Ashworth loses seat to pro-Palestine independent in shock defeat (2024)

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth has lost his seat to a pro-Palestinian independent candidate as the conflict in Middle-East helped elect at least five pro-Gaza MPs.

The shadow paymaster general, who has been central to the Labour campaign, suffered the shock defeat in the early hours of Friday morning.

Mr Ashworth lost his Leicester South seat by around 1,000 votes to Shockat Adam, who ran on a pro-Gaza ticket.

The conflict in the Middle East has proved divisive for Labour, with Sir Keir Starmer facing criticism for his initial refusal to back a ceasefire. Many of the party’s core Muslim supporters have been angered by Sir Keir’s stance on Gaza, which led to 10 frontbenchers quitting in November.

Party bosses had feared repercussions in the general election after facing a significant backlash from Muslim voters in May’s local elections. Labour activists were deployed in seats with large Muslim populations in an attempt to stave off challenges by pro-Palestine candidates.

Leicester has a high Muslim population, accounting for 23.5 per cent of residents at the last census in 2021.

On his website, Mr Adam attacks Mr Ashworth for initially refusing to vote for a ceasefire to “end the bloodshed”, in line with Sir Keir. The independent candidate pledged to “champion Leicester’s values of global peace and justice” if he was elected.

Labour’s losses

Mr Ashworth, dubbed Labour’s “attack dog”, won Leicester South with a huge majority of more than 22,000 in 2019.

But this was overturned on Thursday as he achieved just 13,760 votes compared with Mr Adam’s 14,739.

The Tories were in third place, on 4,820 votes, followed by the Greens on 3,826.

Meanwhile, in a sign that anger over Gaza was cutting through, Labour also lost Blackburn – where it had a majority of more than 18,000 – Birmingham Perry Barr – with a majority of 15,000 – and Dewsbury and Batley, a new constituency, to three pro-Palestinian candidates.

In London, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, only just managed to cling on in Ilford North, and Jeremy Corbyn stormed to victory as an independent in Islington North.

Mr Streeting, who has faced criticism in his constituency over Labour’s stance on Gaza, was very nearly beaten by independent candidateLeanne Mohamad, a British Palestinian, who was backed by George Galloway, the leader of the Workers Party. He won by just 500 votes, with 15,647 to Ms Mohamed’s 15,119.

Mr Corbyn, who took to social media on Thursday to say“Palestine is on the ballot”, was returned in Islington North with 24,120 votes, some 7,000 more than the Labour candidate, his nearest rival.

Jess Phillips, a prominent Labour figure, hit back at her critics as she narrowly clung onto her seat in Birmingham, with the pro-Gaza Workers Party coming a close second. In an angry winning speech, she said it was the “worst election” she had ever fought, given the “aggression” she experienced, adding: “Our country is in desperate, desperate need, and our politics is in even greater need of cleaningup, and I thank everybody in this room for making a really good spectacle of proving that for me.” Boos rang out in the crowd as she spoke.

Other senior Labour MPs also fought close contests, with Liam Byrne, a former cabinet minister, beating James Giles, a Workers Party candidate, by just over 1,000 votes in Birmingham Hodge Hill.

In the May local elections, Labour lost control of Oldham council, which it had held for more than 13 years, after ceding seats to three independent councillors who ran on a pro-Palestine platform.

In Oldham East, Workers Party candidate Shanaz Saddique ate into the Labour vote, while Nigel Farage’s Reform UK took chunks out of the Tory vote. UKIP got nearly 20 per cent of the vote in the traditionally Labour seat in 2015.

Labour MP Zarah Sultana told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The party has clearly lost support in parts of the country because of its position on Gaza, and we see that in Coventry as well – we’ve heard concerns about the Labour Party when it comes to Gaza and it’s no surprise.”

Ms Sultana said polling has shown the public “overwhelmingly back a ceasefire” and support a ban on arms sales, adding: “The party was out of touch. On the one hand we’re saying we need to listen to voters, but when it comes to this particular issue there was a hope that this problem would just go away and it hasn’t.

“The party has to seriously recognise and acknowledge the issue, which is not just with British Muslim communities, it’s across communities, but it definitely is a serious issue, as well the Islamophobia that people experience - which also exists within the Labour Party.”

Ms Sultana, who was re-elected in Coventry South, said the party has “moved in the right direction” by calling for a ceasefire but said it took “a long time to get there”.

Campaign ‘sullied by harassment and intimidation’

In Birmingham Ladywood, the shadow justice minister Shabana Mahmood held off a challenge by Akhmed Yakoob, a controversial TikTok lawyer who was running on a pro-Gaza platform.

In her victory speech, Ms Mahmood said the campaign had been “sullied by harassment and intimidation”.

“This wasn’t just an assault on us”, she said. “This was an assault on democracy itself.”

“British politics must soon wake up to what happened at this election in Ladywood and a handful of other seats across this country. While it will always be acceptable to disagree passionately it is never acceptable to intimidate and threaten.”

She said that “masked men” had disrupted a community meeting, “terrifying those present”.

Ms Mahmood also hit out at opponents challenging her Muslim faith because of Labour’s position on Gaza. “It is never acceptable to deny anyone their faith, to brand them an infidel,” she said.

“I know what a Muslim looks like. A Muslim looks like me. I know what Muslim values are. Muslim values are mine.”

Earlier this week, a video emerged on social media of Mr Yakoob claiming that British Muslims would “feel the wrath of Allah” for inviting Labour politicians into their homes or posing with them for photos.

Ashworth loses seat to pro-Palestine independent in shock defeat (2024)
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