes to other parties, particularly the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the war.

Labour leaders are planning to change party rules at the next annual party conference to try to win back alienated black and Asian voters by allowing ethnic minority members to form their own groups, with their own officers and rule book. Over time, they could win constitutional rights, such as a vote for the group in leadership elections.

There are already ad hoc groups, such as Muslims for Labour but they currently have no constitutional rights. The new organisations will receive direct funding from the party.

A black caucus was abolished under Neil Kinnock's leadership when the party wanted to end factionalism.

The creation of a black caucus is seen as a breakthrough by Operation Black Vote. A spokesman for the group said: "It is something we welcome. We have always been in favour of a black caucus like the congressional black caucus in the US. A hundred seats could be decided on the black vote - [so] it could determine who becomes prime minister."

However, Tara Mukherjee, a Labour member and chairman of the Confederation of Indian Organisations, said: "They are going to ghettoise the ethnic minorities. You should be able to motivate and pressurise the party through the normal channels and not by creating a body within the party. When the first black MPs were elected they wanted to form a black caucus, but people like Paul Boateng were dead against it. I think this is a backward step."

Mr Blair has privately signalled that he wants the party to accept all the recommendations of the NEC ethnic minorities task force. Ian McCartney, the party chairman, has told colleagues he will spearhead the drive for more links with the ethnic minorities.

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