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How British Muslims Sent a Message to Labour Party Over Gaza Stand

Photo : AP

Following the UK general elections, the Labour Party faces multifaceted challenges beyond traditional issues like the economy, housing, and immigration. Despite securing a landslide victory, Labour must now recalibrate its approach to Muslim voters, who overwhelmingly deserted the party due to its stance on the conflict in Gaza. The party lost at least five seats, four of which went to Independent candidates, in constituencies with significant Muslim populations.

In constituencies where Muslim voters constituted over 10%, Labour's vote share dropped by an average of 11 percentage points as pro-Gaza candidates made substantial gains, according to The Spectator magazine.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has historically supported Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas and other groups in the Middle East. Only recently did he explicitly call for an immediate ceasefire, a move perceived by some as too little, too late to appease Muslim voters concerned about Gaza.

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One of the most notable losses for Labour was senior party leader Jonathan Ashworth's defeat in Leicester South to Independent candidate Shockat Adam. Ashworth, who was set to be a minister in Starmer’s cabinet, acknowledged the mandate's significance regarding Gaza in his post-results address.

"In our very small gesture, this brings nothing to people across the world and brings the voiceless," Adam said as he waved a Palestinian headscarf, a traditional headdress that has become a significant image in pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel movements.

In the neighboring Blackburn constituency, Independent candidate Adnan Hussain defeated Labour's Kate Hollern. Salim Sidat, a former Labour councillor who led Hussain's campaign, stated that the result sent a clear message: Muslims should not be taken for granted anywhere in the world.

"We want to send a very, very clear message to Keir Starmer and anyone else in the world that Muslim votes should not be taken for granted," Sidat told The Guardian. "We wanted someone to stand up, we wanted Labour to stand up, people who have been voting for us all our lives. Keir Starmer was the issue, Kate Hollern was not the issue."

Kauser Patel, who supported Shockat Adam, criticized Labour's Ashworth for becoming complacent. "I have always been a Labour voter, but he made me change because he became complacent," Patel told the newspaper. "He didn't listen to us. When he abstained from the Gaza vote, he closed his doors to us. That wasn't good enough."

In addition to Leicester South and Blackburn, Labour also lost four other seats due to the Gaza issue:

  • Khalid Mahmood lost the Perry Barr seat, which he had held since 2001, to Ayoub Khan, a lawyer and former councillor who left the Liberal Democrats over their Gaza stance.

  • Heather Iqbal lost the Dewsbury and Batley seat to Iqbal Mohamed, an IT professional who left Labour due to dissatisfaction with the party's Gaza policy.

  • In Leicester East, Labour lost to a Conservative candidate as independent voters eroded Labour's base.

  • Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader dismissed for failing to combat anti-Semitism within the party, defeated Labour's Praful Nargund in the Islington North seat. Corbyn has consistently refused to condemn Hamas's terrorist activities and has been a vocal critic of Israel, contributing to divisions within Labour during his tenure.

This poses a delicate moment for Keir Starmer, who has sought to move Labour towards the center and distance the party from the far-left elements that exacerbated anti-Semitism and alienated moderate voters. Despite his efforts, Starmer's support for Israel's right to self-defense and condemnation of Hamas have strained relations with British Muslim voters.

Earlier this year, Starmer advocated for an immediate ceasefire and voiced support for recognizing a Palestinian state, but this has not been sufficient to appease critics within the Muslim community. Observers suggest these election results will intensify pressure on Starmer's new government to reconsider its stance on Israel and Gaza.

Writing in The Spectator, Jawad Iqbal highlighted that Labour strategists expected Muslim voters who abandoned the party in May's local elections to return for the parliamentary elections, but this did not materialize. He predicts increased scrutiny and demands on Starmer's administration regarding policy towards Israel and the broader Middle East, including calls for recognizing an independent Palestinian state and halting arms sales to Israel.

July 6, 2024 4:25 p.m. 520

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