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UK elections 2024: Pro-Palestine candidates’ victories stun as Labour sweeps to win

Keir Starmer becomes prime minister after Labour landslide ends Conservatives' 14-year rule, but party stung by Gaza protest votes
British Prime Minister Keir Starmer (L) shakes hands with King Charles at Buckingham Palace on Friday (AFP)

Keir Starmer's Labour party has swept to a landslide victory in the UK's general election, though it appears to have haemorrhaged votes to pro-Palestinian candidates, several of whom picked up shock wins.

Starmer was formally appointed prime minister by King Charles in a meeting at Buckingham Palace on Friday after his party won 412 out of 650 parliamentary seats in Thursday's general election.

The outgoing Conservatives, led by Rishi Sunak, plummeted to just 121 MPs, while the centrist Liberal Democrats secured 71 MPs.

Though the exit poll predicted Nigel Farage’s anti-immigration party Reform UK to perform better than expected, in the end its four MPs were outnumbered by independents running on platforms explicitly denouncing Israel’s war on Gaza.

Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader who won his seat as an independent, told Middle East Eye: "Palestine was on the ballot - and I promise to stay true to my word to stand up for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination."

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There were also successes for the left-wing Green Party, which has campaigned heavily in several areas on its support for a ceasefire in Gaza and the suspension of arms sales to Israel. It won four seats, having previously held just one.

In Scotland however, the Scottish National Party, which has led calls in parliament for support for a ceasefire in Gaza in recent months, retained just nine seats, down from 48, as support for Labour surged across the country.

In a statement on Friday, Zara Mohammed, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, welcomed the change of government. But she said that for many British Muslim voters, and others, there had been an "overwhelming sense of helplessness over the situation in Gaza" and the unwillingness of the UK government to call for a ceasefire.

'Palestine was on the ballot - and I promise to stay true to my word to stand up for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination'

- Jeremy Corbyn

"We have seen this best expressed in the seats where independents have now won or taken a considerable share of the vote, an indication that no vote should be taken for granted," Mohammed said.

Mohammed said Muslims in the UK had faced an uptick in Islamophobia and vilification for more than a decade and called for "meaningful dialogue" to foster trust in Muslim communities.

"Addressing critical issues such as the war in Palestine, the cost of living, the state of the NHS and hate crime must be at the forefront of this new administration's agenda. We also urge the new government to eliminate anti-immigration rhetoric and work towards bringing our country together."

For months, many voters across the UK had voiced dissatisfaction with Labour, especially over the party's early stance when it called for an "enduring cessation of fighting" in Gaza instead of an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.

Starmer also appeared to back Israel's decision to cut Gaza from power, water and other necessities, despite legal experts condemning the move as a war crime.

Although the party later shifted its position and Labour denied Starmer was supportive of Israel's total siege, much of the British public said they felt compelled to vote for an unwaveringly pro-ceasefire candidate and party.

Independents take seats

Chief among the shock independent victories was Shockat Adam, who unseated Jon Ashworth, a prominent member of Labour's shadow cabinet, in the East Midlands constituency of Leicester South.

In the northwestern ex-industrial town of Blackburn, Adnan Hussain unseated Labour's Kate Hollern.

The 34-year-old solicitor defeated both the Labour incumbent and the challenge of George Galloway’s Workers’ Party of Britain, which was also running a pro-Gaza campaign. Galloway himself lost his seat in northwest England’s Rochdale.

Jeremy Corbyn, who was expelled from Labour over his reaction to criticism of its response to antisemitism allegations, ran as an independent in London’s Islington North, demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Despite a huge effort by Labour to unseat him, Corbyn beat his former party by more than 7,000 votes.

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In a statement issued after his re-election was confirmed, Corbyn said victories for independent candidates were a warning to Starmer's incoming government "that dissent cannot be crushed without consequences".

In Birmingham Perry Barr, independent Ayoub Khan pulled off a shock win against Labour's long-standing parliamentarian Khalid Mahmood.

Like many independents, Khan won the backing of much of the constituency’s Muslim population, as well as others critical of the Israeli war on Gaza and Labour’s policies on tackling poverty.

Those dynamics also powered independent Iqbal Hussain Mohamed to a resounding victory in the West Yorkshire constituency of Dewsbury and Batley against Labour’s Heather Iqbal. Mohamed won 15,641 votes compared to Iqbal’s 8,707.

Elsewhere, there was a narrow loss for British-Palestinian candidate Leanne Mohamad in Ilford North, where she was just 500 votes shy of Labour heavyweight Wes Streeting, who is expected to become health minister.

'Sunlight of hope'

Starmer, who will become prime minister later on Friday, hailed the results as a “sunlight of hope”. His party’s majority of 170 is the largest since Tony Blair’s victory in 1997.

Yet the election appeared to reflect voter dissatisfaction with the Conservatives - who had been in power for 14 years and presided over a period of chaotic politics, economic decline and Britain’s contentious departure of the EU - rather than a mass endorsement of Labour and its policies.

Labour leader Keir Starmer delivers a speech during a victory rally in London early on Friday (Justin Tallis/AFP)
Labour leader Keir Starmer delivers a speech during a victory rally in London early on Friday (Justin Tallis/AFP)

Labour’s vote share stood at just 35 percent, 1.4 percent more than 2019, when it suffered a crushing loss to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, and five percent lower than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won in 2017.

Starmer himself fought off the challenge of pro-Palestinian independent Andrew Feinstein.

The Labour leader’s 18,884 votes in Holborn and St Pancras was down 17 percent from the last election, with former South African MP and anti-apartheid campaigner Feinstein in second with 7,312.

Rishi Sunak, the outgoing Conservative prime minister, conceded defeat early Friday, taking responsibility for his party’s worst-ever election result and saying it had been a “difficult night”.

Speaking later prior to his formal resignation from government, Sunak confirmed that he would also step down as Conservative Party leader once his successor had been chosen.

"I have heard your anger, your disappointment, and I take responsibility for this loss," he said.

Several prominent Tory MPs lost their seats, including former prime minister Liz Truss, ministers Penny Mordaunt and Grant Shapps, and arch Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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