Is Labour losing support from Muslim voters in West Yorkshire?

We all know about the Labour Party’s struggles with anti-Semitism.

Right from the start of his leadership, it's something Sir Keir Starmer has tried to stamp out.

When it comes to the Israel-Gaza conflict, Labour has struggled to tread a fine line to keep its supporters together.

For the past five months, there’s been barely a whisker between their position on the conflict and the government’s.

That’s meant stridently condemning Hamas for its attack on 7 October last year, while defending Israel’s right to self-defence.

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Before long though, Labour started to tie itself in knots.

Shortly after the conflict began, Sir Keir's comments in a radio interview with LBC radio sparked anger among some in his party.

He said Israel had the "right to defend herself".

When asked whether cutting off water and power supplies into Gaza would be justified, he replied: "I think that Israel does have that right."

For some, that proved a defining moment, distilling what they saw as a disregard for Palestinian lives.

The Labour leader later sought to clarify his words, saying he had only referred to the broad policy of self-defence and that food, water and electricity must be allowed in.

But for Taj Salam, a councillor in Little Horton, Bradford, the damage had been done.

He says: "I joined the Labour Party because I thought it was the only party fighting for working people and the people who were oppressed.

"And when this situation in Gaza started, I thought the Labour Party would be the first to say what’s happened on 7 October was wrong, and yes Israel has the right to defend itself but not to the context they’ve gone to, where 30,000 have lost their lives. So I was waiting for the Labour Party to do something, to say something - but the silence was deafening.”

Sir Keir Starmer’s LBC interview made Taj feel that the party was going in a direction he could no longer support.

After 20 years as a Labour councillor and 30 as a campaigner, he decided to quit, and sit as an Independent councillor.

With May’s local elections just two months away, Taj believes his community in Bradford will follow his change of direction.

He says the Party’s response to the conflict was the “icing on the cake” for those who feel “fed up” with Labour.

Taj isn’t the only member of Bradford council to have abandoned Labour because of its stance on Gaza.

But Labour has a huge controlling majority on the authority - one it’s unlikely to lose.

Some might say a few councillors in a few wards in Bradford won’t have much impact in Westminster, where polls suggest a Labour landslide.

While George Galloway’s victory in Rochdale’s by-election could be seen as a fluke of circumstance, his calls for a ceasefire in Gaza certainly had an impact.

Ammar Anwar, a councillor in Kirklees, believes that will be repeated at the General Election.

“Labour has always relied on the Muslim back-vote,” he tells me. “This May in the local elections, there’ll be a clear message to Keir Starmer: you cannot bank on the Muslim back-vote any more.”

Like Taj, Ammar quit Labour over Gaza.

But he feels so strongly, he plans to take his fight to the next level - the General Election - as a candidate for Dewsbury and Batley.

At a snooker hall in Batley, he introduces me to first-time voter Shahzaib Pervez.

Shahzaib says that, growing up, most of his family voted Labour because they saw themselves as working class.

Now he feels the Israel/Palestine conflict has changed how people feel.

He says: “People who haven’t had anything to do with it, they’ve never heard about it before, even them, they’re taking out flags on their cars, they’re talking about it. everywhere they go, [it's] ‘Free Gaza, Free Palestine’, so it’s great.”

Before the conflict started, Shahzaib says he would have voted Labour, but now he’s not so sure.

Mohsin Islam, who’s also come to play snooker, tells me that growing up, he too supported Labour.

Now though, he says “politics is a total mess".

"The situation in Gaza - no one’s speaking up for it,” he tellsa me.

Mohsin says he doesn’t think he’ll ever vote Labour again, unless Sir Keir is replaced as party leader.

According to a poll by Survation and the Labour Muslim Network, there’s been a drop in support for Labour among British Muslims.

When asked at the last election, 86% said they voted Labour.

When asked how they would currently vote, only 43% said they’d definitely vote Labour again - 23% were undecided.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Parliament voted for Labour’s motion calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, fighting from both sides to stop, rapid increase in delivery of aid into Gaza, and the release of all hostages.

“It also called for the start of a political process for lasting peace, and a two-state solution.”

For some, like Taj and Ammar, the time it’s taken Labour to reach that position means it’s too late.

But with a General Election still months - and potentially many months - away, the wider impact of the discontent they say Muslim voters feel is unclear.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has been accused of Islamophobia this week, after senior Tories failed to condemn Lee Anderson’s comments as Islamophobic.

Rishi Sunak denied that at Prime Minister’s Questions, saying: "This is the party that delivered the first Jewish prime minister, the first female prime minister, the first black chancellor, the first Muslim home secretary, and now led by the first British Asian prime minister.”

Despite that, the resounding feeling I heard from people on the doorstep in Bradford, and in the snooker hall in Batley, was that they were fed up with both political parties.

Some of that was about the Gaza conflict, but what I heard more from people was a feeling that politics is far removed from their everyday lives.

In a General Election year, there’s no doubt that political apathy - combined with people’s feelings about Gaza - will play a part in shaping the outcome.

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