The Labour party’s position on Gaza appears to have cost it votes in the UK election

Despite Labour’s landslide win in the UK general election, the party lost several seats after a strong showing from pro-Palestinian independent candidates, in a sign of anger towards Keir Starmer over Labour’s position on Israel’s war in Gaza.

Five independent candidates who have been vocal in their support for Gaza won parliamentary seats, while a surge in votes for independents elsewhere denied Labour a victory in areas they were expected to win, leaving a small dent in its otherwise huge majority but raising questions about its foreign policy positions.

In Leicester South, a seat in an industrial city in the English Midlands, Labour shadow cabinet member Jonathan Ashworth lost his seat by 979 votes to Shockat Adam, an independent candidate who made his support for Gaza a key part of his electoral pledge to voters.

“This is for Gaza,” Adam declared in his victory speech.

Ashworth’s defeat comes as a huge shock. At the last general election, when Labour slumped to its worst defeat since 1935 under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Ashworth still won the seat with a huge majority, receiving 67% of the vote.

In Islington North, Corbyn was reelected to the seat he has held since 1983 – but this time as an independent, rather than for Labour. Corbyn, who was Labour leader between 2015 and 2020, was expelled from the party after the UK’s human rights watchdog found Labour to be responsible for “unlawful” acts of harassment and discrimination under his leadership, when complaints of antisemitism proliferated.

Corbyn won 49.2% of the vote, while the Labour candidate came in second with 34.4%. Corbyn said the voters of Islington North were “looking for a government that on the world stage will search for peace, not war, and not allow the terrible conditions to go on that are happening in Gaza at the present time.”

In Blackburn, Labour incumbent Kate Hollern – who won a majority of 18,304 at the 2019 general election – lost by just 132 votes to independent candidate Adnan Hussain.

In Dewsbury and Batley, the independent Iqbal Mohamed also defeated Labour incumbent Heather Iqbal.

And in Birmingham Perry Barr, independent Ayoub Khan defeated Labour incumbent Khalid Mahmood by 507 votes.

Meanwhile, in Chingford and Woodford Green, a constituency in east London, the left-wing vote was split between Labour and Faiza Shaheen – a candidate who stood as an independent after being ousted by Labour during the campaign – allowing the Conservative incumbent Iain Duncan Smith to retain his seat by about 5,000 votes.

“Our vote was a combination of those appalled by how I was treated, those who took issue with having an imposed candidate who didn’t know us, those who were never going to vote Labour after Starmer’s stance on Gaza, and those that have never voted before,” Shaheen wrote on X after the result. “Labour split the vote the moment they deselected me.”

Jonathan Ashworth gives a speech during a press event at in London, England, on July 1, 2024. - Lucy North/PA/AP
Jonathan Ashworth gives a speech during a press event at in London, England, on July 1, 2024. - Lucy North/PA/AP

Anger over Labour’s Gaza position

Labour had feared that it could lose votes over Gaza since Starmer drew criticism in some quarters over comments made last year, shortly after Hamas launched its October 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza.

Speaking to UK radio station LBC in October, Starmer – a former human rights lawyer – said Israel “has the right” to withhold power and water from Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but added: “Obviously, everything should be done within international law.”

The comment caused outrage among many left-wing and Muslim voters, leading to furious protests outside the constituency offices of several Labour Members of Parliament (MPs) and complaints of harassment.

The anger was compounded after the party refused to back a Scottish National Party (SNP) motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. Labour did, however, pass its own similar motion shortly afterwards.

Many of these seats where Labour appears to have lost votes over its position on Gaza have sizable Muslim populations. According to the 2021 census, the populations of Leicester, Birmingham, Ilford and Blackburn are all more than 20% Muslim.

Labour lawmakers cling on

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary set to play a leading role in Starmer’s next government, clung onto his seat in Ilford North by just 528 votes, ahead of the independent candidate Leanne Mohamad in second.

On a visit to the constituency before the election, CNN spoke to Mohamad while she was door-knocking in search of votes. She said, after Streeting abstained from a vote on a Gaza ceasefire, she decided to enter politics and abdicate from Labour.

“As a Palestinian, that place is no longer for me… The Labour party does not represent us,” she told CNN. “My family were expelled and forced out of Palestine in 1948. My grandparents never thought they’d see something worse than that.”

“All they wanted was their politician to vote for a ceasefire. No to killing, no to more violence. No to more bombs, and they couldn’t even bring themselves to do that,” she said.

Meanwhile Jess Phillips, also a prominent Labour figure, won her Birmingham Yardley seat by just 693 votes. Her closest opponent, Jody McIntyre, stood not as an independent but for the Workers Party of Britain, a fringe party that “makes no apology for our support for Palestine and the people of Gaza.”

As her victory speech was met with loud boos and chants of “Shame” and “Free Palestine,” a visibly angry Phillips described the harassment she and her staff had faced during the campaign.

“This election has been the worst election I have ever stood in. Today, a brilliant community activist who puts on events for every single part of our community, came out to campaign with me, and people filmed her on the street and then slashed her tires,” Phillips said.

Phillips broke party rank in November by voting for the SNP motion calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, but she has continued to face abuse – like many female candidates, she said.

“The women in this election campaign have fared considerably worse than any of the men in our city with regard to the threat and aggression,” Phillips later told ITV.

CNN’s Sana Noor Haq contributed reporting.

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