The Gaza vote: Will Israel’s war cause an upset at the UK general election?

Millions of people will turn out to vote across the UK on 4 July in a general election likely to put the Labour Party back in power after 14 years in opposition.

But amid anger over politicians’ approaches to Israel’s war on Gaza, some are backing neither Keir Starmer’s Labour nor current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives.

Palestine is striking a particular chord with many British Muslims as well as others who care deeply about the country’s longstanding plight.

The Muslim Vote

“Muslims, wherever they are, Palestine is important to them. And injustice is something that we’re against,” Wajid Akhter, a volunteer for the Muslim Vote campaign group, told The New Arab.

The Muslim Vote is endorsing independents and candidates representing smaller parties like the Greens and left-wing firebrand George Galloway’s Workers Party.

The campaign had on 5 June announced endorsements for three Labour politicians seeking to be re-elected as MPs, but later reversed course. It said it had received “a lot of feedback from the community”, adding that it would not be supporting candidates from Labour or the Conservatives in the upcoming election “due to their party leaderships’ position on the continuing genocide in Gaza”.

The three Labour politicians, Afzal Khan, Naz Shah, and Yasmin Qureshi, were among those to defy Starmer in November by voting in favour of a motion supporting an immediate ceasefire in the war. The motion failed to pass.

Akhter said the vote was a “big wake-up call” and that Muslims were “almost made to feel… that our political opinion and weight as a community was worthless”.

Back then, Labour supported “humanitarian pauses” to scale up aid to Gaza, which it said was a necessary step to an “enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible”. Its position has since shifted to backing an immediate ceasefire.

At the general election, Labour is pledging recognition of a Palestinian state, though the commitment appears softer than what was promised under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, now running as an independent.

The Conservative Party also voted against the ceasefire motion in November. Last month, deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell said the government supports a pause in fighting that is then turned into a “sustainable permanent ceasefire”.

The Muslim community makes up around six percent of Great Britain’s population of more than 65 million and has traditionally aligned with Labour.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 37,396 people since it began in October according to the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry.


Akhter said he thought The Muslim Vote had already achieved success at the general election, adding that this wouldn’t be measured at the ballot box or through the level of media coverage the campaign is receiving.

“The number-one factor for us in terms of success would be to make the Muslim community feel like there is a benefit for them engaging with the political process and doing so in a coordinated manner,” he continued, saying this had been accomplished.

“This is not just an exercise in futility. This is not just us begging for scraps from the table. This is a long-term process of us making our voice heard.”


British Muslims are being silenced as Israel destroys Gaza


Afroze Fatima Zaidi

While Gaza is a major issue for many Muslims, it’s not the only concern. Akhter said there was always a need for the community to come together.

“We should have done this last election because there are other issues. We should do this for the NHS,” he said, referring to Britain’s struggling public health system.

“We should have done this for Islamophobia. We should do this about racism. We should do this about the cost-of-living crisis.”

‘Much wider’

One candidate endorsed by The Muslim Vote is Andrew Feinstein, a Jewish former South African MP who served under Nelson Mandela, the country’s first post-apartheid president.

The pro-Palestinian arms trade expert is running to unseat Starmer, who sparked backlash after appearing to say early in the Gaza war that Israel had the right to withhold power and water from Palestinians in the territory. Later in October, Starmer said he meant that Israel had the right to self-defence rather than to cut off supplies.

The two men are among 12 candidates standing in the London seat of Holborn and St Pancras. Starmer won around 65 percent of the constituency’s vote at the last election in 2019 – more than four times the support secured by the second-place candidate, a Conservative. Boundary changes in effect for the 2024 election would have had no notable effect on the Labour leader’s vote share five years ago, an estimate indicates.

But Feinstein said he believed “we’re in with a fighting chance of causing what would be a major upset”.

Holborn and St Pancras’s voting-age population of around 90,000 is approximately 16 percent Muslim, according to 2021 census data analysed by The New Arab – though some people, including European Union nationals, will not meet citizenship requirements to cast a ballot.

Made with Flourish

Feinstein said it wasn’t just Muslims who care about Gaza when he’s out campaigning in Holborn and St Pancras. “It’s much wider than that. This is politically a progressive constituency,” he told The New Arab.

About 22 percent of Holborn and St Pancras’s adult population is 18–24 years old and around half is aged between 18 and 35, according to census data.

“All young people I speak to, regardless of background… [Gaza is] the first issue they ask me about,” Feinstein said.

