Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood admitted Labour needs to rebuild relations with Muslim voters after criticism of its initial response to the Middle East crisis
Labour’s most senior Muslim MP has said the party’s stance on Gaza has damaged trust with voters.
Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood admitted Labour needs to rebuild relations with British Muslims after criticism of its initial response to the Middle East crisis. Eight frontbenchers, including prominent MP Jess Phillips, resigned in November to back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza in defiance of Keir Starmer’s position. Labour has since shifted to calling for a “sustainable ceasefire”.
In an interview with the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson, Ms Mahmood said that among Muslim voters “there has been a sense of a loss of trust, and I think that that needs to be rebuilt. That is something we are all very cognisant of and we want to make sure we put that right.”
The Labour leader was widely criticised for appearing to suggest that Israel had the right to withhold water and power from Gaza in an interview with LBC in October. After a fierce backlash, Mr Starmer clarified that he thought Israel had a “right to self-defence” but it should not block humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Ms Mahmood said: “There’s no getting away from the fact that it is true objectively and by any other measure that that was not a good moment. Keir, of course, then did go on to clarify his comments. Miscommunications in politics do happen.” She added: “It was necessary because it was widely seen by millions of people, had caused a huge amount of anguish and he put the record straight.”
Asked about criticism of Labour’s failure to call for a ceasefire, she said: “I wanted a ceasefire then, I want a ceasefire now. It’s impossible to look at footage of dead children being pulled from the rubble, knowing that they were crying out and no one could get to them, and not want this nightmare to stop, not want the fighting to stop.” She added: “I wish it were possible, simply by calling for it, that you could immediately deliver [a ceasefire].”
Ms Mahmood said it was not just Muslims in Britain who are “feeling a very strong sense of, pain at what’s unfolding. So do all British Jews”. “We are all British citizens together,” she added.
“I think that if we lose our sense of humanity for what is being suffered by all of the peoples in that region, I think we lose something very, very important and very precious. And once gone, I think it’s very difficult to get back.”
She criticised Hamas and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu for blocking efforts to find a two-state solution. “We have to urgently find partners for peace, because a one state solution does not make the people of Israel safe,” she said. “And it is an outrage to adopt a position that says that the people of Israel can have self-determination, but the people of Palestine cannot.”