Just before the last general election, the Muslim Council of Britain released research which calculated how many seats could be decided by Muslim votes. The answer was 31, enough to swing a tight election. It’s debatable how many of these voters would realistically switch party: traditionally, Muslims have been more likely to back Labour than almost any other electoral group. But it’s the kind of statistic that could make Keir Starmer nervous.
In his quest to demonstrate that he has vanquished Corbynism, the Labour leader has been steadfast in his support for Israel, to the dismay of many within his own party. In November, he lost ten frontbenchers who protested Labour’s stance on Gaza. Others privately fear the loss of the Muslim vote. But Starmer has his eyes on different prizes: Red Wall and bellwether seats in suburbia. Voters in those areas want proof that Labour has changed and, in his defence of Israel, Starmer seeks to provide it. Anyway, where would disaffected Muslim voters go?
George Galloway is hoping to provide an answer to that question. The former Labour and Respect party MP is standing in this month’s Rochdale by-election, in an attempted plebiscite on Labour’s stance on Israel. ‘The people of Gaza don’t have a vote in this election,’ his leaflet begins, ‘You do.’ He offers a ‘straight choice between George who will fight for Palestine and the people of Rochdale – and Keir Starmer who will fight for Israel’. He also claims he ‘has the support of thousands of Palestinians in his bid to become Rochdale’s next MP’. Subtle it ain’t.
A Survation poll suggests that nationally, 60 per cent of Muslims still back Labour – down from 86 per cent, but still a solid vote.