Labour Party in panic over Muslim support exodus

Details emerged on Wednesday 31st January that the Labour Party was engaged in a nationwide programme of polls and focus groups designed to understand and stem the exodus of Muslim support, which has developed directly as a consequence of the party’s stance on the Israel/Gaza conflict. According to the report published in the Guardian newspaper, Labour’s central office has been engaged in an emergency initiative to ascertain the full extent of the damage caused by comments made by the party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, during a live broadcast on the morning of 11th October on LBC Radio, just days into the Israeli Gaza conflict.

Sir Keir Starmer on LBC

In the interview with Nick Ferrari at that time, Starmer said:

‘I’m very clear, Israel must have that right, does have that right, to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility.’

Nick Ferrari then asked:

‘A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power? Cutting off water?’

To which Starmer replied:

‘I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation. Obviously everything should be done within international law, but I don’t want to step away from the core principles that Israel has right to defend herself, and Hamas bears responsibility for these terrorists attacks – And I would call on all responsible states, particularly Middle East responsible states, to call this out for what it is, and to stand with the world in condemning, utterly condemning, these actions by Hamas’

The Labour Party’s ‘damage limitation’ initiative, which has taken place in constituencies with high Muslim populations up and down the country, whilst aiming to understand the full implications of Starmer’s comments also attempted to establish the potential fallout as a result of the party’s failure to sanction calls for a ceasefire – which saw as many as 50 Labour MPs breaking with the leadership to vote in favour of an SNP motion calling for one. The schism also saw dozens of mostly Muslim Labour Councillors resign from the party.

LBC Radio programmes besieged by Muslim callers

On Wednesday, 31st January as news of the initiative was published in the Guardian newspaper, Nick Ferrari’s LBC programme was dominated by Muslim callers – most of whom had been lifetime supporters of Labour, who unanimously declared that they could not vote for the Labour Party in the next General election or at anytime in the future. One caller, who introduced himself as Ali Milani, the National Chair of the Labour Muslim Network, expressed his embarrassment to mention his Labour Party affiliation to friends and family, who he said were 100% intending to withdraw their support for the Labour party. He said:

‘This is a serious problem. This is not a situation we wanted to find ourselves in, absolutely. The Muslim community has been one of the longest and most loyal communities to support Labour anywhere in the country. In fact in 2019, 83% of registered voters who are Muslim supported the Labour Party. But we are now in an absolute crisis point. We are in a position where Labour is about to dismantle one of its longest serving most loyal voter bases anywhere and it was entirely avoidable. So I am dismayed at this story, but absolutely not shocked.

‘Sir Keir’s interview was one of the most damaging things that’s happened in this crisis’

He continued:

‘Sir Keir’s LBC interview was one of the most damaging things that’s happened in this crisis – suggesting that cutting off water, fuel and aid to Palestinian civilians and children and hospitals was hugely damaging. The position on Palestinian recognition has been shocking. The suggestion that recognition of the Palestinian state is somehow in the gift of other states and part of a process, where Israel is recognised unilaterally as it should, is shocking. But also it’s the way Palestinians have been spoken about throughout this crisis. We’ve had nearly 10,000 dead children, 26,000 dead people – mostly civilians and Muslim communities are watching these people live with pictures on their social media feeds and on the news and what they are seeing from the Labour Party is a complete dehumanisation of these lives. There is no empathy, no sympathy, no recognition of the absolute tragedy that’s coming out of the region and they are looking at themselves and saying ‘why would we support a party that doesn’t support our lives?’

UK Muslims show their unwavering support for the besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip

I’ll never vote Labour again, say Muslims

The calls from disenchanted Muslims, dominated consecutive programmes all the way into the afternoon – on the James O’Brien and then the Shelagh Fogarty shows, with wall to wall callers expressing their absolute dismay at the attempt of senior Labour Party shadow cabinet minister’s to deny the significance of the recent poll, and their attempts at rowing back on the meaning of Starmer’s comments. The callers were consistent in their determination to withdraw their support from the Labour party. Traditional staunch Labour voters – who had voted Labour all of their lives, were referring to 100’s of Muslim councillors who had written to Sir Keir Starmer expressing their concerns – with no meaningful responses received.

James O’Brien in his introduction made reference to comments by the Shadow Foreign Minister – Wayne David. He said David:

‘…told the Jewish Chronicle that Labour would recognise Palestine only after negotiations between Israel and Palestinians had begun’

Lord David Cameron’s announcement places Labour on the wrong foot

O’Brien went on to make reference to the flurry of activities and statements made in an attempt to pacify what is clearly a growing area of concern for both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. He spoke of David Cameron’s statement on Wednesday, which suggested that the UK was considering recognising Palestine as a sovereign state.  The statement was made on the eve of Lord Cameron’s planned visit to the Middle East, at a Conservative Middle East Council reception where he said:

‘The UK has a responsibility to set out what a Palestinian state would look like, The Palestinian people would have to be shown “irreversible progress” towards a two-state solution. As that happens, we – with allies – will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations. That could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible’

Like many journalists and political pundits, O’Brien was surprised at the announcement, indicating that the Tory Minister had placed the Labour Party on the back foot. He said that:

‘David Cameron, the Conservative Foreign Secretary, has arguably gone further than that Labour Foreign Minister, which is certainly not a situation which many people will have expected to be observing. David Lammy, the Labour Foreign Secretary, is meeting frequently with Shabana Mahmood, the Shadow Justice Secretary, who has become the sort of de facto leader of what the Guardian called ‘this increasingly vocal caucus’. This is a problem for the Labour Party for two reasons. No 1, the electoral calculus and No 2, the simple case of unity’

One caller on the Shelagh Fogarty show which followed, commented how in the last 24 hours several Labour senior figures had attempted to modify their public position on the Israel/Palestine crisis. He said:

‘It shouldn’t take an opinion poll to [get our politicians] stand up for human rights, which is what people are saying that should have been done’

Shelagh Fogarty’s attempt to raise the issue of the human rights of the Israeli hostages, created an on-air spat,  with the caller accusing Fogarty of being ‘cruel and offensive’, before she retorted by accusing him of losing his temper and she was forced to admit that:

‘Of course the rights of Palestinians matter, they matter s much as everybody’s human rights. You were saying/focusing only on that and I was making the point that when a politician, who wants to be the prime minister, is making a statement or taking a party position on a subject as complicated as the Middle East and as complicated as Israel and Gaza, he or she has a complicated position to take. Now the point I’m making is, he or she has to consider the human rights of Israelis as well – perhaps especially in light of October 7th. That’s all I am saying. I’m not trying to denigrate the rights of Palestinians. Of course people want that bombing to stop. But it isn’t just going in one direction’

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