On June 14th 2020 the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) released the results of their LMN-Survation 2021 and was one of the first ever opinion polls of British Muslims in the UK. It was conducted in partnership with one of the UK’s largest polling organisations – Survation, and sought to provide valuable insight into the perspectives of British Muslim voters across the UK1. Fieldwork for the poll was conducted between the 20th May and 4th June 2021 via telephone interviews. The survey sample size was 504 and consisted of British Muslims who were living in the UK over the age of 182. The survey consisted of six questions (with questions five and six each containing further sub sections).
The questions followed themes of political party preferences, reasons for voting, changes in preferences over the past year and views towards leaders of UK political parties. In question one, “which, if any, of the following political parties do you most identify with?” 72% of respondents identified most with the Labour Party, this was an 11% decline in comparison to figures from the 2019 UK General Election votes. Figures again show a decline in Muslim voters ratings in support for Sir Kier Starmer (Labour Party leader) in comparison with that of the 2019 general population voters. Here, the net favourability for the Labour leadership fell by 4% for Muslim voters, in comparison to the +34% for the general population voters.
Despite figures in support of Kier Starmer being higher than those for Boris Johnson (where, in accordance with poll figures his net favourability has fallen by 33%), the LMN described how “the findings of this opinion poll show the beginning of a fracturing of this relationship”3. Following this, their statement went onto say that these figures “should be of deep concern for us all in the Labour Party. Muslim voters are sending us a clear message – our votes and support should not be taken for granted and must be earned“4.
Zarah Sultana, the Labour MP for Coventry South also stated that “this polling shows that support from Muslims can’t be taken for granted. The party needs to show that Labour is loud and clear on issues these communities care about, whether that’s tackling inequality and investing in public services, or standing up to racism and advocating for justice on the world stage, from Palestine to Kashmir. This is both the right thing to do and as this polling shows, it’s an electoral necessity.”5.
In November 2020, the Labour Muslim Network released a report in which they highlighted a range of concerns about Islamophobia within the Labour Party. Key insights of this report showed how over 1 in 4 (29%) of Muslim members or supporters had directly experienced Islamophobia within the Labour Party, 37% had witnessed it, nearly half of Muslim members do not believe the Labour Party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously (44%) and 48% have no confidence in the effectiveness of the complaints procedure6. There was also concerns in the report towards the party’s approach to the government’s PREVENT strategy, and general anxiety about the party’s approach to Palestine7.
Following both the report and the more recent polls, Ali Milani, a Labour Councillor in Hillingdon released a statement that again echoed the immediate need of the Labour Party to act and regain trust with the Muslim community. He moved on to add “I desperately want the Labour Party to win again. But for us to have a chance to win – in Batley and Spen and around the country – we have to earn the trust and support of Muslim voters once again”8. The by-elections in Batley in Spen particularly (which were held on July 1st 2021), were an important test for the Labour Party9. Analysis from the Muslim Council of Britain from 2018, suggests that Batley and Spen is one of the top fifteen UK seats where Muslim votes have a high impact. They predicted that 8,600 of voters would be Muslim10.
When the Labour Party candidate, Kim Leadbeater, was canvassing in Heckmondwike on the 25th June, she received a hostile response from voters who were unhappy with the party’s stance on foreign policy issues such as Palestine and Kashmir11. In an article for the guardian, Muslim residents of the area voiced their frustrations about the Labour Party and how this was impacting their vote on the 1st July. Wajjad Hussain, 32, stated that despite voting labour his whole life he won’t be giving the party his vote anymore. Declaring his frustration at Kier Starmer’s hesitations to condemn actions in Palestine, he moved on to add “that’s not just Palestine. It’s everything locally. They’ve been in power here for 25 years but only now they’re under threat do they care about Asians“12.
The Labour Muslim network, following their public twitter stance, also wrote to Starmer on the 27th June in response to an anonymous brief to the Mail on Sunday. The wrote in response to a statement from a senior Labour official, in which they claimed that the reason the party was losing votes was because of the backlash from Muslim voters over “what Kier is doing on antisemitism”13.
The LMN moved on to add that the obvious implication from the statement to the Mail is that the “Muslim community themselves harbour antisemitic views, which it described as a ‘common racist trope perpetuated onto Muslims”14. Angela Raynor, deputy leader of the Labour Party, promised an investigation into the comments to the Mail. Miqdaad Versi, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain described the comments as “astonishing” and called for the official to be sacked15. He further added that “those who have tried to understand [the fall in support] have identified many local issues as well as Labour positions on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia – and being seen to take Muslim voters for granted. If advisors to the Labour Party don’t get this, they shouldn’t be talking about it”16.
Labour managed to narrowly secure the Batley and Spen seat by 323 votes17, yet another anonymous Islamophobic briefing was made. The anonymous comment was allegedly made by a Labour Batley campaign source and has received much criticism online, not just from the Labour Muslim Network, but from Labour MP’s such as Zarah Sultana, Anneliese Dodds and Kim Johnson, who call for the party’s leadership to take action. As Kim Johnson tweeted “paying lip-service but doing nothing to tackle Islamophobia inside the party is unacceptable”.