Muslim Vote group plans to 'punish' Labour party over Gaza stance

Sir Keir Starmer (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)
Sir Keir Starmer (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

The Labour party has been divided on the war on Gaza since it started in October. This week, a Scottish National Party motion calling for an immediate ceasefire has caused more Labour infighting.

Now a new group called The Muslim Vote is directing Muslim voters to back a slate of locally approved candidates, saying it will not back anyone “who voted against or abstained on the ceasefire vote”.

Abubakr Nanabawa, spokesperson for Muslim Vote, told the Standard: “The community feels let down by both the Labour party and the Conservatives. But in the last election, the Muslim bloc formed one of the largest for Labour. It seems like the Labour leadership and Keir Starmer believe muslim voters have nowhere else to go. I think there is an anger towards that complacency.”

“We’re working so that MPs who didn’t vote for a ceasefire are punished, and so that long term in the future the Muslim is not taken for granted and ignored. We are already making a difference. Muslims are not one monolith, but there are core things we are all united on: peace in Palestine, Islamophobia being stamped out, and a stronger NHS especially in the more deprived constituencies being 3 core issues” Nanabawa said.

“Muslims and all justice-loving folks across the community are promoting the message TMV stands for. Already there are early signs that Labour is imploding under that pressure” he said. Nanabawa said that groups like his were having an effect. “Ever since it’s been announced that an independent candidate is standing against [Shadow Health Secretary] Wes Streeting, his tone has completely changed and he’s been stronger and stronger on calling for a ceasefire” he said.

It’s said that anger over Gaza could lead to lost Labour seats in London. Streeting is feeling the heat, facing competition in his Ilford North seat: British Palestinian Leanne Mohamad is running against him, hoping to dig into his relatively small majority of over 5,000 votes. Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow is also facing a challenge from an independent lawyer. Late last year, Labour lost a seat on Newham council to an independent anti-war candidate.

A survey for the Labour Muslim Network from the start of February estimated that only 60% of British Muslims who backed Labour at the 2019 general election are willing to do so again at the next election, which is likely to be this year. Also earlier this month, shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said there has been "a loss of trust" from British Muslims in Labour, and urged it to "rebuild" relations with the community.

Some of the party’s old guard, who remember Labour disputes over Iraq, have defended the current position. Labour grandee and former minister Peter Mandelson said in November that calls for Starmer to back a ceasefire were “ridiculous”. “In due course, we will turn to politics, we will turn to negotiation. But that time is a long way off. And in the meantime, we have to defeat cold blooded murderers” Mandelson said on a podcast. Speaking last week, he said he still feels “broadly the same” as he did then.

Tony Blair’s ex-spin doctor Alastair Campbell drew some criticism for dismissing a question by a young Labour supporter who felt let down by the lack of calls for a ceasefire. “Get off your high horse and vote Labour,” he said, defending Starmer’s line. “Does he really want to use up political capital now with the Americans in a way that would make your friends feel a bit better for a few days?” Campbell said.

The row began soon after the October 7 attacks by Hamas, in which 1,200 people were killed during attacks in Israel. In response, Israel launched a campaign in the Gaza Strip, in which almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, including over 12,000 children.

 (PA)
(PA)

In the first days of Israel’s campaign, Keir Starmer appeared to say on LBC that the country “does have the right” to restrict water to Gaza, in contravention of international law. He later apologised, saying he had been misunderstood, but the quote has been plastered on flyers ever since. In November, 56 Labour MPs backed a Scottish National Party motion in the Commons calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Eight shadow ministers resigned, among them Jess Phillips.

Last week, there was a dispute over the party’s selection of candidate Azhar Ali to fight a by-election in Rochdale. Soon after he was selected, leaked comments showed Ali repeating anti-semitic conspiracy theories about how Israel had been given advance warnings of the October 7 attacks. Instead of instantly ditching him, Labour defended Ali for a day, until more comments emerged. George Galloway, who has appealed to voters put off by Labour, is now favourite to win Rochdale. Since then, they’ve also suspended candidate Graham Jones, for saying “f**king Israel” at a public meeting.

Those in Labour who want the party to call for a ceasefire look with nostalgia to ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn. “The massacre in Gaza has been a test of our humanity – and our political leaders have failed” Corbyn says. He adds a message to the leadership: “Stop equivocating. Stop stalling. Stop hiding, and call for an immediate ceasefire, now.”