'I've been in Labour 30 years. Standing against it was hard. But we won't be gagged'

Independent Pendle councillors who left Labour over its stance on Israel and Gaza have described last week's local elections as a victory 'for the people of Palestine'

The breakaway group accused the party of to 'gag' them amid a mass exodus in April. In Pendle, there are now no Labour Party councillors.

Following the May 2 election, there are now 12 independent councillors who left Labour left over Middle East issues.

Independent Naeem Ashraf was one of two councillors who first left Labour last autumn over its national position on Gaza. The other was Yasser Iqbal. They stood side-by-side as the latest poll results were declared, with Coun Iqbal punching the air in celebration.


Speaking after the declaration, Coun Ashraf said: "This is not just for the people of Pendle. This is for the people of Palestine. This victory is for them. Yasser Iqbal and I resigned from Labour last year. The reason was because of Keir Starmer's comments about cutting off gas and water to Gaza, which was totally against the law.

"People on the doorsteps in Pendle said they're never going to vote Labour while Keir Starmer is there. The whole community thinks what's going on [regarding Gaza] is wrong. It's across the board - not just Asian voters. I was speaking to people on Halifax Road who said they'd support us wherever we went.

"Similar things are happening with voters in Burnley and Oldham too, and these are just towns. There will be more voters in the big cities thinking the same. People think Keir Starmer does not feel the same as us. That's what we're getting on the doorsteps."


Another Independent Mohammad Hanif was also re-elected. He said he had faced a Labour Party candidate, a Conservative and another rival independent. Labour did not stand in every ward.

Coun Hanif said: "I was in the Labour Party for 30-plus years. I could have left it back in October but I felt it was important to fight for the cause. However, the party was gagging us from speaking. They said we cannot talk about certain things. We said this is not how we work. So we all decided to move.

"Standing against Labour was hard for me. I just had to fight the election on my record and history as a councillor. People know what I have done and I decided to sell myself on that basis.

"There was another, separate independent candidate who stood against me too, probably encouraged by the Tories. He had stood for the Tories for many years. However, I was elected again and I'm very grateful to all the residents who supported me. Some people who voted Labour called me after, saying they did not realise what had happened. But the thought [of support] was there. "


In other election developments, Pendle Conservatives had some councillors elected despite the general backdrop of losses blamed on the Westminster government. Conservatives now have 13 borough councillors and are the largest single group at Pendle Council. But they are outnumbered by the combined Independents and Lib-Dems, who are expected to continue their shared administration.

Conservatives wins include re-election for Nadeem Ahmed, the Conservative opposition group leader and former council leader; Ash Sutcliffe and Sarah Cockburn-Price, and new councillor Richard O'Connor for Vivary Bridge,

But fellow Conservative Coun Martyn Stone said public opinion was not positive. He said: "There's a lot of despair from voters. Despair about all the parties. There's no enthusiasm for national politics. They say nothing changes and politicians are all the same. People are concerned about doctors, hospitals and school places. They know about levelling-up but they've not seen it yet. They're a bit cynical.

"Having said that, some people do recognise that local councillors work hard and will come out to support us. That's the saving grace.

He added: "Most people didn't seem to know about the Police & Crime Commissioner elections."

Ash Sutcliffe said: "In Colne, people are more focused on local issues. I do think voters recognise that councillors work hard. And there are some important projects in Colne. I don't think we councillors get enough credit for some of the bigger issues we work on. Half our workload is case work and issues. But the other half is about bigger strategy and delivery, ensuring the council runs smoothly."

Elsewhere, Pendle Lib-Dems saw Tom Whipp and Brian Newman re-elected in Barnoldswick and Fence & Higham. And David Hartley was elected at Earby & Coates. The Lib-Dems now have eight borough councillors.