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LABOUR’S support among Muslim communities is in meltdown over the party’s backing for the Israeli genocide in Gaza, party officials are conceding.
The party is belatedly waking up to the danger of lost seats across the country as Muslim voters turn against it. Panicking MPs are urging Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to take remedial action.
The action being taken, however, seems largely to involve opinion polls and WhatsApp chats rather than adjusting the substance of the party’s approach to the crisis in Gaza.
Labour’s problems began with Sir Keir backing Israel in withholding food and water from besieged Palestinians, and have deepened with his refusal, in line with the Tories, to call for a ceasefire.
Gaza is “an issue that generates strong emotions” a party spokesman said today, adding that Labour was committed to a “dialogue with people” over the issue.
More than 50 Labour MPs broke with the leadership to vote for a ceasefire, with eight resigning from the front bench to do so.
In addition, more than a hundred local councillors, many of them Muslim, have quit the party over the issue, depriving Labour of control of several authorities.
Some right-wing Labour MPs are feeling the heat. Ilford North MP Wes Streeting is among those understood to be concerned.
He has a 5,000-vote majority and has been a strong supporter of Israel. There is a significant Muslim community in the seat and a strong local challenger, Leanne Mohammed, has been adopted to stand against him.
The party also faces a struggle in Rochdale where a by-election is being held following the death of MP Tony Lloyd.
Workers’ Party leader George Galloway is standing for the seat, in which around a quarter of voters are Muslim.
Mr Galloway, whose lifetime of campaigning for the Palestinian people has given him strong popularity in such constituencies, said today: “It seems to have come as a surprise to Labour that its fanatical turn to Israel, its vindictive witch-hunt of Corbyn and his supporters, has proved unpopular with many voters.
“This calls into question not just Starmer’s moral but his political qualifications to lead the country.”
There is a proliferation of initiatives aiming at confronting Labour electorally. Some, like Muslim Vote, explicitly target the Muslim community, while others seek support from all sections of the electorate alienated by Labour’s leadership.
A Labour frontbencher is quoted by The Guardian as acknowledging that “we’ve lost the Muslim vote. The Muslim community is no longer a safe voter base for us because of how we initially responded to the war. So we’re just focused on damage control.”
However, Labour has failed to rectify the situation.
In recent weeks, shadow minister Wayne David has said that recognition of a Palestinian state by a Labour government will depend on Israeli approval, shadow cabinet member Lisa Nandy has backed cutting off funds to the UN body aiding Palestinian refugees and MP Kate Osamoor has been stripped of the whip for calling Israel’s actions in Gaza genocidal.
Several backbenchers have written to shadow foreign secretary David Lammy complaining that his policy “effectively gives Israel a veto on Palestinian self-determination” and “will put recognition into cold storage for the foreseeable future.”
Labour’s problems over its Palestine positioning extend far beyond Muslim voters.
Many young people from all backgrounds have attended the huge solidarity marches, and Labour fears they may vote Green or for other alternatives at the next election.
The Guardian quotes a party official as warning that “the discontent is much wider than the leadership realises. If we don’t get on top of this soon we are going to have trouble later this year.”
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