The Ramadhan Diaries

Fasting in London and beyond

D18 – EU Election Polling Day – As an MEP Candidate

8am – Didn’t sleep until 3 am and so it was a bit of lie in again. I can’t stay in bed though. I’m a bit restless. It’s polling day for the EU elections. I have been going to polling stations  ever since I was a child. First with my parents who would take me along and I’d always feel that we were doing something incredibly important. I would spend the week before asking everyone in the playground who their parents would be voting for. I’d do some playtime campaigning for the Labour Party – we were a Labour household. That was the era of Margaret Thatcher. My, how times have changed. Ironically the Iron Lady was part of the yes campaign in the 1975 EU referendum. Wonder what she’d say if she could see things today.

Spend some time faffing around, reading and following the news. I seem to be a bit low on the old energy levels. We are into the third week of Ramadan and although the body has now adjusted to fasting during the day, I’m feeling a bit tired. I’m also totally out of sync with my body clock. A mixture of being post nights (although it’s been 3 days) and late nights after Iftar means I am dragging myself through the morning.

I read a section of Surah Nisa in the Qu’ran. I’m still trying to keep to that routine. It’s actually easier than I thought it would be. I’ve got into a bit of a thing going now. I’m on Surah Nisa which is actually a Surah (section) dedicated to women. That’s what ‘nisa’ means in arabic – women.

1.30pm After afternoon prayers it’s time to head to the polling station, like so many other times before on polling day. But it’s going to be a bit different today. My name is actually on the ballot paper. I cannot quite believe it. Two months ago, if you’d told me that, I wouldn’t have believed you but there it is. I am.

I always live in fear that I will be turned away from being able to vote so I always go armed with my passport and voting notification card. It’s habit. I do it every time and have never had to show either. It says so on the card itself that I don’t need to take it but I just don’t feel right leaving home without it.

2pm Arrive at the polling station. It’s a community hall. I only ever discover these buildings exist when I have to hunt them out on polling days. I go in and find the correct desk to present myself to – it’s allocated via streets. My street name has aptly got the word ‘liberty’ in it and that’s what is driving me. Working to preserve it. It’s a passing thought as I give the lady behind the desk my polling card. She takes it. I note that’s the first time I’ve ever handed it over – normally the volunteers say they don’t want it.

She finds my name on her list and calls out my number – 1333 – and her colleague finds my ballot paper. In this age of tech and paperless-ness – I always find it a bit surprising that something of such national importance that our democracy relies on – is actually conducted by two volunteers with a pile of papers, a list, a ruler and a pencil. Isn’t that just so cute? It’s a bit like being back at school. It feels reassuring that IT and touch screens haven’t invaded this space, yet.

I head into the booth with my ballot paper. I open it up and my goodness it is long. It’s folded up about 3 times listing all candidates and parties. And I spot my name against the party I am standing for – The UK EU Party. I feel proud to have done this although it did cost me my first 30 min current affairs presenting role on a program I had spent 2 years bringing to broadcast. When I was first asked to stand as an MEP around 4 weeks ago I was reporting a half hour documentary on a healthcare story. I didn’t think a pre-planned program would be in breach of Ofcom rules but turned out that it just wasn’t a go-er. The channel compliance bosses said absolutely no and since my name was on a ballot paper (which could not be withdrawn) I had to come off the program. Even if the program was going out just a few days into the launch. There we go. That was a blow because the program meant a huge amount to me.

But I know what drove me to say yes to standing when I was first asked and which made me take my eye off the broadcasting ball – it was my horror at seeing the rise of Tommy ‘Waxy Lemon’ Robinson and his racist goons. Whilst I’ve got no qualms at all making that statement, I can’t claim Waxy Lemon as my own – someone else created that on twitter in honour of Robinson’s real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

Back to the point. How can this be possible? How can someone as odious as him be considered a viable candidate? Can you imagine him in the EU parliament? The man that has built his career on hate – hate filled videos on social media particularly directed at Islam and Muslims. I used to flick through on social media when shared those really inaccurate, poorly made and cringeful videos of Robinson attempting to interpret Islam as he saw it through his prejudiced spectacles – relegating him and them to the loony bin of nutters we don’t need to bother about. And look where he is now. He’s contending for a seat in the north west. I wonder why he chose there? He’s standing as an independent. He actually comes from Luton.

