How political Islam got the public vote

Political Islam or Islamism, as it is sometimes known, has finally entered the mainstream of British politics. The election of Lutfur Rahman as Mayor of Tower Hamlets, the new government's decision to send a minister to attend Islam Channel's Global Peace and Unity conference, and the news that Tony Blair's sister-in-law has converted to Islam, demonstrate that a radical strain of totalitarian Islam has become acceptable to a significant proportion of the political classes.

Rahman, an independent backed by George Galloway's Respect Party, was elected by just a quarter of the electorate who voted. He will now take charge of a large chunk of the London borough's £1 billion budget. Labour recognised too late the dangers of officially endorsing a candidate with close links to the Muslim supremacists of Islamic Foundation Europe. IFE is the European branch of a network of well-funded political organisations that trace their lineage to Jamaat-i-Islami in south Asia and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East.

Andrew Gilligan has demonstrated with great persistence in the Daily Telegraph and in a documentary for Channel 4's Dispatches how IFE has become a powerful force in east London politics.

Labour moved too slowly to deselect Rahman and, by imposing its own candidate, made itself look anti-democratic. Ed Miliband was wrong-footed too early in his leadership to react decisively.

Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone, Labour's official candidate for London mayor, supported Rahman on the stump, for which he has still not been officially punished by the party.

This would not be quite so serious if the coalition had got its message straight on radical Islam. Arguments over whether to send a minister to the Orwellian-titled Global Peace and Unity Conference last weekend reached the highest level of government.

Those seeking splits need look no further. David Cameron ordered Tory chair Baroness Warsi to stay away, and Home Secretary Theresa May agreed that no Tory minister should attend. In contrast, as we reported last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg authorised Andrew Stunell, the Liberal Democrat Communities minister, to attend. Mr Clegg has consistently argued that Islamic radicals should be challenged on public platforms.

The real test will be to see how the government reacts when Islamists offer to enter the "big society" by taking over State functions such as social care, work creation and libraries.

Which brings us to the conversion to Islam of Lauren Booth, Cherie Blair's half-sister, following a recent trip to Iran where she visited a mosque at Qom. Ms Booth will now have to choose between the Shia Islam of the Iranian government, which pays her wages at the state propaganda channel Press TV, or the Sunni Islam of the Palestinans, whose cause she holds dear.

Lauren Booth is no Unity Mitford, but it is a sign of how mainstream political Islam has become that her conversion is viewed more with curiosity than shock in the UK media.

    Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010