Richard Parker vows to rebuild trust with Muslim voters

Richard Parker and Kier Starmer shake hands after Parker's win
The newly-elected West Midlands Mayor told the BBC he understood concerns from the Muslim community [PA Media]

Newly elected West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker has said he is committed to rebuilding the Labour Party's trust with Muslim communities.

Mr Parker defeated Tory incumbent Andy Street, who had held the office for seven years and was seeking a third term, by just 1,508 votes, in a shock loss for the Conservatives.

However, independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob, who campaigned on a pro-Palestine ticket, won 69,621 votes, diminishing Labour's lead in some of its typical stronghold areas.

BBC analysis has shown Labour's position on the Israel-Hamas war appears to have dented its support in Muslim areas in England's local elections this week.

'It matters to this region'

In 58 local council wards analysed by the BBC, where more than 1 in 5 residents identify as Muslim, Labour's share of the vote was 21% down on 2021, the last time most seats were contested.

Speaking on BBC Politics Midlands after his electoral win, Richard Parker addressed voters' concerns about Gaza.

"It's a very important point and it matters to this region," he said.

"I've been out speaking and listening to many of our inner city communities, including the Muslim community.

"I understand their concerns, I understand how important this issue is to them and I'm committed to working with our council leaders, our councillors, our MPs in the region and with the Labour Party nationally to start to rebuild the trust we've lost with the Muslim community.

"I'm hoping if we do that and we demonstrate to them we do care and we understand their concerns, we can rebuild that trust and we can win them back to Labour."

Labour called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict in February, after months of wrangling over its position.

Its initial stance after the war began, in which it called for humanitarian pauses in the fighting, prompted Labour resignations in councils and from its frontbench last year.

Akhmed Yakoob wearing a sash saying 'Palestine' at the vote count
Independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob campaigned on a pro-Palestine ticket and received 69,621 votes [BBC]

Speaking in Birmingham after Mr Parker's win, Labour leader Keir Starmer addressed Labour voters who turned away from the party over its stance on Gaza.

"I say directly to those who may have voted Labour in the past, but felt on this occasion they couldn't, that across the West Midlands we are a proud and diverse community," Mr Starmer said.

"I have heard you. I have listened. And I am determined to meet your concerns and to gain your respect and trust again in the future."

Graphics showing the results of the West Midlands mayoral election
Richard Parker received 1,508 votes more than Tory incumbent Andy Street [BBC]

Labour's campaign chief and Wolverhampton MP Pat McFadden told Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday: "I understand why people have got strong feelings about this issue, thousands of people have been killed.

"There’s a great impulse to help people that are in a terrible situation, that’s something that we share.

"The better life that people want for the Palestinian people is something the Labour leadership shares. If we’re fortunate enough to be elected at the general election, its a very high foreign policy priority for the Labour Party.

"Two things have guided us since 7 October last year, the first was defending Israel’s right to defend itself after that atrocity and that remains part of our position and the second is working to get a better future for the Palestinian people, both of those things will guide our position going forward."

When asked whether the party’s stance on the issue will have an impact in a general election, he replied: "I do acknowledge that in some parts of the country that was the case and there will be some people who may have voted Labour in the past that haven’t in the local elections because of this issue and where that's the case we’ll work to get people’s support back.

"Overall I do have to stress, these were tremendous local election results, a tremendous by-election and a set of Mayoral elections that went beyond the expectations that we had."

'Emotional rollercoaster'

On BBC Politics Midlands, Mr Parker also discussed the mayoral results and what it meant for Labour in the next general election.

"It was an emotional rollercoaster. I'd actually only written a losing speech," the new mayor said.

"I had a great platform for my campaign and that was provided by the great work the Labour Party have done under Keir Starmer's leadership.

"What I think my victory demonstrated is that if we continue to work hard, campaign on issues that are important to working people, the Labour Party is in a great place to win the next election."

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