Leicester pro-Palestine independent aims to topple Labour in UK election 'battleground' seat

Leicester pro-Palestine independent aims to topple Labour in UK election 'battleground' seat
The UK Labour Party's controversial stance on Gaza has propelled first-time candidate Shockat Adam to run for MP in the Leicester South constituency.
7 min read
30 June, 2024
Independent candidate Shockat Adam aims to unseat Labour's Jonathan Ashworth in Leicester South [illustration: Lucie Wimetz/The New Arab]

On paper, independent candidate Shockat Adam's chances are slim.

He's running in the UK general election to become the next MP for England's Leicester South constituency, hoping to topple Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth on 4 July.

Ashworth secured over two-thirds of the vote last time in 2019 – more than three times his nearest rival.

But the Labour Party appears to be worried by something – or is at least taking nothing for granted in the seat, which has a large Muslim population. A tool for volunteers on Labour's website called Leicester South a "battleground area".

"We have got monumental support," Adam, 51, told The New Arab.

"This is not Shockat Adam's campaign. This is our campaign. We've got people… door-knocking, canvassing, leafleting.

"Funding was [secured] within one presentation, five minutes, everything was done."

Israel has been waging a war on Gaza for almost nine months. Its offensive has killed at least 37,877 people, according to the Palestinian enclave's health ministry.

The crisis is an important electoral issue for a small but noteworthy number of UK voters, and some discontent with the stances taken by Labour and the ruling Conservatives may put their support elsewhere.

A survey carried out by polling firm Savanta in late May and early June found 44 percent of Muslims and a quarter of 18–24-year-olds ranked "the Israel-Palestine conflict" among their five highest policy priorities at the next general election.

In Leicester South, the Muslim community represents about 30 percent of the adult population, according to 2021 census data analysed by The New Arab. The religious makeup of the constituency's voter base may differ as some residents won't meet citizenship requirements to cast a ballot.

Some 20 percent of Leicester South's adult population is 18 to 24 years old and about a third is under 35.

Adam said that if elected to parliament, he "will hope to readdress the balance" for the people of Gaza.

"My role… is to give them a voice and call out for their safety and call out for the cessation of selling of arms to Israel or any other country that is carrying out atrocities," he added.

He said he would also seek to "ensure that… any side that has committed war crimes is directed to the international courts of justice", adding that he supported recognition of the state of Palestine.

Candidates running for MP in Leicester South are attending a YouElect event in Leicester on June 13, 2024
Independent candidate Shockat Adam (3rd) joins other candidates who are running for MP in Leicester South at a YouElect event on June 13, 2024. [Ruma Ali]

Adam has also promised to champion affordable housing and address the cost-of-living crisis.

"I've been going to food banks… people genuinely are worried about eating or heating," he said.

Adam is endorsed by The Muslim Vote, a campaign group that has backed and is encouraging Muslims to vote for a list of independents and candidates from smaller parties.

Nine MP hopefuls are contesting Leicester South, including Sharmen Rahman, representing the Greens. She told media outlet Hyphen she joined the party over the Gaza war.

There are also a sizeable number of Hindus in Leicester South, making up some nine percent of the constituency's adult population, according to census data.

Two years ago, the city of Leicester hit headlines due to unrest between its Hindu and Muslim communities.

Asked on 8 June if he'd had people from the Hindu community supporting him, Adam said: "We started that engagement, and we're hoping to work on that."

'A lot of change needed in this city'

Former Labour councillor Ruma Ali has been publicly advocating for Adam in the Labour stronghold of Leicester South.

Ali, 35, represented Humberstone, Hamilton, and Netherhall Ward for four years until the Labour Party's National Executive Committee (NEC) deselected her in May last year.

Since her departure, Ali has continued her activism as chair of the Diversity and Interfaith Network Leicester, which aims to empower marginalised groups. As the 7 July election approaches, Ali has criticised Labour's alleged failure to address the needs of the underrepresented in Leicester.

"The general election gives the public an opportunity to vote for who they want in leadership, and that's democracy," she said.

Ali argues that Leicester's politics have suffered since the unrest and violence in 2022, compounded by the Labour Party NEC's deselection of 20 local councillors, resulting in the loss of 23 seats.

"The major political parties are not listening to locals," she said, pointing to the support for independents like Adam, as well as Claudia Webbe in Leicester East.

An outspoken advocate regarding the Gaza war, Ali accuses Labour leader Keir Starmer of being "complicit in the genocide in Gaza".

Her endorsement of Adam and Webbe is driven by her belief in the need for alternative voices to challenge establishment politics.

"A big reason I support both candidates is because they support Palestine and have been lobbying for a ceasefire," she said.

Ali says current MP Jonathan Ashworth lacks support of all communities and is "out of touch", highlighting his failure to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza.

"It's a two-horse race. The other candidates will just split the votes," she emphasised.

Across Leicester South, Palestinian flags fly atop buildings and the balconies of private residences.

On the busy Evington Road, Adam's posters and banners hang outside nearly every local establishment.

His campaign slogan, "Leicester Deserves Better", is hoped to ring true among residents.

Leicester resident Sumaya tells The New Arab that while she supports Palestinian rights and stresses the importance of such issues being discussed in Parliament, she is nonetheless pessimistic about the impact of this election.

"I think as a Leicester resident, none of my values align with the current people in power, so voting for either Labour or Conservatives wouldn't make sense to me," the 28-year-old said.

"There's a lot of change needed in this city, and I believe wholeheartedly that, even if I vote, those changes won't happen."

Sumaya added she hopes that local affairs would also take precedence, from the cost-of-living crisis to unemployment, and raised concerns over Leicester's alarming rates of homelessness.

"I would like to see changes in the homelessness issue in this city, which continues to grow, and something adjacent to free breakfast and soup kitchens implemented because there are many children who live under the poverty line."

Another resident, Zubair, recently turned 18 and will vote for the first time in the upcoming election.

He told The New Arab that he is planning to vote for Adam, stressing that "there needs to be a change in our constituency".

Zubair said that Israel's months-long war on Gaza has largely impacted his drive to vote and believes that there can be room for selfless politics to spark major reform.

"I feel like candidates like him [Shockat] are more down to earth and more in touch with people. I believe he can offer more to communities than our current MP," he added.

Zahid "Zed" Sheikh, a senior presenter of Leicester's Muslim-led radio station Ramadan FM, says that there have been significant shifts in voting preferences and party loyalty among Leicester South's population, especially among Muslims.

Sheikh says that Leicester South has historically been a Labour stronghold with a 22,000 majority. The Muslim community has loyally supported Labour for over five decades.

However, he finds that disillusionment is growing.

"Muslims in Leicester South are horrified with Labour's Jon Ashworth," Sheikh told The New Arab.

He predicts that there is a chance for Adam to be the constituency's independent choice to break from the "outdated" red/blue divide.

Despite witnessing growing support for Adam, Sheikh asserts that entrenched Labour loyalty and internal divisions within the Muslim community could also hinder real change.

"Labour's stance on Gaza has once again exposed their true stance," the radio host said.

"But I do not believe there is a real concept of unity. There is too much caste and cultural division. The two-faced allegiance members in the Muslim community will surface after 4th July."

He continued: "The bogus Iraq war taught the Muslim community nothing. They are still glued to Labour for the sake of planning permissions, immigration issues and grants."

The New Arab contacted the Labour Party for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.