Labour says it will ‘work to earn votes back’ after Gaza-related election defeats

Labour will work to “earn votes back in future”, Yvette Cooper has said, after conceding Labour had lost council seats because of the war in Gaza.

A backlash over Labour’s position on the conflict in the Middle East saw the party lose control of Oldham Council amid otherwise positive local election results.

Independent candidates, several of whom explicitly campaigned in support of Palestine, gained five seats on Thursday , pushing the council into no overall control.

Labour also lost council seats in Manchester and Rochdale to George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain, in an apparent revolt against its Gaza position.

Shadow home secretary Ms Cooper told BBC News: “We do strongly recognise there are areas where we have had independent candidates who have been particularly strongly campaigning on Gaza and where there is really strong feeling about this issue, because tens of thousands of people have been killed.

“It is just devastating to see what is happening, which is why we need an immediate ceasefire and for hostages to be released and why we hope some progress will be made in the negotiations.

“We do recognise the strength of feeling that there is and of course we will continue to work just as we do in every area across the country to earn votes back in future.”

In Manchester, Labour deputy leader of the council Luthfur Rahman lost his seat to Shahbaz Sarwar of Mr Galloway’s Workers Party.

The party claimed the seat in the Longsight ward with 2,444 votes to Labour’s 2,259 votes.

Speaking at the Manchester count, Mr Galloway claimed his candidate’s victory was a “Sarwar family victory”.

Signalling this was related to Gaza, he added: “It’s a story of a group of people who were faithful to the Palestinian cause from the first to the last.”

The Workers Party also won its first two council seats in Rochdale, where Mr Galloway won a by-election in March.

Labour retained control of the council with 44 seats, after losing two to the Worker’s Party of Britain, with the Conservatives on nine, Lib Dems on three and two independents.

Election graphic
(PA Graphics)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had earlier said he was “concerned wherever we lose votes”, but that Labour was picking up seats where it needed to.

His national campaign co-ordinator, Pat McFadden, acknowledged the crisis in Gaza had been “a factor in some places”, saying that with “so many innocent people being killed I’m not surprised people have strong feelings about that”.

But Oldham Labour council leader Arooj Shah has denied the party’s loss of control was because of the Gaza crisis, blaming the Tories in Westminster for “13 years of austerity”.

Labour’s majority on Oldham Council, which it has controlled since 2011, had already been whittled down to just one ahead of Thursday’s elections thanks to two defections last month.

Councillors Nyla Ibrahim and Akhtar Shoab left the party to sit as independents, reportedly citing Labour’s response to Gaza, with councillor Ibrahim re-elected on Thursday.

Former Conservative Naveed Chowhan was also among the independents elected on Thursday, having left his party over Gaza alongside former Tory councillors Abdul Wahid and Mohammad Irfan.

Labour remains the largest party on Oldham Council with 27 out of 60 seats, while the number of independent councillors has risen to 16.

There are also nine Liberal Democrats and eight Conservatives, meaning a coalition of opposition parties could topple the Labour administration.