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The UK left sent Labour a message on austerity and Palestine

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Jeremy Corbyn speaks to his supporters after his re-election as the independent MP for Islington North. Corbyn earned more votes in this election than the incoming Prime Minister, Keir starmer, and as Labour leader, he garnered a vote of 10.2 million in 2017, increasing this to 12.8 million, compared to Starmer’s vote of 9.6 million votes. Picture: Guy Smallman

By Martin Williams

If the party wants to secure another victory at the next election, it must think very carefully about its stance on issues like Gaza, the NHS, and the cost of living crisis.

Incoming UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s election victory has given Labour a firm grip on power — but a closer look at the results shows a party facing stiff opposition from the left. Many candidates standing on anti-austerity and pro-Palestine platforms have achieved impressive results, which could spark a wider political movement.

Across most of Great Britain, support for the Labour Party did not actually increase. It is thanks only to the UK’s First Past the Post electoral system that such a big landslide was possible.

With two seats still left to declare, Labour has won 9.6 million votes — around 33.7 percent of all votes cast. This is far less than the 12.8 million votes (40 percent) the party secured in 2017, when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

Many independent candidates succeeded. Their message resonated with the public. So what would have happened if they had worked together on a left-wing platform of fighting injustices, both in the UK and further afield?

Since the last election in 2019, Labour has increased its overall share of the vote by less than two points. Polling expert John Curtice says this was “entirely as a result of a 17-point increase in support in Scotland”, following a collapse in SNP support.

Starmer’s victory, Curtis explains, was not so much due to a rise in support for the party, but “largely on the back of a dramatic 20-point decline in Conservative support”.

The Labour leader’s allies will, no doubt, use the result to show that the party can win elections only from the centre ground — and will continue to push out any opposition from the left. But yesterday’s vote also represents a major shift in support for left-wing candidates.

At the last election, no independent candidates won a seat. This time around, independents secured an impressive share of the vote and inflicted a series of major blows to Labour, winning in five constituencies in England. Many such candidates had stood on pro-Palestine platforms, highlighting Starmer’s support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

Independent Shockat Adam defeated Labour shadow cabinet minister Jon Ashworth in Leicester South, which was meant to be a safe seat; Ashworth had won by more than 22,000 votes in 2019. After the result was announced, Adam said: “This is for the people of Gaza.”

Elsewhere, IT consultant Iqbal Mohamed pulled off a landslide victory against Labour in the constituency of Dewsbury and Batley in West Yorkshire, winning by almost 7,000 votes.

A solicitor called Adnan Hussein, who stood as an independent candidate in Blackburn, secured a narrow win over Labour, in what the BBC described as a “stunning victory”.

And another pro-Palestine independent candidate, Ayoub Khan, beat Labour in the constituency of Birmingham Perry Barr.

Meanwhile, Corbyn — who also stood as an independent after being forced out of the party — won his seat in Islington North by more than 7,200 votes. This was despite Labour pouring significant support into the constituency, including visits from party grandees like Tony Blair’s former chief adviser, Peter Mandelson, and former deputy leader Tom Watson.

Corbyn, of course, benefited from being so well-known and having served the constituency for more than 40 years. But the scale of his victory was certainly not guaranteed. Shortly before the election, the constituency was described in the media as “marginal”.

Other independents came a close second or third. They include 23-year-old Liane Mohamed, who was within touching distance of kicking Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, out of his seat in Ilford North. She lost by just 528 votes.

In Chingford and Woodford Green, the Labour Party scored a spectacular own-goal by ditching its popular local candidate, Faiza Shaheen, in a last-minute deselection that split the left-wing vote and allowed former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith to retain the seat with 17,000 votes. Shaheen — whom Starmer previously campaigned with and described as “a fantastic candidate” — stood as an independent and won almost 12,500 votes — only 79 less than Labour.

Even in Starmer’s ultra-safe central London seat of Holborn and St Pancras, an independent candidate emerged out of nowhere to land a considerable blow. The Labour leader lost nearly 18,000 votes (more than 17 percent) from the last election, falling from 36,641 to 18,884. His rival, the anti-apartheid campaigner Andrew Feinstein, came second with 7,312.

All of these wins should worry Labour. Although its victory is clear, the party faces a significant electoral and political threat from left-wing and pro-Palestine opponents. If it wants to secure another victory at the next election, it must think very carefully about its stance on issues like Gaza, the NHS, and the cost of living crisis.

There are reasons independent candidates often struggle to win seats at a general election. They receive little airtime from the media and lack the big financial donations that larger parties rely on.

The First Past the Post system also greatly benefited Labour in this election, when compared to the Green Party and others. This will reignite calls for proportional representation.

But despite these systemic obstacles, this time around, many independent candidates succeeded. Their message resonated with the public. So what would have happened if they had worked together on a left-wing platform of fighting injustices, both in the UK and further afield? The results today could well be very different in many areas.

If there was ever a good time for them to consider a new party, it’s now. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK has shown that a new party can burst onto the stage and win seats in Parliament. Given the success of many left-wing independent candidates, and the purge of left-wingers from the Labour Party, could the left learn something from this in time for the next election?

Martin Williams is UK Investigations Editor at openDemocracy. He is the author of ‘Parliament Ltd’ and can be found on Twitter @martinrw

This article was published on Peoples Dispatch