Preston’s Labour Party has been warned not to take the support of Muslim voters for granted, amid mounting anger about the national leadership’s stance on the war in Gaza.Advertisement
More than 150 members of the Muslim community gathered for a public meeting on Thursday evening to present their concerns to councillors from the ruling Labour group on Preston City Council.
The event was promoted with the poser, ‘Are Muslims done with Labour?’ – and one of the organisers told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the answer was likely to be ‘yes’ unless the local party did more to reflect the views of those who vote for it.
Read more: Preston peace service attracts criticism for being ‘watered down’ but council defends event
Faisal Bodi said that the two dozen or so residents who spoke at the event – at the Imperial Banqueting Hall – made their points “forcefully”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has so far refused to bow to demands from many in his own party to call for a ceasefire in the conflict, in which almost 9,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed as part of Israel’s military response to the attack on its own citizens by Hamas – the group that controls the Gaza Strip – and in which more than 1,300 Israeilis died.
All 31 Labour members of the city council put their name to a statement last weekend which called for the ceasefire that Mr. Bodi said the Muslim community in the city wanted to see. But he described the local party as “lame” when it came to impressing their constituents’ concerns on the national Labour leadership.
“I think that the overwhelming view was that, at a local level, the councillors haven’t done as much as they can to represent the views of the Muslim community and stand by them.
“One person who contributed to the meeting put it quite well, saying that at election time, they all rock up outside the mosques, asking for our votes. But when this bombing started in Gaza, it didn’t occur to any one of them to come and show their support or solidarity.
“The takeaway [from the meeting] was that more needs to be done by our local Labour representatives to continue to deserve the vote of Muslims in Preston – like [taking part in] local demonstrations, passing [council] motions and supporting pro-Palestinian campaigns,” Mr. Bodi added.
Deputy city council leader Martyn Rawlinson was amongst almost a dozen Labour city councillors to attend the meeting. Speaking afterwards to the LDRS, he said that he had “held my hand up” to the charge that the local party “could have been a bit more visible to the South Asian community in the last couple of weeks”.
However, he stressed that the ruling group at the town hall had not been ignoring the issue, but having “intense talks” about how to respond to a fast-moving situation.
Read more: Preston City Council Labour members call for party and govt to back Gaza ceasefire
“The Labour group has been talking about it constantly and discussing how to represent our constituents – and [Preston] was one of the first Labour groups in the country to ask for a ceasefire,” Cllr Rawlinson said.
In addition to that, the party in Preston had, a week earlier, written to the Prime Minister urging him to “work towards a peaceful resolution”. Cllr Rawlinson told the LDRS that Preston’s Labour councillors had also written, privately, to Sir Keir Starmer – adding that, while it was internal party correspondence, “you can imagine what we said”.
“We’re not happy with the party leadership’s response on this so far – it just doesn’t go far enough.”
However, Cllr Rawlinson questioned the value of Preston Labour councillors following the lead of a few dozen others across the country and resigning from the party altogether. He said it would cause political “chaos” in the city – while doing little to bring about the outcome that the Muslim community wants to see.
“If Keir Starmer was the prime minister and there were lots of Labour councillors resigning, that would put a lot of pressure on him. But he’s not the prime minister and so he’s not the guy in the hot seat who’s having talks with other countries – so we just don’t feel it would be productive.
“And we can’t just keep throwing statements out – they’ve got to be measured and considered – and as impactful as we can make them.
“[The people at the meeting] asked us to do a lot of things – and I wrote them all down and we’re going to discuss them, but we do have a process to follow.
“There are 31 Labour councillors, so it’s not that easy to get [everyone] to agree on the next move – even [regarding] the wording of letters.
“We’re under huge pressure from the community, which is fine, as they have every right to demand things of us…because it’s a terrible situation,” Cllr Rawlinson added.
He said that Preston Labour had supported – although not signed – a letter to Sir Keir from around 40 councillors across East Lancashire last week, which had also called for a ceasefire and told the party leader that initial comments he made about the conflict, which he has since clarified, had provoked “fury” and “outrage” amongst traditional party supporters in some communities across the county.
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