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Analysis: UK Muslims send stark election warning to Labour Party over Gaza stance

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Labour saw sharp fall in support from Muslims in traditional strongholds in local elections

After decades of strong support, the UK’s main opposition Labour Party has seen a sharp decrease in support from Muslims, primarily because of party leader Keir Starmer’s pro-Israel stance during its ongoing war on Gaza.

Starmer, despite heavy criticism, refused to call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza until late February.

In 58 local council wards analyzed by the BBC, where more than one-fifth of the residents are Muslims, Labour’s share of the vote was down 21% compared to the previous election in 2021.

Party officials were quick to make statements on the issue, vowing efforts to win back Muslim votes as Labour chases a majority in the next general election, which must be held no later than January 2025.

Ellie Reeves, Labour’s deputy campaign coordinator and a member of the Shadow Cabinet, admitted that the party had “a lot of work to do” to rebuild support among Muslim voters.

“I understand people’s concerns about what’s happening in Gaza. The loss of life there has been intolerable. That’s why we have called for an immediate cease-fire,” she told BBC Breakfast.

However, Muslim communities remain skeptical due to the party’s reluctance to call for a cease-fire for more than four months after Israel launched its war on Gaza last October.

The shift in the party’s stance eventually came after dozens of senior figures, including shadow ministers, resigned from their posts.

Nearly 70 Labour parliamentarians defied party policy and called for a cease-fire, while around 100 councilors quit the party.

Many of those who resigned either joined one of the other opposition parties or decided to run as an independent candidate in the elections.

Starmer enjoys bitter victory

Asked how Labour will reconnect with Muslim communities, Starmer initially dodged the question, insisting that the party “had a fantastic set of results across the country.”

He said the party’s job is to win the votes it had lost in “some places.”

When pressed on the specific question of reconnecting with Muslim voters, Starmer remained elusive, saying: “Wherever we haven’t got the votes … we will fight to get those back.”

Starmer faced strong public backlash after he said that Israel had the “right” to cut power and water supplies to millions of Palestinians living in Gaza.

After days of silence, the Labour leader argued he intended to say that Israel has the right to defend itself and retrieve the hostages with actions that are “within international law.”

“I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defense, and when I said that, I meant it was that right to self-defense. I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines,” he said.

‘Arab and Muslim communities will not forget this’

A string of resignations took place shortly after Starmer’s controversial statement and refusal to call for a cease-fire, among them Kensington and Chelsea Councilor Mona Ahmed.

While announcing her resignation last October, she told Anadolu that comments made by both the ruling Conservatives and her party had been “deplorable.”

“Nobody will forget how Starmer chose to be a cheerleader of war crimes and collective punishment. He could have called for de-escalation, but instead he contributed to the chorus of voices which enabled the genocide we are now seeing. Arab and Muslim communities will not forget this,” she said.

‘Electoral consequences’

Despite the overall positive showing in last week’s local elections, the Labour Party lost dozens of seats to other parties or independent candidates in various parts of the country.

The West Midlands metropolitan county, the second-most populous county in England, has historically been a Labour stronghold with decisive support from Muslim communities.

This time, however, the contest was on a knife’s edge.

Labour’s Richard Parker became West Midlands mayor with 225,590 votes, just ahead of Conservative candidate Andy Street’s 224,082.

A substantial number of voters backed independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob, a criminal defense lawyer whose campaign focused on Gaza, as he came in third with 69,621 votes.

Parker told the BBC that he is committed to rebuilding Labour’s trust with Muslim communities.

“I understand their concerns. I understand how important this issue is to them, and I’m committed to working with our council leaders, our councilors, our MPs in the region and with the Labour Party nationally to start to rebuild the trust we’ve lost with the Muslim community,” he said.

The chair of the Labour Muslim Network, Ali Milani, has warned the party has “so much work to do with regaining the trust of Muslim voters.”

Milani said there was “hurt” and “betrayal” among many Muslim voters at Labour not immediately backing a cease-fire and not supporting an arms embargo.

“We’re now seeing the electoral consequences of that,” he said.

Source: AA

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