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Muslim support for Labour plunges over stance on Gaza war: Poll

Poll commissioned by Labour Muslim Network suggests significant fall in support for opposition party ahead of looming UK general election
Starmer rowed back on comments in which he appeared to defend Israel's right to cut off water and electricity to Gaza, but has not backed calls for an immediate ceasefire (Justin Tallis/AFP)

A new poll suggests that Labour is losing significant support among British Muslims as Keir Starmer prepares for an expected general election later this year amid criticism over the party’s handling of the Gaza war.

Data collected by Survation, commissioned by the Labour Muslim Network (LMN), showed that 60 percent of British Muslims who expressed a preference for a party said they would vote Labour. The poll was based on telephone interviews with a sample group of 682 people.

Survation said this represented a 26 percent drop in support since the last election in 2019 when 86 percent of Muslims previously polled by the company said they had voted Labour.

A spokesperson for LMN said the poll showed that the Labour Party risks losing a “generation” of potential new voters if its leadership does not change its position over the situation in Gaza.

“These findings come in the context of over 100 days of Israel’s continuous assault on Gaza. Over 25,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 10,000 of whom are children, and the Labour Party’s response has been unacceptable and deeply offensive to Muslims across Britain,” said the LMN spokesperson.

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“Muslim voters have been watching and are now sending a clear message - they will not support any political party that does not fervently oppose the crimes committed against the people of Gaza."

'Muslim voters ... will not support any political party that does not fervently oppose the crimes committed against the people of Gaza'

- Labour Muslim Network spokesperson

Last year, Starmer defended Israel’s decision to shut off water and electricity to Gaza after Hamas launched an assault into southern Israel.

Starmer has since rowed back on these comments but still not called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza - instead supporting the British government’s call for steps towards a “sustainable ceasefire".

A Labour Party spokesperson told Middle East Eye that the party " is committed to a strong relationship with the Muslim community."

“We have been clear that we need to see a sustainable ceasefire as quickly as possible and that aid getting into Gaza must be ramped up," said the spokesperson. 

“Labour is committed to tackling Islamophobia across society and will continue to robustly stand up for the rights of Muslims in our party and wider society.”

Long considered the traditional political home for the UK’s Muslim community, Labour is facing growing pressure to mend its relationship with British Muslims.

Among issues that Muslim voters in the survey said would affect their vote, the Israel-Gaza war ranked fourth after the cost of living, the economy and the National Health Service.

But 70 percent said that party leaders' position on the conflict would be very important to them, while anothrer 15 percent said it would be somewhat important.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that the Labour Party had been running internal polls and focus groups to figure out how to win back Muslim voters.

Contributing to Labour’s fears is a grassroots group called The Muslim Vote (TMV), which has been endorsed by a number of organisations including the Muslim Association of Britain, the Muslim Council of Scotland, and Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) - and other Muslim civil society groups.

TMV says it has "thousands" of volunteers ready to support independent local political campaigns in constituencies which have a significant Muslim electorate and members of parliament who failed to vote for a ceasefire.

Last week, a spokesperson for TMV told Middle East Eye that in constituencies where it thinks it has an audience and "an independent approach makes sense", it will support independent candidates "with tech resources, networks, advice and data, as well as volunteers and help with funding".

Labour has faced heavy criticism over the leadership’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza. Resignations of Labour councillors in late October after Starmer said Israel "had the right" to withhold power and water from Gaza were reportedly dismissed by a senior Labour source as the party "shaking off the fleas".

More than 50 Labour councillors have since resigned citing the party's approach to the war in areas including Oxford, Burnley, Hastings and Norwich.

The poll suggests that opposition to the Conservatives among Muslim voters remains strong, with the governing party set to pick up just eight percent of Muslim votes, a figure that would represent a small decline on its vote share in 2019.

Among other parties, the Green Party was supported by 15 percent, the Liberal Democrats by nine percent, the Scottish National Party by four percent, and others by five percent.

In voting intention figures published on Friday, Survation said Labour retained a steady 17-point lead, supported by 44 percent of voters, compared with 27 percent for the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Labour is seeking to overturn the Conservatives' current 58-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.

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