Gaza Concerns Take Gloss Off Labour’s UK Election Victory

(Bloomberg) -- Labour’s landslide UK election victory was tempered by some shock losses as the party hemorrhaged votes to independents who campaigned over Gaza and to the Greens in urban areas. Casualties included two members of leader Keir Starmer’s top team.

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Among the high-profile defeats was Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office minister and a key figure in the campaign, who unexpectedly lost his seat in Leicester South to an independent who focused on Gaza. Labour lawmakers Khalid Mahmood and Kate Hollern were also beaten by Gaza independents.

A central issue, especially among Muslims, was Starmer’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war. As he tried to avoid getting Labour pulled back into anti-Semitism controversy that previously dogged the party, he’s been steadfast in his support of Israel’s right to self defense since the conflict erupted in October.

Further damaging his standing with Muslims was the perception that he was slow to call for a cease-fire. Now a grouping of independent MPs, all elected on a pro-Palestine position, will be in parliament to keep him under pressure, with some in the Labour ranks also hoping Starmer will move quickly to formally recognize the state of Palestine.

Heather Iqbal, a former aide to Rachel Reeves, failed to win the new seat of Batley and Dewsbury, again losing to an independent.

Further highlighting the impact of Gaza on the election, a number of senior party figures were run close in their constituencies. Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, won his nominally safe London seat by only 528 votes, down from more than 5,000 in the previous election. Shabana Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary, saw her majority slashed to about 3,000 from 30,000.

Even candidates who left Starmer’s shadow cabinet to back early calls for a cease-fire, such as Naz Shah and Jess Phillips, saw previously comfortable majorities slashed to a few hundred. Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, was booed during her victory speech as she called out the behavior of pro-Palestinian protesters.

Some of these candidates were part of a wider trend in areas with large Muslim populations. According to official data compiled by Bloomberg, every constituency where more than 20% of the population is Muslim gave the Labour Party a smaller share of the vote compared to the 2019 election.

To be sure, there is no data on how many Muslims in these areas changed party, or which issues were responsible for the shift. Around 6.5% of the overall population is Muslim, according to 2021 census data for England and Wales, up from 4.9% a decade earlier.

A number of candidates also grappled with Starmer’s comments during the campaign that illegal migrants from Bangladesh “are not being removed.”

He later apologized, and prospective MPs including Rushanara Ali distanced themselves from his statement. Ali, one of the few Muslim women in Parliament, kept her seat in London’s Bethnal Green and Stepney but lost thousands of votes compared to 2019.

Green Gains

Another leading Labour light ousted was Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow culture secretary, who lost her Bristol Central seat to the Green co-leader Carla Denyer.

Again, despite the headline good news for the party nationally, it has bled urban liberal votes in some constituencies, potentially storing up a headache for the party down the line. A strong showing from the Liberal Democrats and the Greens will mean pressure on Labour from other progressive parties while in government.

Expelled figures from the marginalized left wing also denied Labour victory in some places. Former leader Jeremy Corbyn, standing against his old party, won as an independent in London’s Islington North. In other districts, former Labour candidates denied the party victories by splitting the vote so that the Conservatives won.

--With assistance from Aisha S Gani, Eamon Akil Farhat, Demetrios Pogkas and Andre Tartar.

(Adds chart and detail on constituency results from seventh paragraph.)

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