Labour MPs facing wave of independent challengers over stance on Gaza | Labour

Labor MPs warn they face a growing challenge from a slate of well-funded independent candidates opposed to Keir Starmer's stance on the Israel-Gaza war, amid an increasingly coordinated campaign in preparation for the next elections.

As several MPs warn they continue to face anger over the party's handling of its stance on the Middle East, the Observer It has been learned that meetings have been held in recent days to identify, fund and defend a slate of independent candidates to take on Labor MPs who did not support an immediate ceasefire in a parliamentary vote last November .

The seat of Bethnal Green and Bow in east London, held by shadow business minister Rushanara Ali, is among the constituencies under discussion. An independent candidate has already been set up to run against Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting in Ilford North, with a major fundraising campaign already underway to support her.

One MP said the funds discussed were substantial and would raise concerns among colleagues with large Muslim populations, as well as those with a significant proportion of voters prepared to support a candidate to the left of the Labor Party. A meeting on the presentation of rival candidates, attended by potential backers, is understood to have been held in London last week.

Shabana Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary, is among those under pressure. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

“People are talking to some independent candidates and giving them significant amounts of money to help them run against Labor,” one MP said. “It’s astonishing, I’ve never experienced such a level of funding and organization. Anger is out of reach. We need to do a lot to bring these communities together again. They want to teach the Labor Party a lesson.”

Another MP who voted for a ceasefire said: “There is a lot of anger. There is more organization than ever before – it is not yet clear where this is going. It's not just about the Muslim community. Liberal voters are also worried about this. These candidates won't necessarily win, but could they pull away important votes?

Labor MPs have already been alerted to a new website,, which asks Muslim voters to support a slate of locally approved candidates. He says he is “focusing on seats where the Muslim vote can influence the outcome” and will not support anyone “who voted against or abstained in the ceasefire vote.” It already lists a range of funders, including NGOs, community groups and Muslim-led businesses.

Starmer initially refused to support a ceasefire last year, with Labor MPs urged not to vote in favor of the SNP's motion for a ceasefire. He was also criticized for an interview in which he appeared to support Israel's right to cut off electricity and water in Gaza. He later clarified that this was not his view. Labor now supports a “lasting ceasefire”, alongside the government.

Given Labour's dominant position in opinion polls, political analysts say there is little chance of potential seats being lost following the collapse of support from Muslim communities. Real nervousness remains among Labor MPs, with reports that some are being excluded from events in their constituencies due to Labor's demands to boost its support for Gaza.

The first test of the electoral impact of this issue will come later this month in the Rochdale by-election. George Galloway, the former Labor MP who previously won a by-election victory in Bradford West in 2012, is running on a pro-Palestinian platform. With around one in three Rochdale voters being Muslim, Labor is widely expected to retain their seat.

Several figures, including Jess Phillips, resigned their seats to support a ceasefire last year. There are now rumors that the SNP is planning to hold another vote on the issue in the coming weeks.

Some MPs appear to have changed their position following the initial vote. John Cryer, MP for Leyton and Wanstead and chairman of the Parliamentary Labor Party, did not support the SNP motion, but later wrote to voters saying “we should now call for a ceasefire”. Several relevant shadow ministers also attended a recent meeting with Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK.

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Figures in Starmer's shadow cabinet are under heavy pressure at the local level. Shabana Mahmood, shadow justice secretary and one of Labour's most senior Muslim MPs, said this week there had been “a loss of confidence” in her party among British Muslims and called on Labor to rebuild it.

Some Labor MPs are already nervous after a recent poll suggested the party had lost more than a quarter of Muslim voters who supported it at the last election. However, Sunder Katwala, director of the British think tank Future, said that while Labor risks losing “a significant number of Muslim voters”, it is unlikely to lose “even one handful of seats” in the next elections.

“Labor is safe from immediate impact if it wins three or four million voters nationally by gaining 10% over the last general election,” he said. “The formative political experiences of young Muslims voting for the first time could have greater significance in the next general election: if a Labor government becomes less popular in power than it currently is in opposition, it could then become dangerous if it seems to take into account the diversity of its urban votes. for granted.

“The general election challenge for independent candidates is that almost no Westminster constituency could be won by appealing to a single minority group. Even when half the voters are Muslim, there will never be a 100% community bloc vote, so it will take a cross-community alliance of voters to win a seat.

“The Muslim vote could be largest in 2024 where there are marginal seats with a strong Muslim presence, such as in SNP-Labour's marginal seats in Glasgow, or Conservative-held seats like Peterborough or Wycombe – no not because they have the most Muslim voters, but because minority votes can be the tipping point in a marginal seat.

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