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UK elections 2024: How Gaza is transforming the Green Party

The party's deputy leader Zack Polanski says Labour is complicit in war crimes and antisemitism allegations are being weaponised for political purposes
Green Party candidates and volunteers in Leicester (Leicester Green Party)
Green Party candidates and volunteers in Leicester (Leicester Green Party)

The Green Party of England and Wales could win a record number of votes in the upcoming general election, attracting former Labour supporters angered over Keir Starmer's policy towards Israel

Residents in Bristol Central, a constituency in the southwestern city of Bristol, received a letter through their doors just days into the general election campaign in late May.

Signed by 396 residents of the area, the letter heavily criticised the Labour Party

"It has been just six months since Keir Starmer ordered his MPs to not vote for a ceasefire in Gaza and our Labour MPs in Bristol listened to him," it read.

The letter urged residents not to vote for Labour in the election: "Many of us will be voting for their MP candidate Carl Denyer here in Bristol Central, who has consistently called for a ceasefire as Leader of the Green Party."

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Readers who looked at the small print at the bottom of the page will have noticed that the letter was in fact a Green Party political pamphlet.

Carla Denyer has been co-leader of the Green Party with Adrian Ramsay since 2021. She stood against Debbonaire in Bristol West in the 2019 election and came in second place.

This time, in Bristol Central, she hopes to defeat the Labour candidate - and Israel's war on Gaza is one of the major issues on which she's campaigning. 

Nationwide, Gaza has become a major cause of the Green Party's increased appeal to traditional Labour voters over the last few months. 

The party won big in Bristol at the local elections in May, becoming the largest party on the city council. 

Before the general election campaign started, the Greens had one seat in parliament. Now, in Bristol Central, where most people are under 35 and about a quarter were born in another country, polling suggests the party could win a second seat in parliament for the first time. 

Nationally, the party is polling around six percent, which puts it on track for its best result ever. Many of the new voters the party is attracting and hopes to win over are former Labour supporters disgruntled with Keir Starmer's leadership. 

Disaffected Labour voters

Over the last four years, Starmer has abandoned many of the left-wing economic policies he championed when he was running to be Labour leader. In recent months, Labour officials have been concerned that the party's policy towards Israel's war on Gaza in particular has lost it supporters in its key constituencies. 

In October, Starmer said Israel "had the right" to withhold power and water from Gaza, and he ordered his party not to back a ceasefire in a parliamentary vote in November.

The Green Party's deputy leader, Zack Polanski, told Middle East Eye that both the Conservative government and Labour are "complicit in the war crimes that are happening".

The Greens called for a ceasefire on 17 October and have backed both ending arms sales to Israel and measures in line with the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The party's election manifesto, published on Wednesday, promises that Green MPs will push for an "urgent international effort to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian land", as well as support for South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). 

At the local elections in May, Labour lost seats to the Greens in Bristol, Stroud, Newcastle and Kirklees, among other areas. Overall the Green Party gained 74 seats and now has 812 councillors across England (out of around 17,000).

In Leeds, the Greens won three seats and came second in 10 others. One new councillor, Mothin Ali, came under fire in sections of the national press for saying after he was elected: "We will not be silent, we will raise the voice of Gaza, we will raise the voice of Palestine, Allahu akbar!"

Ali, a former Labour supporter, says he received death threats after the news coverage.

Deputy leader Polanski said that there's a common misconception that all the new Green Party members are Muslim. "Some of them are, but you don't have to be Muslim to care about Gaza. It's a human rights issue."

'Weaponisation of antisemitism'

The Green Party has faced another media storm in the last two weeks. It blocked a "small number" of candidates from standing for parliament on 7 June after nearly 20 were accused of having shared antisemitic material online. 

The Board of Deputies of British Jews accused the Greens of not being quick enough to act on the problem. 

Deputy leader Polanski told MEE that antisemitism accusations are being weaponised for political purposes.

"I'm Jewish and one of only five Jewish people who have been in a leadership person in British politics," he said.

"It's very clear that the majority of what we've been criticised on is criticism of the Israeli government. One of the cases I saw in the press was a woman who'd marched with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. 

'I'm Jewish and one of only five Jewish people who have been in a leadership person in British politics'

- Zack Polanski, Green Party deputy leader

"In no one's book could that ever be antisemitic. What the weaponisation of antisemitism does is provide cover for the far right to engage in actual antisemitism, and for it to get missed because we've muddied the waters.

"And as a Jewish person, that's made me feel a lot less safe."

Polanski added that antisemitism is a significant problem in British society which he personally faces. "The conflation of Judaism and Israel can work in every direction, and that's why it's so important that there's a really clear boundary between those two things."

