CAN Labour still lose the next General Election? Or at least, might they gain only a small majority and find it difficult to govern effectively? Events over the last week suggest the British political game remains on a knife edge – as much perhaps as the Rugby World Cup final did.

For starters, Sir Keir Starmer suddenly finds himself under fire from within his own party over his refusal to call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza – and not just from a bevy of obscure Labour councillors.

Three party heavyweights – London mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and (tellingly) Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar – have all broken ranks and come out publicly for a ceasefire.

That not only undermines Starmer’s carefully crafted image of being master of all he surveys. It offers political cover for Labour MPs in the Commons and shadow cabinet to dispute Starmer’s unwavering and unequivocal support for anything Bibi Netanyahu decides to do in Gaza when he gets out of bed in the morning.

But it is not just Labour insiders who are refusing to follow the Starmer script. A recent YouGov poll showed that 42% of 2019 Labour voters think Sir Keir has handled his response to Gaza conflict badly. Only 26% thought Starmer has handled it well. 

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Certainly, folk are likely to vote with their wallets and purses next year rather than think about the international situation. Besides, Starmer’s position on the

Israel-Hamas crisis is the duplicate of Rishi Sunak’s. But the fact that core Labour voters reject Starmer on such a key international issue hardly suggests that the electorate is in Labour’s pocket.

Above all, Starmer has breezed into the Palestine crisis without any thought for how his position might impact on the Muslim vote in Britain. Last week, Labour shadow business minister Rushanara Ali – the first Bangladeshi MP and cited by The Guardian newspaper as one of the most influential Muslim women in the UK – suddenly came out for an “immediate, internationally supported humanitarian ceasefire”.

Shadow Home Office minister and Bradford MP Naz Shah branded Israeli bombing of Gaza “not defence” but “disproportionate attacks on a civilian population”.

So far, Starmer has not sacked her or Ali.

And for good reason. According to a Runnymede Trust report, fully 87% of Muslims voted Labour at the 2017 General Election.

The National: Rachel Reeves

In 2019, this had dropped to 78%, as Muslims started to feel Labour was failing to adequately tackle Islamophobia. Recent polling – pre the Gaza crisis – suggests this number may drop to only 38% at the next election. It could drop even further if the community feels alienated by Starmer’s refusal to back a ceasefire.

While Muslims make up just 4.4 % of the population, they have a disproportionate impact on constituencies Labour has to either hold or win.

The research group Muslim Census conducted a fresh survey on October 17, after the Hamas attack. It received 30,000 responses. The methodology may be suspect as it relies on self-selection but the numbers are stark. The poll found a 66% drop in potential Labour voters.

Only 5% of Muslims said they would vote Labour again. A massive 98% of respondents said their decision was influenced by Starmer’s stance on the conflict. The words “car” and “crash” come to mind.

However, few British Muslims vote Tory, so things might change in the privacy of the voting booth next year. On the other hand, there could be massive abstentions among Muslim voters. Or, in the longer term, we might see the rise of confessional parties, which I think likely.

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Regardless of where you stand on the Israel-Hamas divide, it is apparent that Keir Starmer did not take any of this predictable reaction into consideration. That suggests he is less than insightful in his political strategy-making. By the time you read this, I suspect we might see a fudge emerge. There may be more talk of “pauses” and “corridors”.

BUT the deeply unimaginative Sir Keir has started to believe his own propaganda about “taking tough decisions” (yawn) and “governing from the centre” (aka running a mile from taking risks). Which suggests he is vulnerable to making mistakes during the heat of an actual election campaign.

Another Labour grandee who had a bad week was Rachel Reeves (above), the shadow chancellor. Ms Reeves has just published a book on female economists. It is designed to make her look intellectual and (hint, hint) underscore her pretensions to become the first woman chancellor of the exchequer.

Unfortunately for Ms Reeves, the Financial Times discovered that her book was full of unattributed passages from other books and even from that fount of truth Wikipedia.

Reeves was quick to offer a mea culpa. Firstly, she had never claimed the book was original research. Then why bother? Oh, I forgot: her book is a vanity project designed to prove how economically brainy she is. You are not actually supposed to read it.

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And secondly, Reeves also admitted that most of her book was the work of paid researchers – which explains why she didn’t top and tail those Wikipedia passages. Not that she is alone in this. The cerebral Gordon Brown always makes heavy use of ghost writers.

I was once unlucky enough to be trapped with Reeves on a parliamentary delegation. Over a drink she whinged on and on about how her white constituents were angry about high immigration and Labour would have to cut immigrant numbers.

When I explained that in Scotland I saw it as my duty on the doorstep to explain to racist voters that they were not only wrong but that I did not want their vote, Reeves seemed incredulous. Deep down, middle-class Labour MPs such as Reeves dislike their working-class electorate.

Reeves, who is emblematic of Labour’s current hubris, may eventually reach the chancellor’s flat in Number 11 Downing Street. After all, she once worked for HBOS and the City needs friends in high places. But her commitment to more austerity won’t save her from being known as the “cut and paste” chancellor.

The National: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer Labour Party leader Keir Starmer

Nevertheless, the latest polls give Labour a 21-point lead over the Tories. One hidden headache for Rishi Sunak is that the Reform Party is on a solid 7% – enough to bleed vital votes off the Tories in Conservative marginals. Post the General Election, Sunak will get his P45 and the path will be cleared for the rise of a genuine populist, socially conservative bloc in Britain.

Starmer’s political pirouettes will not save Labour from being – at best – a one term wonder.

I have no idea why lefties stay in Labour. The days are long past when a Labour government will introduce any serious reforms. And contemporary Labour leaders have an unerring instinct to suck up to whoever is in the White House.

But if the global response to the Gaza events has taught us anything, it is that we no longer live in a unipolar world dominated by the United States. You don’t need Wikipedia to tell you that.