Opinion: UK Polls: Gaza Clouds Loom Over Both Sunak And His Contenders

The conflict in Gaza has caused rifts within both the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party.

May 27, 2024 - 18:45
Opinion: UK Polls: Gaza Clouds Loom Over Both Sunak And His Contenders
Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

Despite India's warm relations with Israel and traditionally close ties with the Palestinian Authority, the Israel-Hamas war has barely featured in the public discourse during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, which conclude on June 1. The Indian government's near-neutral stance on the war and its careful diplomacy at the United Nations have not been contentious issues for the key opposition parties.

In contrast, the brutal Middle East conflict casts a long shadow over the upcoming July 4 parliamentary elections in the UK. The war has sparked large protest marches, university lecture walkouts and heated debates, profoundly influencing voter sentiments.

The conflict in Gaza has caused rifts within both the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party. Earlier this year, Suella Braverman, an Indian-origin leader of the Conservative Party, was forced to resign from her position as Home Secretary after calling for a ban on pro-Palestinian protests and labelling them as "hate marches". While the Conservative Party generally supports Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's position that Israel has a right to defend itself and backs his call for a humanitarian pause rather than a full ceasefire, not all party members agree with this stance, which some see as pro-Israel.

Starmer Faces A Storm

The Labour Party has been hit even harder by the conflict. Leader Keir Starmer, who seems poised for a comfortable victory, faces significant internal opposition. Last November, as many as 56 Labour MPs, including 10 from his top team, defied his order to abstain from voting on a parliamentary motion calling for a ceasefire. This rebellion was a significant blow to Starmer's authority as he tried to rally his party behind his stance on Gaza.

Opinion | Veteran UK Minister Latest To Quit After Rishi Sunak's Poll Announcement

The issue further escalated when George Galloway, founder of the Workers Party of Britain, won a landslide victory in the Rochdale by-election, largely due to his campaign focused on Israel's actions in Gaza. In his victory speech, Galloway declared, "Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza", underscoring the deep divisions within Labour over this issue. He polled more than the Labour and Tory candidates combined.
Earlier this month, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham won their respective elections while breaking ranks with Starmer over Gaza. In the May 2 local and mayoral elections, Labour made significant gains but underperformed in areas where independent candidates who campaigned on the Gaza issue won surprising victories. George Galloway's party secured four council seats, defeating both Labour and Tory candidates.

Over 50 Labour councillors have resigned in protest against Starmer's stance on Gaza, many of them from the Muslim community, which traditionally supports Labour. Recent surveys indicate that a majority of Britons favour a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction with the current policies.

Can Labour Return?

According to a recent YouGov poll, Labour's support has dropped by 2% since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for elections, while the Conservatives have gained 1%. This shift mirrors the situation in 2014 when Labour, under Ed Miliband, seemed poised for victory but ultimately lost to David Cameron's Conservatives in the 2015 election.

With the elections just six weeks away, Starmer's confidence in a decisive victory might be well-founded as his party still leads significantly over the Conservatives. To win a majority in Parliament, a party needs one more seat than the combined total of all other parties, making 326 seats the target out of 650. Labour won 203 seats in 2019, but their numbers have since dropped to 197. To return to power after 14 years, Labour needs to gain at least 125 more seats than in the last election.

Opinion | How Rishi Sunak's Small Circle Forged Vote Plan That Shocked UK Cabinet

Local media outlets predict that Starmer will need a swing of 12.7% to secure a majority, a substantial margin compared to the 10.2% swing achieved by former Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997.

Despite predictions of a landslide victory for Starmer in the 2024 general election, the growing rebellion within Labour could challenge his efforts to maintain party unity. Concerns are mounting among Labour leaders about potentially losing support from the Muslim community and university students, both crucial voter blocs.

While Starmer may be dreaming of moving into the Prime Minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street after July 4, these internal party conflicts and shifting voter sentiments could complicate his path to victory.

(Syed Zubair Ahmed is a London-based senior Indian journalist with three decades of experience with the Western media)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

Voice Team We covers wide range of topics, from startups and small businesses to multinational corporations, finance, marketing, technology, and more.