UK opposition suffers major Muslim vote losses in local elections

UK opposition suffers major Muslim vote losses in local elections
UK opposition suffers major Muslim vote losses in local elections

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: A series of local election victories by the UK’s opposition Labour Party has been overshadowed by a major fall in support among Muslim voters, leading to concern within the party ahead of a general election later this year.

After local elections were held across the country on Thursday, Labour suffered key losses in areas with high Muslim populations due to controversies over the party’s stance on the Gaza war.

Labour must do some “searching” in response to “questions” over its performance, one MP said.

The potential loss of Labour candidate Richard Parker in the West Midlands mayoralty election led to a racism row after an unnamed party source blamed “the Middle East” on deciding the race.

In total, the party gained more than 140 council seats during the elections, The Guardian reported.

But those gains are overshadowed by the potential West Midlands defeat and the Conservative candidate for mayor of London, Susan Hall, running a closer race against incumbent Sadiq Khan than previously expected.

Labour have “trouble brewing on their left flank” after focusing on traditionally rural and whiter areas, said Rob Ford, a politics professor at the University of Manchester.

“There has been a substantial loss of support in heavily Muslim areas and they are going backwards a bit in progressive areas and areas with students. It is progress at a price,” he added.

By offsetting urban losses with gains among rural voters, Labour would win about 34 percent of votes at a general election compared to 25 percent for the Conservatives, the BBC reported.

Yet fear of bleeding urban voters, including Muslims, is driving anxiety in the party ahead of the general election, sources told The Guardian.

“The polls (which predicted a 20-point lead for Khan) were completely wrong, this is going to be much closer than expected,” one source said.

A source in Birmingham, where independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob stood as a spoiler to Labour, said: “Yakoob is picking up over 50 percent in some inner-city wards, so the Gaza impact may be bigger than first estimated.”

Labour also suffered a shock loss in Oldham, losing control of the council after a number of seats were taken by pro-Palestinian independent candidates.

In Manchester, the party lost its deputy leader to a candidate from MP George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain.

Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, told the “Electoral Dysfunction” podcast in the wake of the vote that the party will have to “wake up and face” the issues that led to losses against independent and Workers Party of Britain candidates.

“I very much expect, as the mayoral votes come in, that in places like Birmingham, Bradford, places with high Muslim populations, as we’ve seen overnight in Oldham, that the Labour Party will have some questions that they have, and some searching to do themselves,” she added, according to Sky News.

Areas with a proportion of Muslim voters higher than 20 percent recorded average losses of 17.9 points for Labour.

The comments by a party source concerning the West Midlands race have led to a post-election race row.

“It’s the Middle East, not West Midlands that will have won (Conservative Mayor Andy) Street the mayoralty. Once again Hamas are the real villains,” the Labour source reportedly told the BBC.

The remarks were condemned by figures including Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“This is a disgusting way to talk about Muslim voters, conflating them with Hamas and treating them as a monolith,” she said. “It reeks of racism and entitlement. Such comments should have no place in the Labour Party.”

According to The Times, MP Zarah Sultana said: “Once again, I’m deeply disturbed by Islamophobic quotes given to the media by ‘Labour sources.’

"When politicians are confronted with racist bile, it should be immediately condemned. As a party we need to listen to and acknowledge concerns, not hold British Muslims in contempt.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, conceded that the party’s stance on a Gaza ceasefire was “partly” a factor in the surprise defeats.

“Many people feel really strongly about this — and rightly, because tens of thousands of people have been killed, including the majority of them women and children,” she said.

Muslim vote organizers hailed the success of the elections in sending a message to Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Party sources warned that Labour must work overtime to regain the trust of Muslim voters ahead of a general election expected later this year.

“People use local elections to send the government — and sometimes the opposition — a message,” a senior Labour source told The Times.

“The damage is done and even though our position is much better now, if Israel pushes into Rafah people will say we didn’t do enough to urge restraint right at the start.”

A Labour MP added: “It’s terminal with a lot of people, and it’s not just Muslims. On our doorknocks, we’ve had a lot of middle-class white voters raise it as well.”

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