Does Islamic extremism pose a threat to parliamentary democracy?

FSU General Secretary Toby Young was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Friday 23rd February, where he debated whether Islamic extremism poses a threat to parliamentary democracy with Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti.

FSU General Secretary Toby Young was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Friday 23rd February, where he debated whether Islamic extremism poses a threat to parliamentary democracy with Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti.

It was a great debate and conducted in exactly the right spirit for something so important.

The debate took place in the wake of the extraordinary decision by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to break with Parliamentary convention by allowing Labour MPs to vote for an amendment to an SNP motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The SNP had been hoping to split the Parliamentary Labour Party by tabling a motion calling for an “immediate” ceasefire, which the Party opposes but which some Labour MPs support.

However, the Speaker then allowed MPs to vote on Labour’s amendment to the motion, which called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but made a longer ceasefire contingent on Hamas releasing the Israeli hostages. He did so despite being warned by the House of Commons clerk that to do so would break with parliamentary convention for such opposition day debates.

Sir Lindsay has since explained that he took this decision because of genuine fears over the safety of Labour MPs who have faced threats from pro-Palestine – and pro-Hamas – supporters over Labour’s hesitation on calling for a ceasefire. In the absence of being able to vote on their own party’s amendment, loyal Labour MPs would have felt obliged to vote against the SNP motion and that, in turn, could have led to violent reprisals against them and their families by Muslim extremists, according to this line of reasoning.

That may sound far-fetched, but Hoyle explicitly said that he had acted out of fears for “the safety of MPs and their families”. According to some reports, Keir Starmer warned Hoyle in their face-to-face meeting that if he failed to allow MPs to vote on Labour’s amendment, thereby forcing some to vote against a ceasefire, and they or their families were subsequently attacked, he would have “blood on his hands”.

Such fears are not necessarily misplaced. On Tuesday, in a debate on rising antisemitism in the UK, Sir Michael Ellis, the Conservative former attorney general, had already flagged the horrendous threats levelled at MPs as a result of the Gaza conflict. “The aggressive hounding by protesters of MPs, especially Labour MPs out campaigning and a Conservative colleague at his home [Tobias Ellwood], is a real threat to the democratic process.”

If Sir Keir did raise this concern with the Speaker, he wasn’t the only Parliamentarian to do so.

On the night of the Gaza debate, Sky News political editor Beth Rigby wrote on X: “Am told that many MPs made personal pleas to Sir Lindsay about amendments. MPs’ have growing concerns for personal safety after incidents of confrontations & protests over Israel-Hamas.”

But if Sir Keir did make that argument – and if it did indeed weigh in the Speaker’s decision to allow Labour MPs to vote for the amendment – that means British democracy is in crisis. In effect, the Speaker of the House of Commons, at the urging of the Leader of the Opposition, has broken parliamentary convention to avoid inflaming a violent, Islamic mob. That will only embolden such mobs to continue to threaten parliamentarians and if such senior members of the House of Commons capitulated to their demands this time, what’s to stop them capitulating to similar demands in future? Members of Parliament are supposed to represent the people who elected them. If they’re doing the bidding of an extremist minority for fear of violent retaliation if they don’t, it is the end of parliamentary democracy.

Addressing these concerns in the Chamber following the Speaker’s decision to allow a vote on Labour’s amendment, Conservative MP Charles Walker spelt out the seriousness of this development.

“Members of Parliament now feel that they have to vote in a certain way to safeguard their safety and the safety of their family,” he said, adding: “This is a far bigger issue than the debate we’re having tonight, because if people are changing their votes in this place, or changing their behaviours in this place, because they’re frightened what may happen to them or their families out there, then we have a real problem.”

Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick also told the House that “the real issue of the events of the last 24 hours is not the party-political shenanigans”, but that Parliament “appears cowed by threats of violence and intimidation” from “Islamist extremists”.

Instead of tackling the spread of violent, Islamist ideology, successive governments have allowed it to spread across Britain, no doubt fuelled even further by unprecedented levels of immigration from Muslim countries, some of the migrants being undocumented. The chaotic events in the House of Commons last Wednesday night should be a wake-up call. If we don’t tackle this problem now, British parliamentary democracy, once the envy of the world, will effectively be over.