Labour ‘must regain Muslims’ trust’ as Gaza hits votes and ‘bigotry’ row erupts

Tom Belger
Gaza ceasefire protest at Scottish Labour conference. Photo: Tom Belger

The chair of the Labour Muslim Network has warned Labour has “so much work to do with regaining the trust of Muslim voters”, as the party’s Gaza stance appeared to dent local election support in some areas and a row erupted over “Islamophobia” claims.

Ali Milani, who stood against former Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the 2019 general election, told the BBC there was “hurt” and “betrayal” among many Muslim voters at Labour not immediately backing an Israel-Hamas ceasefire and not supporting an arms embargo. “We’re now seeing the electoral consequences of that.”

‘We have to show we value Muslim lives’

Milani said: “We are desperate to see a Labour government, but that changed Labour Party cannot leave Muslim populations in the rear-view mirror…This is the last warning, this is the last time we go to the polls before a general election.

“If I was a Labour MP in Bradford or Birmingham or Leicester or parts of London or Manchester, I would be seriously concerned. While Labour’s having a fairly good night which we’re pleased with across the country, in areas like Oldham, Bolton…Elswick in Newcastle…we’ve seen a decline in Labour’s vote.

“What we have to do is both in policy and in rhetoric, send a very clear message to Muslims in this country that we not only value their votes, but we value our lives. That message is not getting through.”

Gaza effect on vote share, though some cite other factors

BBC analysis of a string of early results on Friday morning found that while Labour’s vote share was up nationally, it was down a significant 16% in the areas with higher-than-average Muslim populations and results declared. By contrast the Greens made gains.

In Oldham, Labour lost seats to independents in five wards, losing control of the council in the process. Retiring councillor Paul Fryer told The Oldham Times:Labour have been in power in Oldham for 13 years, perhaps people are a bit tired of Labour. In some parts of the borough, it’s the Gaza issue that may lose them the seat.”

But the council’s leader said it was not “fair” to blame Labour’s Gaza stance, telling the BBC “years of austerity” had hamstrung the council.

In Rochdale, Labour lost one seat and George Galloway’s Workers Party won two seats, though retained control. Labour lost control in Kirklees too, losing five seats – coming after two councillors quit in protest over the party’s Gaza stance earlier this year.

One canvasser in Hounslow, west London, campaigning for London mayor Sadiq Khan, told LabourList this week support was holding up but Gaza was coming up on the doorstep in Muslim households. Results are expected over the weekend.

In Newcastle, the Labour group ended the night with two fewer seats, retaining control comfortably with 45 seats to the Lib Dems’ 23. But the figures conceal two losses to the Greens and two losses to the Lib Dems. Green party national co-leader Carla Denyer said she was “delighted” by the Green’s first ever gains in the city, putting it down to a “notable movement of Muslim voters from Labour to Green”.

While some put the party’s local election troubles in Newcastle down to Gaza, others highlighted a now-scrapped low-traffic neighbourhood trial.

One senior north-east Labour source with close links to the party leadership said the results were “dreadful” and a Tory gain from the Lib Dems a “humiliating disaster”, and said it looked like local internal party tensions and the handling of the LTN had played a role. ” Who the hell in their right mind scraps a major traffic scheme just weeks before polling day, in full knowledge it will be used by political opponents in a number of key marginal seats?”

A Momentum spokesperson said: “From Oldham to Newcastle, Blackburn to Bolton, Labour’s core vote has sent a clear message: they will not be taken for granted.”

Labour will ‘work hard’ to win back support

Shadow cabinet member Alison McGovern told Times Radio Labour losses  in the city were worrying, and where the party loses it will listen to voters and take on board their views.

Campaign coordinator Pat McFadden told Times Radio the conflict was “an issue in some parts of the country”, but Labour would “work hard” to get back the support of those who had lost trust in the party. He added: “Trying to get a better future for the Palestinian people, would be a really high priority for Labour’s foreign policy, if we were to win that election.”

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, who has faced particular pressure over Gaza in his east London constituency, said Labour was “calling for a ceasefire now” and urging Israel not to invade Rafah. “I don’t deny that there are people out there who are feeling let down and I want them to know that we’ve heard. We will take that on the chin, and we’ll work hard to win people’s trust back at future elections.”


Party drawn into ‘Islamophobia’ row

A row also broke out on Friday after the BBC reported a senior party source had told the broadcaster: “It’s the Middle East, not West Midlands, that will have won [Conservative candidate] Andy Street the mayoralty. Once again Hamas are the real villains.”

Milani said it was “blatant, unadulterated, unashamed Islamophobia”, while MPs including Mick Whitley, Stella Creasy, Tahir Ali, Jess Phillips, Zarah Sultana, Apsana Begun and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, as well as campaign group Momentum, were among those condemning the comments.

A party spokesperson moved to distance Labour from the remarks, telling LabourList: “The Labour party has strongly condemned this racist quote which has not come from anyone who is speaking on behalf of the party or whose values are welcome in the party.”




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