Labour rocked by success of radical anti-Israel protest vote candidates

Campaign group The Muslim Vote has helped to unseat two shadow cabinet ministers


Jeremy Corbyn: victorious as an independent in Islington North. (Photo: Getty Images)

The incoming Labour government will face intense pressure over the party’s policy towards Israel and the Middle East after radical, pro-Palestine candidates scored a series of triumphs and unseated two shadow cabinet ministers, Jon Ashworth and Thangam Debbonaire.

Candidates backed by campaign group The Muslim Vote (TMV) beat Labour in constituencies with a high Muslim electorate across the country, from Islington North – where the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn retained his seat after running as an independent – to Blackburn, where Adnan Hussein, a local solicitor who also stood as an independent, won in a town that had been Labour for 69 years.

Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary who was one of Labour’s busiest TV performers during the election campaign, lost Leicester South to Shockat Adam, another pro-Palestinian independent endorsed by TMV, while in Dewsbury Iqbal Hussein Mohamed scored a majority over Labour’s Heather Iqbal – a former aide to shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves - of almost 7,000. 

In a polling day post on X, Corbyn had declared that in this year’s election, “Palestine is on the ballot paper”. Similar messages were delivered with varying degrees of intensity by TMV-backed candidates elsewhere, including Bristol Central, where Green Party deputy leader Carla Denyer defeated the shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire with a majority of more than 10,000.

In Ilford North, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary who also played a leading role in Labour’s campaign, came close to defeat by TMV’s Leanne Mohamad, winning what had been a safe Labour seat by just 500 votes. Mohamad, a TMV post said, “took on a seasoned politician with the weight of the Labour Party machine behind him to a razor thin margin; all with no time to prepare.

“You are the community's real winner. You Put Gaza back on the ballot. You've created history and given us incredible hope for the future.”

Early today Labour had been bracing itself for defeat in Birmingham Ladywood, where shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood was defending her seat against another TMV-endorsed independent, Akhmed Yakoob – a flamboyant local solicitor previously known for his collection of sports cars who has described Zionism as a “fascist ideology” and polled 70,000 votes in the West Midlands mayoral elections in May.

In the end, Mahmood survived, though with a much smaller majority. But in nearby Birmingham Perry Bar, Labour suffered another shock defeat when former Liberal Democrat Ayoub Khan beat the previous incumbent Khalid Mahmood. Khan left the Lib Dems in May after claiming he had been told by the party to be “hush” over Gaza.  

Meanwhile in Bethnal Green and Bow – Labour’s second safest seat in 2019 – the TMV-endorsed independent Ajmal Masroor came just 1,689 votes behind Labour’s Rushanara Ali. In a speech recorded shortly after October 7 and posted online, Masroor said he was “not going to condemn Hamas or its assault on Israel”. He has also claimed that the Houthi terrorists who have attacked Red Sea shipping were “standing in defence of the Palestinians” and “fighting for the dispossessed”.

In all these constituencies, the Gaza war figured as a central campaign issue, with Labour repeatedly battered for supporting Israel’s right to self-defence after the October 7 terrorist massacre. One of the few consolations for pro-Israel Labour supporters was that in Rochdale, the Workers Party’s anti-Zionist firebrand leader George Galloway lost the constituency he had won in a by-election in February to Labour’s Paul Waugh – although Waugh himself made a demand for an immediate Gaza ceasefire a key part of his campaign.

TMV claimed on X that “all this talk of a Labour landslide” was hiding the “real political earthquake” – what it called “the nearing end of the Labour-Tory duopoly that has held the country back for decades”. According to a BBC analysis, Labour’s vote was down by an average 15 points in seats with big Muslim electorates.

A Labour source told the JC it was far too early to assess what impact the TMV’s apparent success would make on the incoming government’s policy. Nevertheless, he accepted that “it is of concern, for sure”.

The JC revealed in June that leading TMV figures who co-founded the organisation signed a pledge two days after the massacre saying they wished to “reaffirm the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli military occupation, including the right to armed struggle”.

Among the signatories was TMV co-founder and head of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) Anas Altikriti, who posted photographs of himself meeting Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on a visit to Gaza in 2012.

Another was Azhar Qauyum, the chief executive of TMV partner organisation Mend (Muslim Engagement and Development), who wrote on Facebook in 2014 that “Israel’s generosity” in withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 was “like the ‘generosity’ of Hitler”.

When TMV was launched last year, it announced that its goal was to demonstrate that Muslim voters would ‘no longer tolerate being taken for granted. We are a powerful, united force of 4 million acting in unison…. We are focused on seats where the Muslim vote can influence the outcome,” the TMV website says. “In 2024, we will lay the foundations for our community’s political future.”

The results of the general election suggest that this goal has been met.

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