How Labour’s Stance on Gaza Played Out in the U.K. Election (2024)

Britain’s Labour Party achieved a decisive victory in the country’s July 4 election. But there were some contests, even in some of the party’s strongholds, that ended up being too close for comfort. And in a handful of constituencies, Labour lost out to independent candidates—including the party’s former leader.

The culprit wasn’t another party, but rather, an issue: Gaza. Although Israel’s ongoing war in the besieged coastal enclave barely featured in the wider election campaign, it emerged as a key issue in a number of traditionally safe Labour seats, where independent candidates made their support for Palestinians a central feature of their campaign. In the end, five succeeded in unseating their Labour rivals, some of whom had been tipped to become ministers in the next government.

Read More: Labour Delivered a Decisive Victory in Britain. Now Comes the Hard Part

“This was a grassroots, community, constituency-run campaign, which is an indication to those that have been in power for so long that you cannot forget the people that you serve,” independent Shockat Adam, who defeated senior Labour lawmaker Jon Ashworth in Leicester South by less than 1,000 votes, told constituents following his victory. He ended his speech by raising a Palestinian keffiyeh and declaring, “This is for the people of Gaza.”

Independent candidates winning seats is extremely rare in British politics—so much so, in fact, that none were elected during the last election in 2019. While these incoming lawmakers will technically be unaffiliated with any party, or each other, collectively they will number more than the Green Party and on par with the anti-immigration Reform U.K. and the Green Party. Of them, four—Adam, Ayoub Khan, Adnan Hussain, and Iqbal Hussain Mohamed—are first-time parliamentarians. Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader who was suspended from the party after he appeared to deflect responsibility for his handling of antisemitism allegations within it, ran and was re-elected as an independent in his Islington North seat, which he has held since 1983.

In his acceptance speech early Friday morning, Corbyn attributed his victory in part to his stance on Gaza, noting that his constituents are “looking for a government that on the world stage will search for peace, not war, and not allow the terrible conditions to go on that are happening in Gaza at the present time.”

One of the most salient criticisms that many young voters and British Muslims in particular have had of Labour Party leader and soon-to-be Prime Minister Keir Starmer was his perceived equivocation on the ongoing war in the Middle East. Starmer came under intense criticism when, in the days following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, he suggested in an interview that Israel had the right to cut off basic necessities such as power and water from Gaza, which is home to some 2 million people. Starmer subsequently tried to walk back the comments, which triggered a slew of resignations, but the damage had already been done. Efforts to appease voters concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, such as calling for a ceasefire and pushing the Conservative-led government to publish its legal advice on whether Israel’s conduct in Gaza constituted a violation of international law, failed to move the needle.

In the end, it could have been worse for Labour. The party very nearly lost some of its most prominent lawmakers to independent candidates, among them the party’s shadow health minister Wes Streeting, who won re-election by just 528 votes. Jess Philips, a former Labour shadow minister who quit her role in November in order to vote in favor of a Gaza ceasefire motion (which her party opposed at the time), secured her seat by just 693 votes. During her acceptance speech, supporters of her rival heckled her with boos and jeers such as “shame on you” and “free, free Palestine,” despite the fact that Philips helped to bring the first orphan from Gaza to the U.K. for medical treatment. In her acceptance speech, she described the contest as “the worst election I have ever stood in.”

But it wasn’t just independent candidates who siphoned votes off of Labour over the party’s Gaza stance. The Green Party, which quadrupled its presence in Parliament from one to four, also attracted voters disaffected by the main parties’ Gaza stances. In addition to calling for a “full bilateral cease-fire,” the party advocates the U.K. suspending its arms exports to Israel.

Read More: Israel Has Been Accused of War Crimes in Gaza. Could Its Allies Be Next?

The Labour Party had no say over Britain’s foreign policy in opposition. In government, how Labour chooses to handle this issue will likely be closely watched. While the size of the party’s majority will likely insulate it from major challenges, Labour could nonetheless face pressure from smaller parties to take a more critical stance towards Israel.

“We recognize that this is the most complex and challenging of issues,” David Lammy, who is poised to become the next government’s chief diplomat, told journalists in the days running up to the vote. “We have been calling for a ceasefire now for all of this year. We have maintained our belief that it’s important that the hostages are released, that aid must get into Gaza, and our belief in the international rules-based order and international humanitarian law. That is our approach.”

How Labour’s Stance on Gaza Played Out in the U.K. Election (2024)
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