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Labour’s Gaza stance leads to voter backlash in English council elections

03 May 2024 4 minute read
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. Photo Maja Smiejkowska/PA Wire

A backlash over Labour’s stance on Gaza has led to losses on local councils across England, amid otherwise positive local elections results.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, was among the senior party figures who conceded Labour’s approach to the conflict in the Middle East had led to the losses, but said it would work to “earn votes back in future”.

The party failed to regain control of Oxford after a string of prominent defections over its messaging on the Gaza crisis, and in a similar blow, lost control of Oldham Council in Greater Manchester to independents.

Labour also lost council seats to independents in Blackburn with Darwen and Bradford, while George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain gained from it in Manchester and Rochdale.

‘Strong feelings’

Shadow home secretary Ms Cooper told BBC News: “We do strongly recognise there are areas where we have had independent candidates who have been particularly strongly campaigning on Gaza and where there is really strong feeling about this issue, because tens of thousands of people have been killed.

“It is just devastating to see what is happening, which is why we need an immediate ceasefire and for hostages to be released and why we hope some progress will be made in the negotiations.

“We do recognise the strength of feeling that there is and of course we will continue to work just as we do in every area across the country to earn votes back in future.”

Labour failed to win back control of Oxford after nine councillors defected to independent last year over Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza.

The party lost a further two seats to the Greens on Friday, and now have 20 of the 48 councillors, with 11 independents, nine Lib Dems and eight Greens.

It retained control of Blackburn with Darwen, but lost four seats, while the Conservatives lost two and independents were up four.

Labour retained control of Bradford council, but lost four seats, with independents gaining four, Greens gaining two and Conservatives losing two seats.

Palestine

In Oldham, independent candidates, several of whom explicitly campaigned in support of Palestine, gained five seats on Thursday, pushing the council into no overall control.

Labour’s majority on Oldham Council, which it has controlled since 2011, had already been whittled down to just one ahead of Thursday’s elections thanks to two defections last month.

It remains the largest party on Oldham Council with 27 out of 60 seats, while the number of independent councillors has risen to 16.

There are also nine Liberal Democrats and eight Conservatives, meaning a coalition of opposition parties could topple the Labour administration.

In Manchester, Labour deputy leader of the council Luthfur Rahman lost his seat to Shahbaz Sarwar of Mr Galloway’s Workers Party.

The party claimed the seat in the Longsight ward with 2,444 votes to Labour’s 2,259 votes.

Speaking at the Manchester count, Mr Galloway proclaimed a “Sarwar family victory” and signalled this was related to Gaza.

“It’s a story of a group of people who were faithful to the Palestinian cause from the first to the last,” Mr Galloway said.

The Workers Party also won its first two council seats in Rochdale, where Mr Galloway won a by-election in March.

Labour retained control of the council with 44 seats, after losing two to the Workers Party of Britain, with the Conservatives on nine, Lib Dems on three and two independents.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had earlier said he was “concerned wherever we lose votes”, but that Labour was picking up seats where it needed to.

His national campaign co-ordinator, Pat McFadden, acknowledged the crisis in Gaza had been “a factor in some places”, saying that with “so many innocent people being killed I’m not surprised people have strong feelings about that”.

But Oldham Council leader Labour’s Arooj Shah has denied the party’s loss of control was because of the Gaza crisis, blaming the Tories in Westminster for “13 years of austerity”.

Labour MP Clive Betts said there was “no doubt at all about it” that the party had lost votes as a result of its stance on Gaza.

The Sheffield South East MP added: “A lot of that was mistaken, on the belief that we hadn’t changed our position on Gaza from a few months ago, but once people take a view that we have got it wrong, it is very difficult to change their minds.”

Elsewhere, Labour swept to victory in several new regional mayoralties, gained control of eight councils, and won nine police and crime commissioner posts from the Conservatives.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
20 days ago

Half a brain, honest, the man could not find his way out of a phone box…

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