'This is for the people of Gaza,' says a new independent MP

Despite huge UK win, Labour party struggled against some pro-Palestinian candidates

Senior figure Jonathan Ashworth loses seat to pro-Gaza independent as UK’s new ruling party underperforms in areas with large Muslim populations; Corbyn wins seat as independent

Pro-Palestinian protester holds a megaphone ahead of a march in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza, in London, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Thomas Krych)
Pro-Palestinian protester holds a megaphone ahead of a march in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza, in London, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Thomas Krych)

LONDON, England — Britain’s Labour Party suffered significant election setbacks in areas with large Muslim populations on Friday amid discontent over its position on the war in Gaza, despite a landslide victory in the parliamentary vote.

The party, which has long counted on the backing of Muslim and other minority groups, saw its vote fall on average by 10 points in seats where more than 10% of the population identify as Muslim.

Jonathan Ashworth, who had been expected to serve in Keir Starmer’s Labour government, lost his seat to independent Shockat Adam, one of at least four pro-Gaza candidates to win. Several other Labour candidates came close to losing.

“This is for the people of Gaza,” Adam said, holding up a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf at the end of his acceptance speech on winning in the Leicester South constituency.

Pro-Gaza independents also won in Blackburn, and Dewsbury and Batley, beating Labour into second in both. Labour also failed to win in Islington North, where its former leader, veteran left-winger and ardent pro-Palestinian activist Jeremy Corbyn, won as an independent.

While Labour has said it wants the fighting in Gaza to stop, it has also backed Israel’s right to defend itself, angering some among the 3.9 million Muslims who make up 6.5% of Britain’s population.

Britain’s former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn poses outside Islington Town Hall in London on June 5, 2024 after submitting his nomination papers to officially stand as an Independent candidate in Islington North for the July 4 general election. Corbyn defeated the Labour candidate to win the seat on July 4. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

Starmer has faced criticism for only gradually shifting toward calling for a ceasefire. While the party has committed to recognizing a Palestinian state, it has not set out a definitive timetable for doing so.

A Savanta poll last month found that 44% of Muslim voters ranked the conflict as one of the top five issues and, of those, 86% said they would consider backing an independent running on the issue.

“The Muslim Vote” campaign called on voters to pick pro-Palestine candidates running as independents or from smaller parties like the left-wing Workers Party, which put forward more than 150 candidates. There were 230 more independent candidates than at the last election in 2019.

The Workers Party’s outspoken leader George Galloway won a by-election in March for a vacant parliamentary seat in Rochdale, which has a big Muslim population, after Labour withdrew support from its candidate over a recording espousing conspiracy theories about Israel.

Labour won the seat back from Galloway on Friday.

Rochdale MP George Galloway makes a statement to members of the media outside of the Houses of Parliament in London on March 4, 2024, after his swearing-in ceremony. Galloway lost his seat during the parliamentary election on July 4, 2024. (Adrian Dennis/AFP)

Other Labour lawmakers only just held on to their seats, as they were challenged by pro-Gaza candidates.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s health chief and a senior member of the party, won by just 528 votes over British-Palestinian Leanne Mohamad in Ilford North.

Jess Philipps beat the Workers Party candidate Jody McIntyre by just 693 votes and then struggled to give a speech amid booing and jeering by pro-Palestinian activists.

Philipps was one of several of leader Keir Starmer’s “shadow cabinet” to leave their high-profile policy roles over the party’s Gaza policies.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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