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UK Labour says party needs to rebuild trust with Muslims after Gaza backlash

Party’s deputy campaign coordinator Ellie Reeves said it had a great deal of work to do to win back the support of Muslim voters
Protesters against Israel's war on Gaza in London on 27 April (AFP/Benjamin Cremel)
Protesters against Israel's war on Gaza in London on 27 April (AFP/Benjamin Cremel)

A senior official from Britain’s opposition Labour Party said it needs to rebuild trust with the Muslim community after local election results showed a widespread backlash over the party’s position on Israel's war on Gaza.

Ellie Reeves, the party’s deputy campaign coordinator, told the BBC Breakfast programme that “a lot of listening needs to be done”.

“We know that we've got a great deal of work to do to rebuild trust with Muslim communities,” Reeves, who represents the London constituency of Lewisham and Penge, said during the broadcast on Saturday.

"I understand people's concerns about what's happening in Gaza. The loss of life there has been intolerable - that's why we have called [for] an immediate ceasefire,” she added.

The party is losing its traditional voter base amongst Muslim community over its leadership’s support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

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When the conflict began in October, Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared to say Israel had the "right" to totally cut power and water supplies to Palestinians in Gaza, and later that month stated his opposition to a ceasefire, which he claimed would "freeze" the conflict, at a Chatham House event.

He has repeatedly said Israel "has the right to defend itself".

'We know that we've got a great deal of work to do to rebuild trust with Muslim communities'

- Ellie Reeves, Labour MP

At the time, the Labour Muslim Network put out a statement calling on Starmer to retract his comments.

"Collective punishment is a war crime. Cutting off power and water to hospitals and life-serving facilities is a war crime," it said.

Since then, at least 34,500 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, the vast majority of them women and children.

While Starmer's has since softened his stance and called for a humanitarian ceasefire in late February, tens of thousands of Muslim voters appear to have switched their votes away from Labour over its response to the conflict.

The party's biggest loss so far occurred before the local elections held on 2 May.

On 29 February, former Labour MP George Galloway won the traditional Labour heartland seat of Rochdale in a by-election, riding on the local Muslim population’s anger over the party’s position on Gaza.

General election worries

Labour had fielded a candidate in Rochdale but withdrew its support after reports emerged that he had made comments accusing Israel of allowing the attacks of 7 October to take place.

The Workers Party of Britain, which Galloway leads, claimed one big scalp last week by taking the Longsight ward in Manchester, defeating the city’s deputy council leader, Labour's Luthfur Rahman.

That was despite Rahman also putting his support for the Palestinian cause at the forefront of his campaign.

In a statement sent to Middle East Eye, the Labour Muslim Network's chair, Ali Milani, said the anger amongst Muslim voters over Gaza was clearly being reflected at the ballot box.

"There is no question now that Muslim communities concerns and anger is translating into real votes. A clear message has been sent in these local and mayoral elections." Milani said.

"We have to now take extraordinary steps to show we have learned the lessons and we are seriously committed to rebuilding trust." He added.

War on Gaza: Labour Party calls for 'immediate humanitarian ceasefire'
Read More »

Overall the local elections were a success for Labour, having picked up 186 new local council seats across the UK, with the ruling Conservatives losing 474.

The concern amongst party leaders will be whether their loss of support amongst Muslims will cost them a majority in the general election expected to take place later this year.

While Labour’s Richard Parker eventually won the West Midlands regional mayor contest, an anonymous Labour source caused controversy after telling the BBC he was set to lose to Conservative party candidate, Andy Street, because of Hamas.

“It’s the Middle East not West Midlands that will have won Street the mayoralty, once again Hamas are the real villains,” the source said.

The West Midlands area includes Birmingham and several other areas that have large Muslim populations.

Labour currently enjoys a healthy lead in opinion polls in the run-up to the general election and while it is expected to win most seats, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims there is a chance that the opposition could fail to win an absolute majority.

According to analysis by University of Southampton academic Will Jennings, in places where Muslims make up more than a fifth of the population, Labour has experienced an average drop in support of 18 percent.

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