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KACAMATA KU: Reflecting On The Landslide Labour Victory In The UK

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

The Labour party may have won a landslide in the UK general election last week.

This is much expected after 14 years of declining Conservative rule. Yet there are similar tell-tale stories despite the former’s success.

Reportedly, it lost several seats after a strong showing from pro-Palestinian independent candidates, in a sign of anger towards its leader, Keir Starmer, over Labour’s position on Israel’s war in Gaza.

According to several news reports, five independent candidates who have been vocal in their support for Gaza won parliamentary seats, while a surge in votes for independents elsewhere denied Labour a victory in areas they were expected to win, leaving a dent in its otherwise huge majority but raising questions about its foreign policy positions.

For example, in Leicester South, a seat in an industrial city in the English Midlands, Labour shadow cabinet member Jonathan Ashworth lost his seat by 979 votes to Shockat Adam, an independent candidate who made his support for Gaza a key part of his electoral pledge to voters.

“This is for Gaza,” Adam declared in his victory speech, holding up a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.

Reportedly, Ashworth’s defeat comes as a huge shock. At the last general election, when Labour slumped to its worst defeat since 1935 under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Ashworth still won the seat with a huge majority, receiving 67 percent of the vote.

Today, even Corbyn was reelected in Islington North, to the seat he has held since 1983 – but this time as an independent, rather than for Labour. Corbyn, who led Labour between 2015 and 2020, was expelled from the party after the UK’s human rights watchdog found Labour to be responsible for “unlawful” acts of harassment and discrimination under his leadership, when complaints of antisemitism proliferated.

Corbyn won 49.2 percent of the vote, while the Labour candidate came in second with 34.4 percent. Corbyn said the voters of Islington North were “looking for a government that on the world stage will search for peace, not war, and not allow the terrible conditions to go on that are happening in Gaza at the present time.” He beat Labour’s candidate by upwards of 7,000 votes.

Another classic example is in Blackburn, where Labour incumbent Kate Hollern – who won a majority of 18,304 at the 2019 general election – lost by just 132 votes to independent candidate Adnan Hussain.

Whereas in Dewsbury and Batley, the independent Iqbal Mohamed also defeated Labour incumbent Heather Iqbal. And in Birmingham Perry Barr, independent Ayoub Khan defeated Labour incumbent Khalid Mahmood by 507 votes.

Meanwhile, in Chingford and Woodford Green, a constituency in east London, the left-wing vote was split between Labour and Faiza Shaheen – a candidate who stood as an independent after being ousted by Labour during the campaign – allowing the Conservative incumbent Iain Duncan Smith to retain his seat by about 5,000 votes.

Shaheen wrote on X after the result: “Labour split the vote the moment they deselected me.”

A Savanta poll last month found that 44 percent of Muslim voters ranked the conflict as one of the top five issues and, of those, 86 percent said they would consider backing an independent running on the issue.

Many of these seats where Labour appears to have lost votes over its position on Gaza have sizable Muslim populations. According to the 2021 census, the populations of Leicester, Birmingham, Ilford and Blackburn are all more than 20 per cent Muslim.

Labour had feared that it could lose votes over Gaza since Starmer drew criticism in some quarters over comments made last year, shortly after Hamas launched its October 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza. Other Labour lawmakers only just held on to their seats, as they were challenged by pro-Gaza candidates.

In October, speaking to UK radio station LBC, Starmer – a former human rights lawyer – caused outrage among many left-wing and Muslim voters, leading to furious protests, compounded after the party refused to back a Scottish National Party motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. Although Labour did pass its own similar motion shortly afterwards, it seems to have little impact.

At the home front, the contest between Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) Joohari Arifin and Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) Abidin Ismail drew some similar analysis although within a different context. 

Sungai Bakap assemblyperson-elect says his victory is the result of the people’s protest against the government. “Yes, this is a protest against the government putting pressure on the people,” he said to the media.

PN impressively increased their majority by 2,704 votes to 4,267. Some claimed that there was a tendency to play the racial and religious cards to win the election. Others cited hypocrisy as the stay that influences voter’s decision, including issues related to Gaza and the genocide!

More specifically, Penang Chief Minister says PH’s defeat today, and the decline in Chinese votes, were due to national issues – the subsidy, perceived inflation, cost of living, and the burden the people have to face with all this.

While agreeing with this, the vocal Pasir Gudang lawmaker zeroed in on the Palestinian issues, citing the agreement “to sell part of Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad’s shares” to an entity “that strongly supports the Israeli regime,” he said.

This certainly needs more than just self-reflection as suggested by some!

A true hijrah for sure! – BACALAHMALAYSIA.MY

  • The writer is Rector, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)

BacalahMalaysia Team

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