Labour voters think Keir Starmer has handled Israel-Hamas crisis badly

Starmer warned of ‘existential threat’ in Labour seats with large Muslim population

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Saturday 28 October 2023 14:00 BST
Comments
Sadiq Khan calls for Gaza ceasefire as Labour rebellion against Starmer stance grows

Labour voters tend to think Keir Starmer has handled the Gaza crisis badly, a new poll has revealed as the party leader comes under growing pressure to back a ceasefire.

A new YouGov survey finds that 42 per cent of 2019 Labour voters think that Sir Keir has badly handled his response to Israel-Hamas conflict.

Only 26 per cent think Mr Starmer – who has refused to support a ceasefire despite backing from a revolt by dozens of MPs and the party’s devolved leaders – has handled it well.

London mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar all broke ranks to challenge Sir Keir’s stance on Gaza.

Labour MPs have told The Independent that more than 100 of Sir Keir’s MPs – half his parliamentary party, including some frontbenchers – want him to call for a ceasefire to the fighting.

They also warned the Labour leader that the party faces an “existential threat” in seats with a large number of Muslim voters, as councillors quit and local parties pass motions in favour of an immediate ceasefire.

Frontbencher Rushanara Ali, Labour’s shadow minister for small business, backed a “humanitarian ceasefire” on Friday evening. She has joined Yasmin Qureshi, a shadow equalities minister, in defying the leadership.

Sir Keir has joined Rishi Sunak in calling of “humanitarian pause” – as distinct from a ceasefire – to allow aid to enter Gaza. But he has consistently argued that Israel has the right to defend itself after an attack by Hamas terrorists.

The Labour leader also angered many in the party with comments in which he appeared to back the cutting of power and water to Gaza – which he clarified 10 days later, insisting: “I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.”

Keir Starmer facing growing pressure to back Gaza ceasefire

One Labour MP said Mr Starmer had made a “catastrophic decision” to stick with Israel “unconditionally” – arguing that it had alienated millions of voters. “He’s got himself into a serious mess.”

The backbencher told The Independent: “There is an existential threat to a lot of Labour seats with a large number of Muslims voters. I know it’s about a humanitarian disaster – but people do count numbers are worry about their seats. There are MPs on the right of the party and soft left who are very uneasy.”

They added: “A wide group are really, really unhappy. I would say around 100 MPs [want a ceasefire]. The numbers are moving away from him quite rapidly. So I can’t see how the position will hold, especially if there’s wider escalation in the conflict.”

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who helped organise a meeting between Sir Keir and Muslim MPs this week, said: “I certainly hope Keir does [back a ceasefire]. We had a very productive meeting. We were heard, we’re now in dialogue. That’s positive.”

While 49 MPs have gone public with their support for a ceasefire, many more are believed to be unhappy – and four shadow cabinet ministers are reportedly on resignation watch as the leadership battles to shore up support for the position.

“I think there is more [than 49 MPs] who want that [ceasefire],” said Mr Mahmood. “We have to deal with the scourge of Hamas, but the only way we can deal with it is by having a ceasefire that allows aid in.”

Another Labour MP added: “It’s not just the left – it’s far more than 49 MPs who are frustrated about the position. But I fear they will be people around Starmer telling him he needs to stick to backing the US and Israel, telling him he has to be willing to burn our base.”

Keir Starmer visited South Wales Islamic Centre mosque last weekend

Party sources made clear the Labour leader was not about to change his position on Friday despite the revolt from the mayors in London and Greater Manchester and the Scottish party leader.

Mr Burnham was joined by his deputy Kate Green – who served on Sir Keir’s frontbench until standing down as an MP in 2021 – and 10 leaders of Manchester councils in adding to the ceasefire calls.

However, the group did add that “we recognise that Israel has the right to take targeted action within international law to defend itself against terror attacks and terrorist organisations and to rescue hostages”.

Over 300 Labour councillors have now signed an open letter to Sir Keir backing calls for a ceasefire. And the Romford Constituency Labour Party (CLP) voted unanimously for a motion backing a ceasefire and opposing an Israeli ground invasion – the first CLP to do so.

“I would like the leadership to go further and to call for a ceasefire, and to be clearer about its position on the siege of Gaza being illegal,” said Romford CLP’s Omar Salem, who proposed the motion.

Pollster Chris Hopkins from Savanta warned that “divided parties don’t win elections”, adding: “It could get worse, divisions could deepen within Labour and I’d expect the Tories to try and capitalise on it.”

Labour voters view of Sir Keir’s handling of the crisis is similar to the wider public’s assessment: 42 per cent of Britons say he has done badly, and only 18 per cent say he has done well.

While Mr Sunak is equally likely to be seen by voters as having done a bad job in managing the crisis, at 43 per cent, more are likely to say that he has done well (27 per cent) than Mr Starmer.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in