X Close

Will Labour’s Muslim exodus hurt Keir Starmer?

Labour has suffered in parts of the country with relatively high Muslim populations. Credit: Getty

May 4, 2024 - 8:03pm

The 2024 local elections have left Labour with plenty to be chipper about. The party has gained control of a fine spread of councils — such as Nuneaton & Bedworth in Warwickshire, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, Thurrock in Essex, Rushmoor in Hampshire, and Adur in West Sussex. All, to varying degrees, are Leave-voting English local areas.

But a pattern has emerged that is concerning some in the Labour Party: the degree of losses it has suffered in parts of the country with relatively high Muslim populations. Compared to the rest of the country, Labour’s vote share is down in such areas.

Bucking the wider national trend, Labour lost control of Oldham Council. While local party leader Arooj Shah denied this was down to Sir Keir Starmer’s positioning on Gaza (it is worth noting the historic gross mismanagement of cases of group-based child sexual exploitation in the area), it is likely to have been a factor.

Labour would have hoped to have gained control of Bolton. But it didn’t, partly down to the “Gaza effect”, with victorious, independent, pro-ceasefire candidates such as Ayyub Chota Patel in Rumworth ward dedicating their wins to the Palestinian people. Pro-Palestine independents also had a field day in Blackburn, gaining Muslim-heavy wards from Labour such as Central Blackburn and Bastwell & Daisyfield.

Other cases of independents gaining seats from Labour in northern English areas with relatively high Muslim populations include Daneshouse with Stoneyholme in Burnley. There was also a surge in independent representation in Bradford’s inner-city wards. Among those successful candidates were Mohammed Ali Islam, 20, Ismail Uddin, 19, and 18-year-old Atira Malik, who is currently studying for her A-Levels.

Meanwhile, the Workers Party of Britain (WPB) gained two seats in Rochdale (where leader George Galloway pulled off his stunning parliamentary by-election win), as well as winning Park ward in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, which covers the Muslim-heavy area to the west of Halifax.

Having more Muslim voters distancing themselves from Starmer’s Labour and entertaining other options is not a bad thing for British politics. It could foster the emergence of authentic, economically Left-leaning, socially conservative political representation that also challenges transatlantic foreign policy orthodoxy. It is also plausible that Labour could win a parliamentary majority with a large increase in provincial white British support and much-reduced British Muslim support, shattering the myth that the party is hyper-dependent on Muslim “vote banks” for its electoral success.

With the general Tory collapse, there is also the possibility that Labour is rebuilding support among ethnic minority non-Muslims who may not be as emotionally invested in developments in the Middle East and have a history of flirting with the possibility of voting Conservative. It seems like Labour is losing support among working-class Muslims in northern England, but how is it doing with Gujarati Hindus in Nuneaton, Punjabi Sikhs in Coventry, Goan Catholics in Swindon, and Nigerian Protestants in Thurrock?

How much of a headache Labour would have had over declining British Muslim support depended on the outcome of the London and West Midlands mayoral elections. In the race to be mayor of London, early signs suggested that turnout would be notably higher in outer boroughs such as Bromley and Bexley when compared to more urban and Muslim-concentrated boroughs such as Tower Hamlets and Newham — to the benefit of Tory challenger Susan Hall.

Despite this, Labour’s Sadiq Khan won a historic third term, winning by 11 percentage points. However, the involvement of pro-Gaza independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob has undoubtedly complicated matters for Labour in the West Midlands mayoral election, which has gone right down to the wire (with Sandwell the remaining local authority to declare its results at the time of writing).

The growing volatility within the British Muslim electorate is making the urban political landscape more interesting. Labour will be hoping that it when comes to the forthcoming general election, many British Muslim voters who voted for pro-Palestine independents in these local elections will turn their focus to the domestic bread-and-butter issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS, and employment — making a direct choice between their natural party and the Conservatives.

What is more likely is that Starmer’s Labour has lost some British Muslim voters for good, who are instead entertaining the likes of Galloway’s WPB and local independent candidates. It is unlikely that this will leave a huge dent on the party on election day, but if the conflict drags on, it may leave the Labour leader with fewer seats than he might have hoped.


Dr Rakib Ehsan is a researcher specialising in British ethnic minority socio-political attitudes, with a particular focus on the effects of social integration and intergroup relations.

 

rakibehsan

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

19 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ryan K
Ryan K
15 days ago

Interesting…the British landscape of Muslim identitarian politics with its allegiance to a future Muslim run unitary state within the Palestine Mandate boundaries…interests me as we move close to our American election….Biden has done much dancing to try and assuage Muslims in Michigan and Minnesota. But not doing much. He may see shrinkage in the reliable Jewish Democrat vote….but probably not too much as Republicans would like. How about the others? the Latinos cheering Trump at a bodega. Blacks Hugging him at Chick filet. It’s a new world here in America

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
15 days ago

Two possible outcomes, one good, one bad.

Good outcome – Labour manages to excise the cancer of islamist identitarianism.

