HomeNewsIndependents Day in Britain: To Gaza or not to Gaza?

Independents Day in Britain: To Gaza or not to Gaza?

When Gaza becomes a pivotal issue in any country’s general election (except, Israel or its immediate neighbouring nations) it indicates quite a few things about the changing contours of geo-politics. Amid the euphoria over Labour’s landslide 400-paar victory, it is easy to miss or ignore the fact that a war in a corner of West Asia has led to the winning party’s defeat in five seats by “Independents”. And the coming of age of something called The Muslim Vote (TMV).

As mentioned in these columns before, that emerging pressure group was active through a website by the same name during this campaign and had told its community members to vote only for those who further their agenda. And if major parties did not play ball, TMV offered alternatives, including independents. Four such independents won, one of them defeating Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, who was slated to get a senior post in Sir Keir Starmer’s government.

That independent candidate, Shockat Adam, dedicated his victory in Leicester South (with 31 per cent Muslim voters) “to Gaza” and waved a black-and-white keffiyeh at the cheering audience. He had been recommended by TMV because Ashworth had abstained during the Gaza vote in Parliament. Oddly, though, in the video on voting day, Adam only cited homelessness, rising cost of living, hospital waiting times and other quintessentially British concerns.

Curiously, in Leicester East, Indian-origin Shivani Raja beat Rajesh Aggarwal, a former deputy mayor of London to wrest a ‘safe’ Labour seat for the Tories for the first time in 37 years. Her victory is being largely ignored by the media in keeping with the downplaying of the few Tory success stories. TMV suggested the suspended Labour incumbent Claudia Webbe who stood as an Independent. Veteran Keith Vaz contesting from a new local party came fourth!

Leicester East, according to TMV, has 22 per cent Muslim voters and that part of the city has witnessed several communal clashes in recent times, often triggered by the results of India-Pakistan cricket matches. The rise in tension has been ascribed by some to a steady influx of new Indian-Hindu origin migrants into the area, which has increased their vote-share to an estimated 37 per cent. It seems that the voting pattern there has also changed consequently, away from Labour.

Independents Day in Britain: To Gaza or not to Gaza?

Blackburn, held by Labour for 69 years, has 42 per cent Muslim voters as per TMV. There, Independent solicitor Adnan Hussain scraped past the sitting MP Kate Hollern, netting 10,518 votes to her 10,386, overturning her 18,616 majority. The turnout fell there too, from 61.8 per cent in 2019 to 53.1 per cent now. Hollern voted for Gaza but in a video Hussain vowed to ensure concerns about Gaza are “heard loud and clear in the places where our so-called representatives have failed”.

In the newly-created Dewsbury and Batley seat in West Yorkshire (with 39 per cent Muslim voters according to TMV), Indian-origin Independent Iqbal Mohamed beat Labour’s Heather Iqbal by 15,641 votes to 8,707. Reform’s Johnathan Thackray came third, followed by Lalit Suryawanshi from the Conservative Party. There too, the turnout was down by 12.5 per cent from 2019. Both Iqbals cited ceasefire and a peace agreement in Gaza as key voter concerns.

Interestingly, in May’s local elections in this constituency, independent Muslim candidates Zahid Kahut and Aziz Daji unseated Labour in two council wards in Batley, while Ali Arshad did the same in Heckmondwike, Dewsbury. The coming together of the Muslims in the seat as a unified ‘vote-bank’ is significant as the community had long been divided along differences in denomination; now local mosques have apparently been instrumental in forging unity.

And in Birmingham Perry Barr, where TMV claims 38 per cent of the electorate is Muslim, the independent it advocated, Ayoub Khan, beat the Pakistani-origin Labour incumbent Khalid Mahmood by 507 votes. The turnout was 14.3 per cent less than 2019, when Mahmood had won with 63 per cent vote-share. Labour had held the seat since 1974 and Khalid himself had been elected from there since 2001 on that party’s ticket. And he had actually voted in favour of Gaza.

Ayoub Khan, of Mirpuri ancestry, started out as a Liberal Democrat councillor in a Birmingham ward in 2003, lost in 2004, came back from 2005 to 2012, and 2022 to 2024. But when the Gaza war began in 2023, Khan fell out with that party over deleted videos in which he allegedly questioned the October 7 Hamas attack. He then quit and decided to contest as an independent Birmingham Perry Barr, endorsed by TMV, and ended up garnering 35.5 per cent vote-share.

Until Farage’s Reform got a late-announced fifth seat, it seemed that the TMV had managed to get just as many seats—four—this time. Of course, TMV also claims the ousted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who won his Islington seat this time as an Independent as its fifth victorious Gaza-linked ‘candidate’. It is not yet certain how much of the Muslim electorate voted in this election and to what extent they did so en bloc, but that they voted strategically is clear.

It is clear TMV had decided to hurt Labour, for Starmer’s stance on Israel, vis-à-vis Gaza. And it succeeded as the party’s voteshare rose only minimally, with Scotland offsetting decreases elsewhere. Some new Labour ministers like Wes Streeting and even the PM himself saw victory margins falling. Labour stalwarts like Pakistani-origin Naz Shah and Shabana Mahmood barely fended off challenges from TMV supported pro-Palestine Independents too.

Mahmood, who has just been appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary for Justice, has been quoted as saying, “My faith is the centre point of my life and it drives me to public service, it drives me in the way that I live my life…” But because she had abstained on Gaza, TMV proposed a controversial Independent Akhmed Yakoob for Birmingham Ladywood, who put up posters asking people to “lend Gaza your vote” and nearly halved her 2019 vote-share.

Were a significant number of non-Palestine/Gaza-fixated Labour voters affected by the 400-Paar Syndrome (with a landslide win predicted by all surveys for at least the past year) that is suspected to have led to lower turnout of BJP voters in India this year too? Did their inertia increase TMV’s relevance and the vote-bank it is energetically trying to create in the UK? The mainstream political parties would do well to not ignore TMV and its communal agenda.

Labour surely realises it has to stop the exodus of Muslim voters to the independents suggested by a sectarian group like TMV. But Labour has to tread a fine line: if they chase—or “appease” to use another Indian election term—that community too openly, they could lose moderate supporters. If the party ignores them, it may see vote-shares falling. And after Raja’s victory in Leicester East, the Conservatives may want to veer towards another rising minority.

Sunak went to a temple on the last day of campaigning. Starmer was quick to do the same. Sunak has also been playing up his Hindu credentials, subliminally indicating a new pressure group. Possibly a non-Gaza alternative? If more MPs get elected due to one community or another, they would probably work for the specific interest of those voters. The website of TMV certainly indicates that is the ultimate goal. Britain appears to be heading for desified politics.

The author is a freelance writer. The views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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