I’m also fuelled by Nigel Farage – a divisive, engineering and what many people believe, is a man with racist sentiments. The indefatigable Femi Oluwole, from the excellent Our Future, Our Choice, put it quite clearly to a Brexit Party activist who was trying to argue that his party and indeed Nigel Farage were not racist. Femi referred to Farage’s Breaking Point poster where he points to Syrian refugees as the reason the UK needs to leave the EU. Femi explained that the UK is not part of the EU’s Common Asylum Policy which means that the refugees in the photo did not have any right to come to the UK under EU law – so why did Farage use them in the poster to push his agenda?

‘…the only people who do have the right to come here under EU law…are people who look like Nigel Farage.’

‘So he chose specifically brown people who have no rights to come here under EU law to scare people about EU immigration which is fundamentally racist.’

Watch the video on this link via the The New European.

Farage allegedly as a younger version of himself proudly claimed his initials were the same as the National Front, according to a former school colleague who also claimed Farage sang neo-Nazi songs about killing Jewish people. But even if he didn’t say all that, what he’s created thus far has been that much more potent to the country than the NF back then.

All this Nigel Farage chat has made me remember having a time when his initials ’N F’ were daubed over my dad’s car and our home. I was 10. There it was – red spray painted letters on the bonnet and roof of my dad’s new yellow VW Passat. And they sprawled it over the porch doors and the front room window. It was dreadful. My parents tried to conceal the racist graffiti over our house with paper and sellotape – they used the large sheets of computer paper my dad had from his work as a computer analyst.

Then they tried to work out how to scrub it off. They next day the paper was stripped off and paint re-applied. So whoever did it came back to make sure it was visible. The police came and did their thing. But it wasn’t stopping anything. So my uncles took matters into their own hands. As usual my parents covered up the abusive graffiti with paper and my uncles started their ‘watch’ from their car. They sat up watching the house for hours and then in the early hours they saw the racist culprits. They emerged from the dark and ripped off the paper – two men. My uncles leapt out of the car and chased them. The realisation of who it was, was more shocking than the graffiti itself. It was our neighbour – an Irish man called John. He lived their with his wife and 4 children. As kids, we played together all the time. They came into our house and we went into theirs. My mum and their mum were friends – or so we thought.

During the Balkan war, Bosnians talked about how their neighbours they grew up with became their tormentors and aggressors. Even killers. This demonstrates the power of what can happen in the face of emboldening people along racial, sectarian and populist lines. The unimaginable can happen.

I worry that those days of the 1970s and 80s are not gone for good as I had been led to believe during my adult years. I worry that we are on a path to somewhere terrible. All that ugliness just lay sleeping, waiting to wake again.

That is why I stood today and took part. I have to do something. I have to try. We might not succeed but we must at least try to stop this rise of fascism and hate. Brexit with all credit to Farage has opened an ugly jar of division and it’s escaping mist has affected many. It’s been unleashed.

But in truth I feel that we are already set on that route and turning around might be too late. For the first time in my life I have wondered – where would I take my family if I no longer felt safe here anymore? I’ve never had that thought before. But this year I have.

It might sadly be  that we have to go into the dark – into the Brexit world Farage and Robinson want to create. It might be that Europe will face some dark days again. Far right parties in Austria are back in places of power. My goodness isn’t that worrying enough? Wake up world. The rise of far right parties in Austria and a divided Europe. When has that ever worked out for the greater good? It might be that those in the firing line this time are Muslims but I’d add that Jews and people of colour would also be dragged into this too. I fear that we have to go into the bad places first before people wake up and realise that this is indeed the nightmare we were shouting warnings about. And sadly those that have helped NF and Robinson get to where they are, will also loose out. Like all loyal foot soldiers, they will actually be the first sacrificial lambs left without money, jobs and hope. NF and TR care only for themselves – today and tomorrow.

8.30pm Anyway time to stop writing and off-loading. Heating up the shorba and borek from yesterday and making a omelette frite for the grumpy other half. He’s got a headache – think it’s the halfway point through Ramadan thing. Starting to stumble a bit before the final leg next week.

If you’ve not voted yet and it’s the 23 May – stop reading and GO. You have until 10 pm today. And vote smart. Vote Remain. Stop Brexit.

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