Aisha Iqbal: Need to borrow a burka, Mrs May?

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Just days after the snap General Election was announced, UKIP’s leader Paul Nuttall was on television declaring that his party’s manifesto would include banning the burka or niqab.

It’s a topic that has disproportionately occupied column inches and political debates in the past - and will probably continue to do so.

Prime Minster Theresa May, speaking at a conservative campaign event held at the Shine Centre, Harehills Road, Leeds on April 27, 2017.  Picture: James Hardisty

Prime Minster Theresa May, speaking at a conservative campaign event held at the Shine Centre, Harehills Road, Leeds on April 27, 2017. Picture: James Hardisty

Now, I’m not a fan of the veil as a religious garment.

While respecting a woman’s (and anyone’s) right to choose, a big part of me would still like to see both the niqab, and its polar opposite the page 3 girl feature, consigned to the dustbins of patriarchal history.

But I digress from my main point.

Did you know that we are all now – and for the next month and a bit – figuratively wearing the niqab?

If Mrs May is so shy of facing real people and real issues in Leeds and elsewhere, maybe she should take up the niqab?

The fact we have a General Election looming means we are in ‘purdah’ – the pre-election period of ‘sensitivity’ which limits and prevents a lot of the politically biased material that can be said and printed. It involves specific restrictions on the use of public resources and the activity of civil servants, sitting politicians and wannabes.

In many ways, it’s more a moral commitment than a legal one, and it is this that I find fascinating.

Because ‘purdah’ – literally translated – is the Persian/Arabic for ‘veil’, the exact word used to describe the protection of modesty and morality.

How much modesty and/or morality have we seen on display since the election announcement, I wonder?

And how much veiling of the real issues has there been?

Just a week ago, Prime Minister Theresa May made a flying visit to Leeds, stopping off in Harehills, an inner city suburb often cited as a hotbed of crime, unemployment and inequality. It also happens to be a long-term Labour stronghold. A great opportunity, then, for the PM to show this diverse, working class community that it and its people matter.

The mere act of turning up at the Shine building - a closed-down and then regenerated primary school which is in many ways a symbol of the good, bad and ugly of the New Labour period – should have been a genius move.

But it quickly turned into a a PR disaster, when it emerged that actual, real, local people had apparently been barred and the audience was made up solely of travelling Tory supporters and invited journalists. The party faithful were – it could be argued - veiling Mrs May from real voters.

Fast forward a few days, and local journalists in Cornwall lambasted the PM’s team for not allowing them to watch or film her on a factory visit, instead forcing them behind closed doors.

One reporter blogged: “The Prime Minister is behind this door – but we can’t show you. Her press team has said print journalists are not allowed to see her visiting the company.” So again, the PM was effectively operating in ‘purdah’ from the people.

There has also been a lot of criticism of the PM’s refusal to take part in any TV debates in the run up to June 8, insisting that she has already debated her main opponents in Parliament. She seems happy, instead, to keep repeating the “strong and stable” mantra ad nauseum.

If Mrs May is so shy of facing real people and real issues in Leeds and elsewhere, maybe she should take up the niqab herself?

It’s time for the PM and all our Parliamentary wannabes to step out of their fortress of soundbites, take this election to the people – and start unveiling the real issues.

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