He said that the Green Party has been careful to keep its disciplinary process independent from the leadership because a failure to do so was a criticism of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour. 

New ground for the Greens

In Leicester, Britain's most multicultural city and Europe's first majority-minority city, the Greens hope to break new ground.

MEE spoke to Aasiya Bora, who is standing for parliament in Leicester West for the party. She is up against incumbent Labour candidate Liz Kendall, who abstained on the ceasefire vote in parliament in November. 

Bora stood for the party in the regional police and crime commissioner election in early May. And although the Greens had never stood a candidate in that election before, Bora gained 23,649 votes, coming in third - ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

In the city of Leicester itself, she gained 23 percent of the vote.

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Like many in Leicester, Bora is from Gujarat in India. She grew up in Sheffield and moved to Leicester when she was 14. She has raised her children there and worked as a supply teacher in schools across the city. 

Bora comes off as passionate and immensely sincere. A long-time Green Party member, she told MEE she's been an environmentalist since she was a teenager. In 2019 she joined the local branch of protest group Extinction Rebellion

The Greens should stand everywhere in the country, she said, because there "has to be an option for people who care about justice on multiple levels to have a box on the ballot where they can put an X".

Some constituents she talks to while canvassing say they'll vote Labour to support a Conservative defeat.

But many more, she said, tell her they can't in good conscience vote for the opposition party.

"Leicester is a refugee city. Its population has always cared about the situation in the Middle East, and Labour didn't back a ceasefire immediately," Bora said. "It's turning its back on the key things that make Labour what it is.

"I meet people who have spent years campaigning for Labour who are feeling heartbroken. People feel Labour's taken their votes for granted, especially older people."

She argues that while the Green Party was traditionally a largely one-issue party focused on the environment, it's become a party of "social justice". 

"Seeing nature as expendable is just a different side of the coin to seeing the poor as expendable, and both as resources to be used."

'Calling out the craziness'

Sharmen Rahman, meanwhile, is standing for the party in Leicester South against incumbent Labour candidate Jon Ashworth, who also abstained on the November ceasefire vote in parliament. 

She was a financial services worker and then a carer, which she said was a significant reason why she entered politics - to help other people. 

Rahman was elected as a Labour councillor in 2019, when Jeremy Corbyn led the party, and supported the left-wing direction in which he was taking Labour. 

But in 2022, Labour under Keir Starmer's leadership blocked her from a parliamentary longlist for liking a series of tweets which, among other things, criticised the party's leadership and media coverage of a report on Labour and racism.

In March 2023, Rahman then became one of 19 Labour councillors in Leicester, about 40 percent of councillors in the city, who were deselected ahead of local elections.

The party decided to appoint a National Executive Committee board to choose council candidates, who had previously been chosen by local members. 

The party was widely criticised because most of the deselected councillors were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Green candidate for Leicester South Sharmen Rahman (Sharmen Rahman)
Green candidate for Leicester South Sharmen Rahman (Sharmen Rahman)

Rahman left Labour. She joined the Green Party after Israel's war on Gaza began and is now standing as a parliamentary candidate for Leicester South.

"My son was born on 8 October 2023," she explained. "The pictures and videos coming out of Gaza really impacted the newborn phase. I was seeing my son's hands and feet, and the same hands and feet in the rubble in Gaza. I thought that this isn't the world I want to live in.

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"I felt the Greens were progressive. Many of the policies I cared about were ones the Greens were articulating. The Greens were a natural fit anyway, but they were the only ones calling out the craziness of not being able to back a ceasefire."

Rahman feels there's an "organic movement" from many former Labour voters towards the Greens.

"The two main parties are failing across the board," she said. "They don't have the answers to any of the main issues of our time - inequality, environmental issues, young people not being able to access secure and safe housing. And they have no morally clear answers regarding Gaza."

She said she goes to local events where people don't even know she's a parliamentary candidate but tell her they're voting for the Greens. 

An independent candidate, Shockat Adam, is also standing in Leicester South and has a high profile in parts of the constituency, where he's drawing strong support from previous non-voters as well as former Labour supporters. 

But the Greens received a significant number of votes in the constituency in the PCC elections in May, and they're likely to significantly increase their vote share on 4 July from previous general elections. And if that happens, the party's policy on Gaza will have been one major reason why. 

Deputy leader Zack Polanski told MEE that many people who have joined the Greens over Gaza have stayed for the party's other policies.

"What it's really done is open the windows, and we're now reaching communities that might not have previously noticed the Green Party."

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