Imran Mulla – UK election 2024: Millions head to the polls guided by anger over Gaza war

Labour is widely expected to win in a landslide, but the opposition party faces intense pressure in several constituencies over its response to the war

Imran Mulla is a journalist at Middle East Eye

Cross-posted from Middle East Eye


Millions of people are heading to the polls across the UK on Thursday, with Israel‘s war on Gaza likely to be a key factor in deciding how many will cast their ballot in the high-stakes election.

Voting began at 7am local time (06:00 GMT) in more than 40,000 polling stations across the country, and at 10pm broadcasters will announce exit polls, which typically provide an accurate picture of how the main parties have performed.

Two major polls have suggested that the opposition Labour Party is on course to win by a landslide, securing around 431 of 650 seats in the House of Commons.

The polls have suggested that voters will overwhelmingly punish the Tories after 14 years of often chaotic rule, with reports emerging in the past 24 hours that even incumbent Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s seat in the constituency of Richmond and Northallerton might not be safe.

Labour leader Keir Starmer was taking nothing for granted as he urged voters not to stay at home earlier in the day.

But in cities and towns across the UK, voters in Muslim communities and on the left have been left furious over Labour’s delay in demanding a ceasefire from Israel over its response to the 7 October attacks and are determined to make their voices heard.

Though Labour remains in opposition and has no say over UK foreign policy, many have been outraged by the party’s response to the war, and what they frequently describe as Israeli genocide.

Scores of independent candidates have decided to stand in Labour-held seats on pro-Gaza platforms, with the opposition party designating 16 seats as “battleground areas.”

Israel’s war on Gaza, now nearing its tenth month, has turned much of the enclave, which is home to more than two million Palestinians, into an uninhabitable hellscape.

Whole neighbourhoods have been erased. Homes, schools and hospitals have been devastated and nearly the entire population has fled their homes at least once.

More than 37,000 people have been killed, the great majority of them women and children. Thousands more are missing or presumed to be dead under the rubble.

For months, many voters across the UK have voiced dissatisfaction with Labour, especially over the party’s early stance when it called for an “enduring cessation of fighting” instead of a comprehensive ceasefire.

Although the party later shifted its position, many have said they feel compelled to vote for an unwaveringly pro-ceasefire candidate and party.

A recent YouGov poll found that 29 percent of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis intended to vote for Green Party candidates, and only 44 percent for Labour. The left-wing Green Party has campaigned heavily in several areas on its support for a ceasefire in Gaza and the suspension of arms sales to Israel.

Meanwhile George Galloway, who was elected in the northern seat of Rochdale in a by-election in February, is fielding candidates for his Workers Party in seats across the country on pro-Gaza platforms.

The election campaign has also proven to be important for minority groups given the meteoric rise of Reform UK, an anti-immigrant party led by veteran right-wing politician Nigel Farage.

Numerous Reform UK parliamentary candidates have been exposed of making anti-Muslim and racist comments, while Farage himself said early on in the campaign that young Muslims do not share British values.

Which seats to watch?

In Birmingham Ladywood, a West Midlands constituency designated a battleground area by Labour, the opposition party’s incumbent Shabana Mahmood faces a serious challenge from pro-Gaza independent Akhmed Yakoob.

Also in Birmingham, Labour’s Jess Phillips – who in November resigned from Starmer’s shadow cabinet to vote for a ceasefire in parliament – is being challenged by Workers Party candidate Jody McIntyre in Birmingham Yardley.

Independent candidate Ayoub Khan is standing against Labour incumbent Khalid Mahmood in Birmingham Perry Barr.

Mahmood, who also defied Labour leader Keir Starmer to vote for a ceasefire, drew criticism earlier this week when a video depicting him arguing with mosque-goers and telling them to “shut up” went viral.

In the East Midlands, Labour shadow cabinet minister Jon Ashworth is being challenged in Leicester South, which has a 33 percent Muslim population, by two pro-Gaza candidates: independent Shockat Adam and the Green Party’s Sharmen Rahman. Ashworth is primed to retain his seat but could face an unprecedented drop in his majority.

Galloway is likely to hold his seat in Greater Manchester’s Rochdale. In Dewsbury & Batley in West Yorkshire, Labour incumbent Kim Leadbetter faces pro-Gaza independent Iqbal Hussain Mohamed.

One of the most bitterly-fought campaigns is in Blackburn, which has a 35 percent Muslim population. Labour incumbent Kate Hollern is set to beat two candidates standing on a pro-Gaza platform, Craig Murray of the Workers Party and independent candidate Adnan Hussain, amid allegations from both sides of vote splitting.

Down south in Bristol Central, where most people are under 35 and about a quarter were born in another country, Labour faces an unprecedented upset. Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer is likely to unseat Labout’s Thangam Debbonaire on a stridently pro-Gaza platform.

London, meanwhile, is the site of multiple heated contests.

British Palestinian independent Leanne Mohamad, aged 23, aims to unseat Labour’s shadow health secretary and close Starmer ally Wes Streeting in London’s Ilford North. Mohamad’s has been the most highly publicised pro-Gaza campaign in the media this election.

In East London’s Bethnal Green & Stepney, Labour’s Rushanara Ali faces pro-Gaza independent Ajmal Masroor – after a rival independent, Tasnime Akunjee, stood down to avoid vote-splitting earlier in the campaign.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, now expelled from the party, is standing as an independent in his constituency, Islington North – in what polls suggest is a neck-and-neck race.

And all eyes are on Keir Starmer’s own constituency, Holborn and St Pancras in London. Starmer is being challenged by pro-Gaza independent Andrew Feinstein, a writer and former Mandela ally who campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. Starmer is set to win but support for Feinstein could eat significantly into the Labour leader’s majority.

Results from the UK’s 650 constituencies will trickle in overnight, with the winning party expected to hit 326 seats – the threshold for a parliamentary majority – early on Friday.

Due to the Israeli war crimes in Gaza we have increased our coverage from five to six days a week. We do not have the funds to do this, but felt that it was the only right thing to do. So if you have not already donated for this year, please do so now. To donate please go HERE.

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