Made with Flourish

But will Britain’s electorate act on Palestine at the ballot box? A survey conducted by polling firm Find Out Now between 9 and 11 June found that, excluding respondents who said they don’t know, one in 20 adults reports having changed who they intended to vote for due to the Gaza war.

“To change who you vote for, based on a single issue, is massive – particularly when we know that general elections are typically won based on domestic issues,” said Isam Uraiqat, co-director of UKPAN, a group of Palestinian lawyers, academics, and business leaders that commissioned the poll.

He said in that sense the number who have shifted their votes was “significant” when considering how it “can sway the vote in some constituencies”.


Andrew Feinstein: The South African politician standing for Gaza


Anam Alam

Around four-fifths of respondents who reported switching their votes and for whom ethnicity data was available were white, a proportion roughly in line with the demographic makeup of Britain.

“Many people across the board in the UK see [Gaza] as an issue of humanity which ultimately affects us all,” Uraiqat told The New Arab.

Labour is expected to win a majority of seats at the upcoming general election, which would allow it to form the next government.

At local elections held in some places in May, the party’s support suffered a drop of almost 18 points in areas with a Muslim population of more than 20 percent, according to British broadcaster Sky News’s analysis.


survey carried out by polling company Savanta between 24 May and 3 June found that 12 percent of UK adults ranked “the Israel-Palestine conflict” among their five highest policy priorities at the next general election. Of these, nearly two-thirds said they would consider casting their ballot for a pro-Palestinian, independent candidate standing on the issue.

Do these figures suggest the Conservatives or Labour could lose seats?

“It’s difficult to say because… consideration and actually taking that through to voting at the ballot box on 4 July are two different things,” Emma Levin, associate director at Savanta, told The New Arab.

“The voters that are concerned about Israel-Palestine as an issue… tend to be located in Labour seats with really strong majorities,” she added.

Levin said the numbers suggest the issue may not cost Labour seats now but added that it could pose a problem in a few months’ time if the party forms the next government. Starmer would have to lead the UK’s response to the matter with the small but significant proportion of people for whom the topic is a priority potentially questioning his party’s stance, she added.


What are UK parties’ takes on Israel’s war on Gaza?


The New Arab Staff

Savanta’s survey, conducted for media outlet Hyphen, found differences along age lines. While 25 percent of 18–24-year-olds ranked “the Israel-Palestine conflict” among their top three policy concerns when determining their vote at the next election, this fell to just eight percent of those aged 65 and above.

The “Israel-Palestine conflict” was also emphasised in the Muslim community, where it was the number-one issue for a fifth of voters. Among the 44 percent of Muslim adults who considered the issue a top-five concern, 86 percent said they would consider backing a pro-Palestinian independent.

Steady support

Even so, the proportion of Muslims intending to vote Labour at the election appears to have held steady, with support at nearly two in three in both Savanta’s recent survey and a previous one conducted in late October and early November.

Savanta polling carried out between 14 and 16 June had Labour’s vote share among UK adults in general at 40 percent. That is six points down on an earlier survey also performed last week, though there were differences in methodology between the two.

Despite its strong support in the community, Labour has lost a significant number of Muslims who backed it in the 2019 election. Levin said around one in four Muslims who voted for the party five years ago no longer say they will do so again, with the Greens and Liberal Democrats among those benefitting.

“The reason why Labour’s managing to maintain their figures [among Muslims] despite losing some of those voters is they are in turn picking up voters from those who voted Conservative back in 2019,” Levin said.

Another factor that could limit the impact of any disaffection with Labour is geography. Levin said the party has traditionally performed very well in areas with strong Muslim communities, meaning it is “sitting on some really healthy majorities in those seats”.

But there are signs the party is concerned. Its website called 18 constituencies it currently holds where the population is at least 10 percent Muslim “battleground areas”, a searchable table published by pro-Labour news outlet LabourList indicated.

These areas included Leicester South, where independent Shockat Adam and the Green Party’s Sharmen Rahman are separately hoping to unseat Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth, who won over two-thirds of the vote in 2019.

‘Less cavalier’

Among the general voting population, national opinion polling paints an encouraging picture for Labour. Its support in Britain is at an average of about 40 percent, roughly double that of the second-place Conservatives.

Aston University political scientist Parveen Akhtar said every poll was showing a Labour landslide.

“There is a huge desire for change after 14 years of Tory rule and unprecedented cuts to living standards and public services. So many voters will vote against more of the same rather than for the Labour vision,” she told The New Arab.

“This means that going forward and in subsequent elections, Labour will need to be less cavalier about losing cohorts of voters, be they from Muslim communities, the young or [from] the left of the party.”

The New Arab contacted the Labour Party for comment but did not receive a response before publication.