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Muslim voters could decide crucial Batley & Spen by-election

18th Jun 2021
Muslim voters could decide crucial Batley & Spen by-election

George Galloway (Workers Party) and Kim Leadbeate (Labour) will contest the Batley and Spen seat along with Tory candidate Ryan Stephenson and 13 other candidates.(Credit: WikiCommons and Labour Party)

Hamed Chapman and Ahmed J Versi

Labour faces a daunting task to hang onto another so-called ‘red wall’ seat in northern England next month, the outcome of which could be crucial to the position of party leader Keir Starmer with Muslims in the constituency seen holding the key.

Like elsewhere, the sizeable Muslim community in Batley and Spen estimated to number more than 15 per cent of constituents who say they are angry at Labour as it feels their support for the party they traditionally vote for is taken for granted.

“Keir Starmer is not taking issues of Islamophobia seriously like he does on anti-Semitism. During the Gaza bombing by Israel he did not speak out when the Palestinian civilians and children were being killed,” Aziz Daji, a 63-year-old local activist, told The Muslim News.

“Muslims have woken up and are going to punish the party for taking our votes for granted. The Party is not what it used to be, it does not listen to us,” said Daji, who had been a Labour member for many years but resigned because the party did not take their concerns seriously.

Former Labour MP, George Galloway, has no doubts about the importance of the by-election being held so soon after the party was trounced in May’s local elections that included losing another northern stronghold in a Hartlepool.

“I’m in standing against Keir Starmer. If Keir Starmer loses this by-election then it’s curtains,” Galloway admitted after deciding to stand himself in the constituency for the Workers Party, which he recently set up in his latest wily venture.

Large numbers of Muslims have been indicated they could vote for Galloway even though he is not expected to stand for more than one term after previously been an MP in Glasgow, Bethnal Green and Bow in London and Bradford West.
“Galloway was against the Iraq war. He is speaking out against Israel’s killing of Palestinians,” Daji said regarding the latest bombing attacks on civilians in Gaza that also destroyed so many civilian infrastructures.

Starmer, since becoming leader last April, has been unable to turn around Labour’s fortunes as well as his own declining ratings and some party members see him facing a leadership election after just over a year as happened to his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

Batley and Spen, which Labour has held since 1997, was the seat of Jo Cox before she was brutally murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016. Since then, the constituency has been retained by Tracy Brabin, who was elected Mayor of West Yorkshire last month.

Kim Leadbeater, the younger sister of Cox, has been selected by Labour in what has been described as a desperate attempt not to lose the seat by picking up compassionate votes seeking to defend a majority that was reduced to 3,525 at the last general election in 2019. (Muslim population of voting age is 13,967)

“We are not supporting Labour Party to punish Keir Starmer and the Party which has been taking our votes for granted and taking us for a ride. He did not speak out or condemn the disproportionate bombing in Gaza by Israel,” 54-year-old lawyer, Yunus Lunat told The Muslim News.

“There is also resentment in the community regarding the selection process. It was not transparent. A credible candidate could have and should have been considered. A candidate was selected who hadn’t been a Labour member for long and rejected others who had members for years.,” said Lunat, who is an executive member of the Indian Muslim Welfare Society.

It was understood that there were two local Muslim candidates, a male and a female, but neither was selected to stand before Leadbeater was suddenly chosen and imposed by central office despite having virtually no experience.

Visiting the constituency to offer his support on June 10, Starmer described Cox’s sister as a “local champion” who will “get things done,” saying “you can’t fail to be impressed by Kim’s enthusiasm.”

“Her plan for Batley & Spen is bold and ambitious, and has been developed alongside local people,” the Labour leader said, putting his full weight behind her after sending out letters to thousands of constituents, asking what local issues mattered most to them and what they loved most about where they live.

Another Muslim Labour activist Hasan Badat, 58, had little doubt that Labour was going to lose, saying the party has changed a lot. “It has gone more to the right. Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, got rid of Jeremy Corbyn from Labour Party. Labour has now become a dirty word.”

“I don’t mind if Labour loses in the election. Labour Party has been taking our votes for granted. We want to make a stand. Our priority is to send a strong message to the Party,” Badat said, adding that in contrast, “Galloway is providing a natural home for Muslims. He is a strong supporter of Palestine.”

Labour candidate Ken Leadbeater and Leader of Kirklees Council, Councillor Shabir Pandor were not available for interview.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

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