What does the Israel-Hamas war mean for the European Left? Can the traditional Left of centre parties hold on to the Muslim votes on which they have become so heavily reliant? The UK offers early warning signs that it cannot.
The rise of the Muslim political voice in the UK could create deep uncertainty at the next election. But except for it being radicalised by the war in Gaza, there are wildly different interpretations of what exactly is happening.
There have been two recent polls focussing on the interests and political direction of the 4 million Muslims that live in the UK, of which about 2 million are eligible to vote.
The two polls by Savanta and the Muslim Census paint completely different pictures, but they both point to problems for Labour with an increasingly angry and fractious voter base that is getting uncomfortable with being treated as ballot fodder.
The Savanta poll was far smaller with only a 1,000 strong polling panel. It revealed that 64 per cent of that vote would stick with Labour.
The Muslim Census poll had a self selecting panel of over 30,000. In the latter, responses showed a drop of 66 per cent in potential Labour votes, from 71 per cent to just 5 per cent.
The Tories had an even more torrid time with their support registering as loudly as a bat’s call, under 1 per cent and within a margin of error so tight as to be functionally meaningless.
It is thought that the Muslim block vote in the UK was important in 2019 in over 80 seats. With population growth since then, that number has grown to about 130. But given that the 20 seats that have the highest concentration of Muslim electors correspond with the safest 20 Labour seats there is unlikely to be any movement there.
As Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said: “This poll of UK Muslims tends to indicate that the Israel-Palestine conflict is very important as an issue, and the response from the Labour Party has not been viewed especially positively…
“The longer Labour’s divisions over this issue play out, we could see more Muslim voters abandon the party, but the suggestion that Muslim voters, en masse, are no longer willing to vote Labour due to its response over Israel-Palestine seems wildly exaggerated if this poll is anything to go by.”
But as Savanta recognises the poll being carried out online in English “will likely have some impact on how truly representative it is. Older Muslims, those for whom English isn’t their first language, and those less likely to be online, aren’t likely to be represented in this poll.”
This will also be the case for younger, often more radical recent migrants who have come as family members.
What is interesting is that right now, the dissatisfied Muslim voters do not have anywhere specific to go.
Some have shifted to the Lib Dems; others have moved over to the Greens over their strong opposition to Israel.
But conservative Muslim political commentators such as Muhammed Jalal are urging caution over voting for the Greens given the rest of their political platform:
“The Green Party are socially the most liberal of the parties, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the great harm this agenda is having on our children. On every vote that further liberalised, say, trans rights or civil marriages, the Greens have been champions of that change.”
Though given that the Muslim vote hasn’t worried about these things while voting for Labour, they may not be as important in practice as a call for supporting the Ummah.
There are, however, other options for the Muslim vote. The creation of a Party of Islam to channel these votes has floundered, being rejected by the electoral commission last month.
Instead, in key seats and working together in a formal alliance, what is most likely is success for local independents, often drawn from those who have recently left the Labour Party.
Since the Hamas pogrom, over 50 Labour councillors across the country have resigned from the party, driven not by domestic policy, but disgust at the Labour party’s official support for Israel’s self defence.
On November 24, in one of the few local by-elections since the invasion, a London council ward in West Ham was won by a former Momentum Labour activist, the niqab-wearing Sophia Naqvi.
She won 46.3 per cent of the vote, Labour’s dropped 40 points – from 66 per cent to 27 per cent. The borough is 32 per cent Muslim, but it is clear that both the anger, and the local organisational capacity of the community, can get out the vote.
It should be noted that the Labour candidate Aktharul Alam also campaigned on a strong pro-Palestine ticket, but couldn’t get purchase given the Labour leadership’s position.
So while the formal polling still has the majority of Muslims in the UK caring more about the economy and the health service, the longer the Gaza crisis continues, the bigger the breach between the Labour leadership and their client vote.
That could cause serious problems for Labour in 40 or 50 seats. This probably will not on its own stop a Labour victory, but it highlights a direction of travel that is both inevitable and deeply disturbing for the future of political pluralism in the UK’s already heavily divided urban centres.
It is not just an issue for the Left in the UK. Muslim are an increasingly important voting bloc in many European countries. The Left would be foolish to continue relying on it.