Had 3 ministers round mine this morning for a cup of tea. No, really. The reason for the visit was that the three in question – Tessa Jowell, Yvette Cooper and Ann Keen were listening to the opinions of Muslim women before taking in some canvassing in the Ealing Southall by-election. Also now familiar with Huq towers are the BBC’s Guto Harri and MP and you tube star Sion Simon. Both were (at seperate times in the morning) hi-fiving my 3 year old Rafi.

The word “focus group” has some pretty negative connotations these days, as does task force and all that gubbins so the idea was an informal chat over a cuppa with no question off limits. The audience was selected by me – not that huge given a 10.30 weekday timeslot but still vocal in their opinions. We heard from a party activist about how difficult it could be to persuade formerly loyal voters to back Labour lately; a city lawyer described discrimination pre 9-11, let alone after that and 7-7. Other subjects raised included the way that some Muslim men are considering changing their names in the current climate and (of course) Jack Straw on the hijab. I chucked in something about unrepresentative people that go around being “professionally Muslim” with the ear of the government when the masses are more mundane folk who cannot command the attention of those that matter. It’s all chicken-egg stuff though. People don’t listen to you unless you’re organised in a group but then the organised ones are often not worth listening to.

I think our ministerial trio did more listening than talking which is the way it should be really. There is always a danger though that (a) this sort of meeting becomes just a whinge-fest and (b) there is no follow up. On the whole I felt that the balance was about right. Perhaps it was due to the fact it was a sunny day but it didn’t feel like a total slag-off. One of the women who got my slightly surreal Tuesday text [“Tessa Jowell @ my house for tea tommorow. Bring any Muslim women”] said she couldn’t make it but that I ought to ask if they’ll still be dunking hob-nobs with the sisters once the by-election is over. I tried to make the point to Tessa and co. Time will tell I suppose. In the meantime their assurances that they’ll brief Virendra on our meeting will make all the more sense if he gets elected, so once again get yourself down to Ruskin Hall, Church Street, Acton W3 if you possibly can between now and close of poll at 10pm tommorow if you have a spare minute and it’s do-able. There’ll be lots of GOTV stuff going on. More details here. Every vote counts and we should never take anything for granted. Polls open at 7am tommorow.

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