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UK Muslims losing faith in Labour under Starmer, poll finds

Community 'less favourable' with opposition party according to new survey, as tight by-election looms
Labour leader Keir Starmer leaves a polling station after casting his vote in local elections in London on 6 May 2021 (AFP/File photo)

New polling shows that Muslims in the UK are losing faith in the Labour Party, driven partly by unfavourable views towards leader Keir Starmer. 

Advocacy group the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) released a survey on Monday in parnership with Survation, one of the UK’s largest polling organisations, based on telephone interviews with 504 Muslims between 20 May and 4 June.

'Muslim voters are sending us a clear message - our votes and support should not be taken for granted and must be earned'

- Labour Muslim Network

It is thought to be one of the first-ever opinion polls conducted of British Muslims. 

The data found that Muslims overwhelmingly supported Labour over the ruling Conservatives, but that they had recently become much more critical of the opposition party. 

“Muslim voters are sending us a clear message - our votes and support should not be taken for granted and must be earned,” the LMN said in a statement. 

“Winning back the trust of those whom we have lost and strengthening our bond with our existing supporters must begin urgently. This can only be done through a serious commitment by the leaders throughout our party and movement.”

Muslims critical of Labour under Starmer

Seventy-two per cent of respondents said that they identified with Labour, and the party had a net favourability of 42 per cent. This was compared to just nine per cent who identified with the Tories, with the party having a favourability rating of -39 per cent.

However, 37 per cent of Muslims had become “more unfavourable” towards Labour over the past 12 months, roughly coinciding with Starmer replacing Jeremy Corbyn as leader in April 2020.

The party’s net favourability fell to -12 per cent among Muslims in that period, while the Conservatives rose to -28 per cent. 

In terms of party leaders, Starmer had a personal rating of minus seven per cent among Muslims, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rating stood at -33 percent. 

Notably, a similar share of Muslims had a “favourable” view of Starmer (22 per cent) as Johnson (20 per cent). 

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This is likely to be of some concern to Labour, given the fact that Johnson has been criticised over alleged Islamophobic comments in the past, including comparing veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes”.

Among Labour voters specifically, Muslims were far more critical of Starmer. Those who voted Labour in 2019 among the general population had a 32 per cent favourability of the 58-year-old, while the figure for Muslim Labour voters was minus four per cent. 

“The message of this poll is clear. Muslims in the UK are among the most loyal Labour voters anywhere in the country. However, that longstanding relation is in peril,” Ali Milani, a Labour councillor in Hillingdon and LMN executive member, told Middle East Eye.

In November, a report by the LMN found that Muslim supporters of Labour had experienced anti-Muslim sentiments in the party, and felt that it did not take Islamophobia seriously enough.

It also found that a significant share of Muslims did not feel represented by the opposition, citing concerns about foreign policy positions and the Prevent counterterrorism strategy. 

“Too many Muslims feel that their loyalty has not been returned or respected by our party,” said Milani, who stood as Labour's parliamentary candidate against Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2019.

“From Kashmir to Palestine, Islamophobia to Prevent, the issues close to the hearts of our communities cannot be ignored,” he added.

“For those of us that have been sounding these alarm bells within Labour, this is clear and thorough evidence. We have to act now and with urgency.”

Batley by-election 

Last week, Starmer called on the prime minister to recognise a Palestinian state during the G7 leaders' summit, which took place this weekend.  

The Labour leader had previously been criticised by Labour members for a belated response to violence perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians last month. In April, he failed to respond to a letter, exclusively seen by MEE, in which British-Palestinian members raised concerns about internal treatment.

'Too many Muslims feel that their loyalty has not been returned or respected by our party'

- Ali Milani, Labour councillor

Some observers have linked Starmer’s comments on a Palestinian state with an upcoming by-election in Batley and Spen on 1 July, which has a significant Muslim population.

The by-election was prompted after the sitting Labour MP, Tracy Brabin, was elected as the first mayor of West Yorkshire. 

Labour is facing competition in Batley and Spen from former MP George Galloway, who has made the recent violence in Israel-Palestine central to his campaign. 

Galloway has previously served as a member of parliament in Glasgow Kelvin, Bethnal Green and Bow, and Bradford West, the latter two of which have a sizeable proportion of Muslim voters.

The by-election has garnered further attention after a teacher at Batley Grammar School was suspended in March for showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad during lessons. 

“I desperately want the Labour Party to win again. But for us to have a chance to win - in Batley and Spen and around the country - we have to earn the trust and support of Muslim voters once again,” Milani said.