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Why Israeli-Palestinian Tensions in the UK Matter for ReformUK

Whilst it might not seem immediately apparent, the tensions flaring between Israel and Palestine here in the UK present a unique (and unexpected) opportunity for Reform UK leader Richard Tice. 

Over the past few weeks, media outlets have been flooded with reports of Labour’s stance on Gaza – namely its refusal to call for a ceasefire –  that could potentially harm its electoral prospects. British Muslims have reportedly been defecting to other parties, as well as coming together collectively to establish a unified Muslim vote

Whilst journalists, pollsters and politicians alike have all been paying close attention to how the Muslim electorate is reacting to the parties’ stances on the current conflict in Gaza, few have been paying attention to how the non-Muslim electorate is reacting to the very idea that there could be a ‘Muslim vote’.

We are talking about the large swathes of the British public who hold little to no interest in a war being waged hundreds of miles away in the Middle East. They range from the disenfranchised white working class, to the middle and upper classes of British society — neither of whose political interests are especially likely to revolve around the growing cultural conflict between Jews and Muslims.

Islamophobia is not a new word to Britain by any means, with Muslims being the UK’s ‘least liked’ group, second only to the Gypsy traveller community, and a third of British people believing Islam is a threat to the ‘British way of life’. And that’s without touching on the rapid rise of anti-Muslim far-right groups. With that in mind, if a third of all British people believe the idea of Islam to be a threat, Muslims voting together with real potential to affect a British election is sure to prompt concern to say the least. 

Muslim people politically organising themselves on a single-issue platform of Gaza has the potential to enflame those Islamophobic tensions already prevalent across the UK, although it also presents a unique opportunity for an unlikely beneficiary.

With immigration becoming a salient issue once again, and polls revealing that the majority of the public ‘don’t know’ which party they feel would be best at handling the issue, the foundations are laid for Tice and Reform UK to take control of the narrative by offering an alternative which gives voice to those who grow concerned over the idea of a Muslim vote, and the implications it may have. 

Fringe parties which have occupied the populist right-wing of British politics have thrived in similar situations before. Amid rising immigration levels and concerns over the issue, Nigel Farage and UKIP sprung into second place during the 2009 European Parliament Elections and gained 13% of the popular vote in the 2015 general election. UKIP’s rise to glory famously created a platform that extended beyond the traditional white working-class voter and galvanised its legitimacy by attracting support from a wide range of middle-class professionals. 

Opinion polling from a wide range of sources has been finding Reform UK on par with the Liberal Democrats since at least November 2023, with the latest DeltaPoll survey placing them in third after Labour and the Conservatives.

The Conservatives are already beginning to stand up and pay attention, with a growing state of panic developing over the increasing threat Reform UK poses to the party in upcoming by-elections — with Rishi Sunak declaring that any vote that is not for him is a vote for Keir Starmer. This is an attempt to emphasise the need to keep the right-wing voter base unified and stop further defection to Reform UK.

So, let’s paint a picture here. On one side, we have a sizeable Muslim population who are collectively organising to protest Labour's stance on Gaza and are backing other Muslim independent candidates to contest the upcoming election. On the other side, we have a sizeable non-Muslim population feeling both angered at issues abroad playing such a large part in British politics, and threatened by the idea of a politically organised Muslim collective. 

2024 presents an even greater opportunity for Reform UK now than what 2015 did for UKIP – and we should be paying more attention to that.

Image: Reuters/via Al Jazeera

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