Bad outcome – Labour panics and panders to the mob, and, well, decent people may start planning their emigration.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
15 days ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Muslim solidarity is pretty clearly going to move to an Islamic Party, Islam is an encompassing belief system (which includes political activity). With concentrated support is Muslim areas they would already win in quite a few constituencies.

Anthony Sutcliffe
Anthony Sutcliffe
15 days ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

This is coming at some point. Labour moving away from the favoured position of islamists makes it more likely that they will set up an Islamist party. Of course they will market it as a party for everyone but focused on policies that are good for the average Muslim but like all parties of whatever hue they will be run by the most fervent. It will be a sad day when it happens.

I hope Rakib, whom I admire, is working on a recovery plan for the day after.

O'Driscoll
O'Driscoll
13 days ago

I’m not convinced a new Islamic Party hoovering up these votes is inevitable. Far more likely is an expansion of what’s already happening – the Muslim bloc vote, where it exists, becoming a parasite of the Green Party and of Galloway’s not-quite-Islamic WPB.
Ultimately the Greens will have to make a choice about what it is, and will lose the Islamist vote, but I would imagine the WPB will happily morph into a permanent home for those who would vote for an Islamist Party.
So, in fact, we have already reached the point that you are talking about.

David L
David L
13 days ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Indeed. My family and I are eyeing up Eastern europe

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
15 days ago

When votes in the UK Parliament calling for a “humanitarian” ceasefire make absolutely no difference (why would they) to the situation in Gaza, why does anyone think that electing a pro Palestinian local counsellor will a. make the situation in Gaza any better b. be good for the local council?

D Glover
D Glover
15 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I don’t think anybody imagines that Netanyahu gives a damn about local councillors in the UK. The point is that this portends something for British politics.
NI has had sectarian politics ever since the Province was established but it has never been a factor on the mainland. Until now.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
15 days ago

Will Corbyn switch to Galloway’s party? We don’t yet know who the candidate for Islington North will be. If it’s not JC and Corbyn allies with Galloway – his beliefs are already there even if he tried to keep his LP card so far – he will drag a lot of the gullible Left with him.

Dengie Dave
Dengie Dave
15 days ago

It’s fascinating to ponder what might have happened in these elections if the situation in Gaza had not escalated after Oct 7. I think this forced the hand of those whose real agenda is to make Britain an Islamist Caliphate, which otherwise would have continued to colonize and capture Britain and its institutions from within. In other words it came too early, before they had reached critical mass and control and capture of the Labour Party. In some respects I think Oct 7 and the war in Gaza has exposed these elements for what they are. What do others think?

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
14 days ago
Reply to  Dengie Dave

I agree that the Gaza War has brought out some elements and views that have been lurking or fermenting for sometime. With increased migration and more people of the Islamic faith residing in the UK, the emergence of an Islamic party makes sense. Such a party could become a Caliph, er King maker in future elections, similar to what we see in other parliamentary systems. Today some European countries fret about how they can exclude right parties (think Sweden Democrats, Dutch Party for Freedom, German AfD or the National Rally in France) who garner significant support.
Here in the US, the left as captured many institutions from within especially higher education (some of the protestors for Hamas / against Israel are faculty), the non-profits, and much of the media. In the UK it will be a combination of Leftist and Islamic capture. How long? Maybe 10 to 15 years.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
14 days ago

Since Muslim groups are unlikely to join the Tories, I can’t see it making much difference.

And they obviously can’t sit there and stew, radicalise and commit outrages, as that will lead to ‘We told you so’ retaliations from all over and set their cause back decades, particularly given what Hamas is like.

In the short term, I suppose they will just have to take a seat among the disenfranchised, like any number of of other factions and causes do.

Judas Pissed
Judas Pissed
14 days ago

I wonder how many votes a United Islamic Party will get in a general election in the 2040s, how many seats they win in Parliament & what this will mean for the white ethnic minority in England at that time…

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
14 days ago
Reply to  Judas Pissed

If it’s still using FPTP then it would likely win seats as their potential voters would be densely packed into areas. Much like the SNP this concentration of supporters would give it a higher number of seats than its vote share would gain under different Proportional Representation systems

Matthew Freedman
Matthew Freedman
14 days ago

There’s so many types of voters these days. If I was labour I’d would focus on what unites ie a more left wing economic policy.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
14 days ago

Lean left financially while being more conservative culturally and they’d clean up

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
14 days ago

Sir Keir should ask Tony Blair what to do – this was his plan, after all.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
12 days ago

TV viewers may have noticed it looks as if Starmer has forgotten to put on a tie, you can see the top of his white vest.This no accident. In Muslim culture the white tieless collar of a man in authority or an imam is standard. A BBC. news announcer’s neckwear is similar, but much more obvious although he is not a Muslim as far as I know, indeed he is as white and European as can be. Why? I leave it to your imaginations

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 days ago

The problem is not simply the Labour Party and never was. It is also the media. It is they who have created a situation over a long period whereby even the most innocuous criticism of Islam and even Islamism is considered hateful.