Keir Starmer has lost the British Arab voter. He doesn't care

Keir Starmer has lost the British Arab voter. He doesn't care
The British Arab community’s bond to Labour has weathered many geopolitical events over the decades. It will not survive this occasion, writes Yusef Rabiah.
5 min read
25 Jun, 2024
The steady support that Labour once enjoyed from the British Arab community hasn’t just shifted, it has evaporated, writes Yusef Rabiah [photo credit: Getty Images]

As Keir Starmer’s Labour Party readies itself to form a new government on July 5, there are many lingering uncertainties and blurred lines. Are the party’s plans ambitious enough to meet the nation’s needs? Will Starmer make a stand or continue to flip-flop between policies? Is the forthcoming election victory merely a castle made of sand?

One element however is crystal clear: Labour has irrevocably lost the support of the 500,000-strong British Arab community, likely for generations to come.

Recent polling by the British Arab Assembly, a civic society representing British Arab political interests in the UK, reveals a staggering drop in Labour’s vote share among this community — from 70% to a meagre 1% ahead of the general election on July 4.

In key battleground seats like Kensington and Bayswater, where nearly one in 10 voters are British Arab, this seismic shift is poised to benefit the Liberal Democrats who have been a strong voice on a ceasefire in Gaza and wider anti-Arab prejudice driven by their star MP, Layla Moran.

A similar narrative is unfolding in Bristol Central, where Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport Thangam Debbonaire is looking more likely by the day to be the big scalp of Green Party leader, Carla Denyer. Here, the Bristol Arab Society has mobilised its members in droves to assist the latter in ousting the embattled Labour Party candidate. A West Country-based Labour MP recently told me, "She’s turned into the Bristol establishment villain of the city."

The reason for this dramatic shift is glaringly obvious: Keir Starmer’s appalling, and to most British Arab voters, unforgivable response to the mass murder of Palestinian and British civilians in Gaza and the West Bank since October last year.

I was present at Chatham House when Starmer obstinately refused to call for a ceasefire on October 31st. At that time, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza was nearing 10,000.

For the British Arab community, the objective of the Israeli war machine was always unmistakably clear: the obliteration of life in Gaza and the destruction of any semblance of liveable conditions. How this reality escaped Starmer and his crack team of advisors is beyond comprehension.

It ultimately took an SNP ceasefire motion, which saw 56 Labour MPs rebelling against Starmer’s brutalist three-line whip, and relentless public pressure to drag the Labour Party kicking and screaming to adopt a "humanitarian" ceasefire stance on February 21, 2024. By then, the death toll had exceeded 20,000 and was fast approaching 30,000. A quick reminder that 70% of the casualties in this conflict are women and children.

Does Keir Starmer even care about British Arabs?

For the British Arab community, many of whom have lost loved ones and, in some cases, entire families, the conclusion was inescapable: only after more than sufficient Arab blood had been spilt was it deemed 'worthy' calling for an end to the conflict.

An enraged Labour MP, representing a constituency with a significant British Arab voter base, confided in me, “He has had his Iraq war moment before even entering office.”

Another London-based Labour MP lamented, “He has no idea how difficult he has made our lives by refusing to call for a ceasefire and how furious our constituents are.” This MP added, “I’ve received more than 10,000 emails from my constituents on this matter—that’s over 30% of my voter base.”

While the atrocity in Gaza rightly dominates the British Arab community’s voting concerns, it’s crucial to note that Starmer’s neglect of us began long before October 7. Shortly after assuming leadership, he disbanded and refused to support the Arab Labour Group, a prominent affiliate organisation made up of local Labour Party officers and community leaders dedicated to improving community relations with the Labour leadership.

To his credit, there have been some attempts at engagement with the British Arab community. An anonymous Labour Party source revealed that both Starmer and David Lammy met with British Arab community leaders in the aftermath of October 2023. 

Perhaps a foregone conclusion, Starmer’s approach to the British Arab community is quintessentially similar in his treatment of other ethnic minority groups: take them for granted, and where possible, avoid them entirely. His recent decision to significantly dilute the Labour Party’s longstanding commitment to recognising a Palestinian state on day one of government further underscores his disconnection from British Arab voters.

This avoidance and disdain have now crossed the Rubicon. The steady support that Labour once enjoyed from the British Arab community hasn’t just shifted, it has evaporated.

Starmer and the Labour Party will need to work extraordinarily hard to regain the trust of British Arab voters, but a more sobering and regrettable reality looms: he simply doesn’t care.

The Labour leader is heading into an election likely to deliver one of the biggest political landslides in UK history, so why should he be concerned about a block of 500,000 voters?

As such, the British Arab community is now searching for a new political home — one that is likely to be coloured yellow or green.

Born in the UK to Iraqi and Italian parents, Yusef sits as the CLP Secretary for the Labour Party in the constituency of Ealing Central & Acton. He is an active political campaigner with an ambition to develop better ties between the British political establishment and the British Arab community in the UK. He is a founder and Chair of the British Arab Assembly, a civic group representing the social, economic and political interests of the British Arab electorate.

Follow him on X: @PaoloYusef

Have questions or comments? Email us at:

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.