Is Labour listening over Gaza?


By Richard Burden

Originally published by Labour List, May 7, 2024

Labour says it will listen to its supporters’ concerns over Gaza. Now it must show it understands what that means.

By any measure, Labour did exceptionally well in the local elections, nowhere more famously than in my own region, where Labour’s Richard Parker oh so narrowly defeated Conservative incumbent, Andy Street, to become Mayor of the West Midlands. Street had established a reputation for himself that transcended traditional party loyalties and had consciously played down his Conservative affiliations ahead of the election. It was widely expected that he would hang on even if there was a meltdown in public support for his party more generally. It was not to be. Even his reputation could not survive the anti-Tory surge that swept the country.

But amongst the celebrations in the Labour camp of which I am a member, the recent elections also require a pause for thought and self-reflection. In the West Midlands, an independent candidate campaigning on a platform starkly critical of Labour’s stance on Gaza secured nearly 70,000 votes. Without his intervention, it is likely that Richard Parker would have won much more comfortably. Gaza also lost Labour a number of council seats previously thought to be safe in towns like Oldham and probably prevented Labour winning some key marginal council seats elsewhere in the North.

To his credit, in celebrating his party’s success last week, Sir Keir Starmer has not sought to deny the impact that anger over Labour’s Gaza stance has had. He has said that he is listening and that he is determined to win back the trust of voters who usually vote Labour but who do not feel able to do so with things as they are.

The “we are listening” message from Labour’s leader and other senior Party figures in recent days has been in welcome contrast to the briefing given by “a party source” to the BBC before the votes were counted. The source claimed that Hamas would have been “the real villains” if Labour failed to win the mayoralty in the West Midlands. Rightly, that kind of dismissal of Muslim and other voters’ concerns about the bloodshed in Gaza was widely condemned as both unacceptable and downright racist.

Labour was also quick to distance itself from the anonymous “source” and rightly so. However, the fact that an experienced BBC journalist could have thought that views like these might indeed have reflected the thinking of Labour’s high command underlines at best how badly Labour has communicated its position on Gaza. At worst it may even suggest that there are one or two senior Labour figures who do harbour views like these.

All of this begs the question about just how Labour intends to “listen” and about what is required to win back the trust as Keir Starmer has declared himself determined to do.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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