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Leaving Labour: How Palestine Policy Is Shaping The Muslim Votes In Britain

13.06.2024 18:57

The UK is poised for 'historic' general polls in July as swathes of Muslim voters reconsider their support for Labour over its perceived lack of support for Palestine, a member of The Muslim Vote campaign tells Anadolu While falling Muslim support is not likely to prevent a win for Labour on July 4,

By Aysu Bicer

LONDON (AA) — As the UK gears up for upcoming general elections early next month, the country's Muslim community, comprising of 4 million people or nearly 6% of the electorate, finds itself at a critical juncture, poised to leave their mark on the political landscape.

Many Muslim voters are now reconsidering their traditional allegiance to Labour in the July 4 elections over their dissatisfaction with its stance on international issues, particularly Palestine.

The opposition party's position on Gaza has evolved since Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel in October last year, as support for Israel saw an initial surge.

However, since February, the party has been calling for an immediate cease-fire, along with the release of all Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Despite the shift, Labour's initial stance has led to a decline in support among Muslim voters.

A recent poll by Hyphen revealed a marked shift, with many voters considering an independent pro-Palestine candidate as a viable alternative to Labour.

The survey highlights that 44% of Muslim voters place the Gaza conflict among their top five election concerns.

Of these, an overwhelming 86% are open to voting for an independent candidate focused on this issue. For 21% of Muslim voters, the conflict is the single most important election issue.

This growing concern is reflected in the general population as well.

Among the 12% of voters who rank the Israel-Palestine conflict among their top five concerns, 64% expressed a willingness to support an independent pro-Palestine candidate.

The Liberal Democrats and Greens have experienced a 3% and 2% increase in Muslim voter support, respectively.

'En masse' Muslim departure from Labour

Abubakr Nanabawa, a 24-year-old coordinator for campaign group The Muslim Vote, emphasized the gravity of the situation.

"The general election will be, in our opinion, a historic election, where, for the first time in UK history, Muslims will abandon the Labour Party en masse," he stated.

Nanabawa acknowledged that while Labour is likely to win the next election despite the exodus, he warned that the party's future success could hinge on addressing the concerns of Muslim voters.

"If they want to have the votes of the Muslim community, they're going to have to earn it. Maybe they don't need those votes in 2024, but in 2029 and 2034, they won't be able to win elections or majorities without having policies and leadership responsive to the asks of Muslim communities."

This sentiment reflects widespread discontent within the Muslim community, driven by Labour's stance on international issues, particularly Palestine.

The community's growing perception of being marginalized within the party is only hastening the search for alternative political representation.

Nanabawa criticized Labour's internal dynamics, suggesting that the party's current leadership is not conducive to diverse opinions.

"It's quite clear that the Labour Party is trying to purge left-wing people, pro-Palestinian voices from the party," he noted.

"Keir Starmer is a ruler who does not really enjoy having much opposition within his MPs. A secure and confident leader would want and admire differences of opinion ... But instead, we have a leader who wants MPs who all agree with him and do as he asks."

'Broken duopoly'

According to Nanabawa, 86% of Muslims voted for Labour in the UK's 2019 elections. But the outcome of local election held earlier this year suggest that this number could fall dramatically in areas with a high Muslim population.

Nanabawa pointed out that despite Labour gaining seats and votes across the country in the recent local elections, the party saw declining support in constituencies where Muslims make up 20% or more of the population.

"Will the Labour Party still win this election? Absolutely," Nanabawa said. "However, they will struggle to secure a number of key seats where there are concentrated Muslim populations. This shift is not just a temporary trend but could extend over the next five, 10, 15, or even 20 years."

He emphasized that this change is driven by broader dissatisfaction not only among Muslim voters but also among other marginalized groups.

Nanabawa criticized both Labour and the Tories for their "broken duopoly" and lack of substantial policy differences.

"Communities are tired of being ignored," he stated, highlighting the poor treatment of member of Parliament Diane Abbott and the neglect of Black and working-class communities. "This duopoly cannot continue much longer. If the Labour and Conservative governments continue to disregard these communities, they will find it increasingly difficult to win key seats."

Going for Greens

Taslima, resident from Kent who plans to vote in the upcoming elections, expressed her frustration with Labour leader Starmer's perceived lack of support for Palestine.

"I think lots of people in our community ... are going into Green party as a third option," she said, explaining that this is caused primarily by the Labour leader's stance.

Taslima emphasized the Muslim community's desire for fair treatment, as they feel marginalized in the current political climate. "We don't think we are treated as fairly as we should ... The biggest reason is Palestine."

Magda, a Londoner from Westminster Council, echoed similar concerns. She remains undecided about who to vote for, stressing the importance of addressing issues like Palestine, immigration, and public health care. "We've been out on the streets screaming about Palestine ... no one's listening," she remarked.

Magda criticized Starmer's handling of these issues, noting that many Muslim voters are now looking at independent candidates or the Green Party. "It's a shame, because I've always been a Labour supporter, but this time around, I don't think so," she said.

While also acknowledging this dilemma, Gulam Husain thinks Labour is still the lesser of two evils.

"If you have two bad men, and if you have to select one, then you have to choose the less bad person ... I'm thinking to cast my vote in Labour," he said.

He recognized the party's internal conflict over supporting Israel and Palestine, in what will be a complex decision for many Muslims in Britain. -

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