It has been confirmed that Bracknell MP Andrew MacKay is to step down at the next General Election. According to statement issued today his decision comes following a conversation with David Cameron this morning.
Andrew has been an excellent MP for Bracknell and I consider it a shame that he has found himself in this position. However, his position was untenable in the current climate. There will now be some keen competition for his Bracknell seat, which in normal circumstances would be considered safe.
I very much hope that his wife and Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride will not be forced out as well.
This week I received a Reading Borough Council press release announcing that agreement has been reached between the Council and the local Muslim community on a 125 year lease on land on the corner of Wokingham Road and Green Road on which they can build a mosque. Those with good memories will recall that a similar announcement was made last spring at a packed meeting in the Pakistan Community Centre, at which I was present. In fact Labour seem to have made similar announcements on an annual basis for the last few years, usually a few weeks before elections are due. There are no local elections this year but – oh look – we have European elections coming up on 4 June!
The press release describes how the lease will enable the local Muslim community to raise the funds to build the new facility which “will include a prayer house, washing facilities, smaller prayer houses, a library, a conference room, classrooms for male and female students, a meeting centre for older people and parking”. It also describes the concept for the finished building as being “classical in design with a silver dome in the centre”.
This all sounds wonderful but completely ignores the fact that the local Muslim community has the shell of a mosque sitting unfinished on Oxford Road. Building began and got as far as the metal girder framework of the building before the money ran out. It has been sitting as an unfinished skeleton structure for well over a year now with no sign of work recommencing. It also ignores the fact that the Green Road site does not have the room for all that the Council claims for it without it being a multi-storey structure. There also remain questions as to whether the Muslim community wants this. What they want and need is a mosque for prayer, for the hundreds of faithful that currently spill onto the streets at Alexandra Road.
Assuming that this announcement is not another cynical pre-election ploy by Reading’s Labour Group, how is the money to be found for the new amazing sounding Green Road mosque, when they cannot finish the one on Oxford Road? If anyone has any answers I would be interested to know.
The press release goes on to say that the existing Alexandra Road mosque will be sold off for private housing and the proceeds divided with the South Street mosque. Anyone who knows anything about mosques and the Muslim community knows that once a site has been used as a mosque it can and will never voluntarily be returned to its previous use. It is holy ground, sanctified by the prayers of the faithful and must forever remain in Muslim use. The press release’s statement that the site will be turned over to much needed residential use is therefore whistling in the wind.
The leadership of the Muslim community has been bullied by the local Labour Party into agreeing to anything in order to get their cherished new mosque. The elders know that parts of the agreement they are being pressed to sign are undeliverable and a dangerous gulf is opening up between those that acknowledge this and those that prefer to stick their head in the sand. Labour like to talk a lot about “community cohesion” but they themselves are creating severe strains within the Reading Muslim population.
If it is right (as I believe it is) to allow the development of a purpose built mosque in East Reading then the Borough Council should make the land available without unrealistic strings attached. Let the community then raise the funds they need to build their mosque certain in the knowledge that the whole community is behind the project.
Who knows, maybe then Labour will be able to have another photo opportunity next April when the foundations are laid, just before the 2010 local elections.