On 18th April 2018, Forward Thinking facilitated a roundtable discussion entitled ‘Pathways into Politics’ as part of its UK ‘Building Bridges’ Programme. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Councillor Hashim Bhatti for helping to co-organise the event.

Hosted in the Houses of Parliament and chaired by the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, the event brought together a cross-party panel of national and local Muslim political leaders to share their expertise and experience on the challenges, the opportunities and the diverse pathways a career into politics can take.

Panellists shared their insights with over 70 young Muslims leaders from across England at different stages of their professional careers, representatives from civil society organisations, community activists and those aspiring to a career in politics.

Speakers included: Nusrat Ghani MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport; Labour Councillor Salma Arif, who is one of the youngest councillors to be elected to Leeds City Council with over 70% of the vote; Councillor Hashim Bhatti, the first British Pakistani to get selected by the Conservative party in Windsor for the local council elections and Chair of the youth wing of the Conservative Muslim Forum; Tara Hussain who is just 22 years old and running as a Local Council candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets, East London and Councillor Magid Magid, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sheffield and the first Green Party Councillor of Somali background elected in England.

The challenges of leadership within panellist’s respective constituencies were explored. Bold local and national political leadership is centred on acknowledging the need for understanding, concession and compromise in Britain’s diverse communities. Maintaining a critical degree of constituency involves finding areas of common ground and the realisation that differences are best solved through regular and ongoing dialogues, with common ground often coming from the most unlikely of places.

A key insight for young participants was that embarking on a career in politics should be seen as process. The process is long, imperfect and difficult. Panellists experienced many failures before successes and difficulties in overcoming internal and external challenges to their Islamic faith, ethnic and diasporic identities. It was stressed that celebrating diversity of identity is essential, however, compromising aspects of one’s identity for public favour is inevitably counter-productive. Despite experiencing prejudice, negative preconceptions and mistrust these challenges were overcome through persistence and indeed an ability to reorientate aspects of religion, identity and a diverse background into mainstream political conversations.