Revealed: Labour website says party ‘needs help’ defending 16 seats in more Muslim areas – including ultra-safe seats

Daniel Green
Labour has listed more than a dozen safe seats in places with large Muslim populations, such as Birmingham (pictured), as ‘battleground areas’

More than a dozen Labour-held seats with a significant number of Muslim voters have been described by the party’s website as “battleground areas”, LabourList can reveal, with activists told to stay put amid apparent fears of bleeding support over Gaza –including seats held by shadow cabinet members with huge majorities.

One MP told LabourList it showed the party “recognises that we have got work to do” rebuilding trust, while one think tank leader said Labour was right to worry about the “by-elections on home turf” it faces against a string of independent candidates.

Labour has a website where campaigners can enter a postcode to find their nearest “battleground” constituency, with many activists directed to Tory-held seats where Labour has the best chances of making gains.

READ MORE: Shaheen’s lawyers challenge Labour deselection as she claims ‘problem with brown people’

But LabourList uncovered 16 constituencies currently held by Labour with large Muslim populations where the tool informed local volunteers this week: “We need your help to hold this seat for Labour.”

These include the constituencies of Shadow Paymaster General Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood and Shadow Investment and Small Business minister Rushanara Ali.

It comes despite the fact Ashworth is defending a 46.4 percentage point majority over his nearest challenger, Mahmood a 73.2pp majority, and Ali a 63.4pp majority, according to a study of 2019 general election results as if they had been held on the new 2024 constituency boundaries.

Constituencies also thought to be at risk include Blackburn, Slough, all three Bradford constituencies and Luton’s two seats.

A screenshot from Labour’s volunteer sign-up website for Jess Phillips’ constituency of Birmingham Yardley


LabourList entered the 20 constituencies with the highest percentage of voters identifying themselves as Muslim in England and Wales into the tool to see where local activists were being directed, following Labour’s poor performance in more Muslim areas at the local elections.

While Labour had a good night at the locals overall, Sky News analysis had found areas where more than a fifth of residents were Muslim saw a 17.9pp drop in Labour’s vote share, with many independents making gains.

Of the 20 areas with the most Muslim voters, 13 Labour-held seats were listed as “battlegrounds”. Another, Rochdale, was a previously Labour seat won by George Galloway in the recent by-election amid a backlash over the party’s stance over Gaza.

We also uncovered three further seats with above-average Muslim populations that were marked as “battleground areas”.

To corroborate the findings, LabourList then analysed Labour’s 20 safest seats nationally, on notional 2019 results based on new boundaries. Only three were marked as “battlegrounds” – and each had a higher-than-average Muslim population.

LabourList also then picked 10 seats at random. Of these, only Huddersfield, solidly Labour in 2019 but with a higher-than-average Muslim population and where Labour recently lost control of Kirklees council, and Beckenham and Penge, a new seat always expected to be marginal, were classed as battlegrounds.

Several other randomly picked seats had much smaller notional 2019 majorities than Huddersfield but were not classed as battlegrounds.

Sign of Labour worries?

The website’s suggestion Labour needs “help holding” seats with vast majorities is likely to be read as a sign of how worried the party is about the falllout from the row over its Gaza stance.

Some might say the party’s website is likely using a standard set of text to encourage activists to campaign, and it may be there are some other Labour-held seats with average or below-average Muslim populations where the party is also directing locals to campaign near them.

LabourList also understands that the party’s activist volunteer tool directs members to campaign locally if their seats have not been twinned. But it begs the question of whether Gaza was a  factor that played into initial decision-making about which seats would be twinned or not.

Labour is expected to face a string of independent challengers campaigning on Gaza at this general election.

Mahmood faces a challenge in Birmingham Ladywood from independent Ahkmed Yakoob, who is reported to have secured 20% of the vote in Birmingham in the West Midlands mayoral contest.

‘Party recognises need to rebuild trust’

Naz Shah is standing for re-election as the Labour MP in Bradford West, one of the constituencies listed as a “battleground area” despite Shah securing a 27,000-vote majority in 2019.  Shah first won the seat in 2015, defeating Galloway.

She told LabourList: “We have to make sure we are putting extra resources in because the party recognises and acknowledges that we need to rebuild that trust. What this tells me is that the party recognises that we have got work to do.”

She added: “I have done so much work on the Palestine issue. I lost my frontbench position over the ceasefire vote in November. For me in Bradford West, I’ll certainly be standing on my record – and my record is very clear as to where I am on the issue of Palestine. I will not take a single vote for granted, be it Muslim or non-Muslim.”

Shah also stressed that, while Gaza does come up on the doorstep, there are also a myriad of other “bread and butter issues”, including NHS waiting lists and child poverty, an acute concern in the constituency.

Labour fights defensive and expansionist campaigns at same time

Sunder Katwala, a leading expert in ethnic identity, director of the British Future think tank and author of How to Be a Patriot, said: “Labour’s fighting an ambitious expansionist campaign to win seats, but it’s fighting at least half a dozen by-elections on home turf at the same time.”
He said Labour may try to focus debate on national issues, but it faces independent and Green challengers in areas like Birmingham and Rochdale who are “trying to create individual elections with a distinct micro-climate”.
“It makes sense Labour should be worried about its flank, and not have its eye off the ball.”
He added that Labour had had a “challenge” with some Muslim voters even before the Israel-Hamas conflict, but it had been exacerbated by it. If trends seen at the local elections were transposed onto the general election, Labour would “probably hold seats but in a much more fragile way”, he added.
Meanwhile Labour’s lead with British-Indian voters has been “eroding” as growing numbers back the Tories, Katwala suggested.
But he argued the importance of foreign policy to ethnic minorities was sometimes “overstated”, however.

Labour accused of taking voters ‘for granted’

Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s national executive committee on the left of the party, said:  “For far too long, Labour has taken some of these communities for granted and continues to do so as we have seen from the party’s behaviour towards Diane Abbott and Faiza Shaheen.

“Whenever a candidate is interviewed by the NEC for due diligence, they are asked to explain how any of their actions will be judged by the electorate, but the irony is that Keir Starmer’s actions following his awful LBC interview have done unprecedented damage to Labour’s chances in some of its safest seats in the country.

“Labour has lost hundreds of councillors and a number of councils because of those actions, and now risk some of our safest seats. It’s tragic that this was completely avoidable and is totally self-inflicted.”

What are the Labour-held, more Muslim battlegrounds seemingly at risk?

The 16 constituencies LabourList found labelled as “battleground areas” were:

  • Bethnal Green and Stepney
  • Birmingham Hodge Hill and Solihull North
  • Birmingham Ladywood
  • Birmingham Perry Barr
  • Birmingham Yardley
  • Blackburn
  • Bolton South and Walkden
  • Bradford East
  • Bradford South
  • Bradford West
  • Huddersfield
  • Leicester South
  • Luton North
  • Luton South and South Bedfordshire
  • Oldham West, Chadderton and Royton
  • Slough

Labour declined to comment.

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

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