What does the success of pro-Gaza independents say about Labour’s victory?

It seems, Labour owes much of its landslide, not to the electorate’s embrace of Starmerism, but its complete rejection of the Tories.

Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (C) joins pro-Palestinian supporters
Ousted former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn comfortably won in his North Islington constituency as a pro-Palestinian independent in Thursday's election [Benjamin Cremel/AFP]

It is the morning after the night before, and the United Kingdom has a new government. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has won the general election in a landslide, securing nearly as many seats and as massive a majority as Tony Blair did with his “New Labour” in 1997.

However, Starmer’s Labour finally gaining power after 14 years of long and overwhelmingly catastrophic Tory rule is not the full story here. As ever, the small print maters and requires close examination.

It seems, Labour owes much of its landslide victory not to the electorate’s embrace of Starmerism, but its complete rejection of the Tories.

Last night, the Conservatives were wiped out – people refused to vote for them, even in some of the seats long considered to be their safest, including the seats once held by former Prime Ministers Theresa May, Boris Johnson,  David Cameron and the shortest-serving prime minister in British political history, Liz Truss.

With Tories losing a shocking 250 seats, many leading Tory figures, including Jacob Reece Mogg, Penny Mordaunt and Grant Shapps have found themselves unemployed this morning. A record 11 former Tory cabinet members have lost their parliamentary seats. It was a total Tory wipeout.

Labour have won a landslide victory, but only about one-third of voters – 35 percent – cast their votes for the party. Their share of the vote in this election is up just 1.4 percentage points, largely thanks to gains against SNP in Scotland, on 2019 and a whole five percentage points lower than what they got under Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.

If the British public rejected the Conservatives in 2017 or 2019 in the same way they did yesterday, Corbyn’s Labour would have secured a victory as big as the one we are witnessing today.

This, of course, is a consequence of the UK’s archaic first-past-the-post electoral system, which helps maintain a two-party duopoly in Westminster and often delivers results not in line with the will of the people.

Despite this broken system, however, voters still sent a clear message to Labour by electing independents.

In this election, Starmer’s Labour has lost a number of former strongholds to independent candidates campaigning on pro-Palestinian platforms, demanding an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the decadeslong occupation of Palestine. In five constituencies, voters disturbed by Starmer’s pro-Israel position on the war on Gaza, elected candidates campaigning primarily on this issue. Deposed former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, for example, comfortably won in his North Islington constituency as a pro-Palestinian independent.

Several other Pro-Palestine independents have significantly reduced Labour’s majority in seats once considered safe. Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting’s majority of 5,000 in Ilford North, for example, was reduced to just 500 as a 23-year-old British Palestinian woman, Leanne Mohammed, came within touching distance of unseating him. Similarly, Jess Philipps, who once held a 10,000 majority won by just a few hundred votes in Birmingham Yardley against a pro-Palestine small-party candidate.

So far, this unprecedented surge in the independent vote has been explained away by the mainstream media simply as a rejection of Starmer’s Gaza policy in “Muslim majority” areas. This, however, is a shortsighted analysis that implies only Muslims care about genocide. Further, it feeds into tropes about British Muslims’ alleged split loyalties, whipping up Islamophobia.

The truth, of course, is simple. Many Britons, Muslim or not, want the killing to end and justice to prevail in Palestine. Moreover, they want their representatives to have the moral integrity to speak against genocide and other blatant violations of international law, even when these violations are committed by a state that is considered a key strategic ally of the UK. Moreover, many Britons acknowledge the UK’s historic complicity in the violent dispossession of Palestinians from their land, and want their government to assume a principled position on the issue to make up for past mistakes. This is why Labour’s position on Gaza led so many voters to turn their back on the party.

Another important story in this election is the rise of the far-right, anti-immigration Reform Party, which won 14 percent of the vote and four seats in the parliament. Nigel Farage, former UKIP leader and chief Brexiter, is now a Reform MP representing Clacton.

In the past few years, Farage has played an important role in shaping British politics, especially on issues like immigration and the UK’s relationship with Europe, despite not having a seat at in Parliament. Now that he is an elective representative, it is reasonable to expect him to have an even more prominent impact.

From within parliament, Reform will push Labour to assume more right-wing, aggressive policies on immigration. Starmer will have to resist this push and work to create an immigration and asylum policy aligned with international law and moral decency, which also serves the needs of the country.

So where do we go from here?

Fourteen years of Tory rule took a lot from British people. Our lives are now much harder. Many of us are much poorer. All our public services are on their knees. Further, as the success of the pro-Palestine independents have shown, many of us are distraught to have witnessed our government support a genocidal war against a people living under occupation, whose fate the colonial Britain helped seal.

There is a massive appetite for change – this is why the people voted the Tories out. But as he takes the helm of the country, it is extremely vital for Keir Starmer to acknowledge that his victory was not absolute and that he has not convinced large sections of the electorate that his government will serve their interests. He will need to show us all that he has understood the clear message the electorate has delivered, “We reject the Tories, but this does not mean we embrace your Labour Party unconditionally”.

In his first speech as the UK’s new leader, Starmer has signalled that he understands this and claimed that he wants to be the prime minister for the entire country, and especially for those who did not vote for him.

If he is serious about this – and I hope that he is for the sake of our country – he will need to reach out to those on the Labour left that he pushed out of the party, the trade union movement, and all the other forces in the UK who want to see this country serve the interests of all its people while upholding human rights and international law in its foreign policy.

The gains made by independents and left-wing small-party candidates cannot be ignored. Starmer will have to listen to their concerns on issues like Gaza and climate change, and take appropriate action. If not,  he will see his electoral victory, built on Tory collapse, will prove meaningless. He will not only find himself unable to resist pressures from the Reform Party, but also facing more outrage, protest and a stronger push for accountability from the Left.

The pro-Palestine left made a significant impact on this election. But the fight is far from over. Now that the Tories are out, and Labour is in power, this non-homogenous group needs to unite further, and develop new strategies to pressure the new government to take meaningful action on issues that matter to them, starting with the war on Gaza.

This election has shown that the days of the two-party duopoly in the UK are over. With more and more people deciding who they will vote for based on their values rather than their loyalty to a party, there is an important opportunity for the Left to increase its impact.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.