Prepared for the polls

June 16, 2024

A record number of independent candidates are contesting the July 4 UK elections

Prepared for  the polls


emocracy is all about freedom. Its processes are meant to protect and promote people’s right to choose their representatives in such a way that the exercise results in improvements in their circumstances. In Britain, the Labour and Conservative parties have long enjoyed the trust of most voters. With many citizens growing disenchanted with the leadership of these parties, the role of the independent candidates in the 2024 general elections could be significant. Independent candidates have historically had a limited – if sometimes notable - impact on UK general elections. This time, 461 independent candidates are contesting the election from 317 constituencies. The last House of Commons had 15 independent members in the parliament. The number looks set to increase in the coming election.

Prepared for  the polls

The success of independent candidates often depends on local issues, personal reputation and the ability to mobilise grassroots support. Increasing political fragmentation and voter dissatisfaction with mainstream parties can create opportunities for independents. They are currently seen, for instance, gaining more traction with independent narratives on the Gaza issue.

The polling is scheduled for July 4, instead of at the end of December 2024. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may have chosen the best time of the year for the purpose, but he faces popular dissatisfaction over his government’s stance on the Gaza situation. However, the Labour and other parties have also taken a similar stance on Gaza. Currently, they are all trying to shift focus away from the Gaza issue and garner sympathy from both angry Muslims and white communities that strongly support the rights of the Palestinian people. Nearly 70 of the independent candidates have said that if elected they would advocate the rights of the Palestinian people. They could play a pivotal role in the upcoming election. “We are against the authoritarian behaviour in the political parties and their democratic dictatorship,” one of them told The News on Sunday.

Abdul Majid Taramboo, an independent candidate from Feltham and Heston, emphasises the autonomy of independent MPs. “We are the tip of the iceberg, breaking authoritarianism and dictatorship in the political parties,” Taramboo states, advocating for independent candidates to bring about real change, as opposed to merely swapping faces in the old power structures.

Senior Labour politician Mushtaq Lashari CBE acknowledges the potential influence of Gaza-focused independent candidates. However, he downplays their threat to the Conservative Party. Lashari says that these candidates are more likely to siphon votes from Labour and Liberal Democrats

More than 75 British-Pakistani candidates are running in svarious constituencies. This is the largest number of candidates of Pakistani origin ever participating in UK elections. They represent several political parties, including the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Reforms Party and some local parties. Some are running as independents.

According to the current statistics, 4,515 candidates are contesting 650 seats in the parliament. There are 575 candidates for London’s 75 seats. A record 98 political parties are participating in the election. Out of those, 35 parties are fielding only one candidate each. The Conservative Party has fielded 635 candidates; the Labour Party 631; the Liberal Democrats 630; Reform-UK 609; the Green Party 574; the Workers Party 152; the Social Democrats 122 and the Scottish National Party 57 candidates.

This illustrates a pressing question for Muslim communities. If they don’t vote Labour, who will they vote for? Unlike in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, when the Liberal Democrats were in large part the beneficiary of Muslims deciding to turn away from Labour, this time round, there has been a concerted effort to push independent candidates rather than another party.

The relationship between Muslims voters and the Labour Party was also tested at the time of the the Iraq War. Now the fighting and humanitarian crisis in Gaza have made foreign policy a key election issue. A pressing question for Muslim communities is: if they don’t vote Labour, who can they vote for? In 2003, the Liberal Democrats were the main beneficiaries of the Muslim voters’ disenchantment with the Labour. This time round, however, there has been more of an effort to support independent candidates rather than another established party.

Many independents are standing on a Gaza platform. However, since there is no official party, the pro-Gaza Muslim vote could end up being split and not translate into parliamentary seats.

Muslims voters comprise over 30 percent of the electorate in 20 constituencies across the UK. All these constituencies voted in a Labour MP in the 2019 general election. Most of these will probably return a Labour MP once again. Even if many of them choose not to vote for Labour, the lack of support is unlikely to cost the Labour Party an election victory. Electorally, Labour need not be too concerned. However, the apparent abandonment of a community that has been loyal to the party for so long may be an issue the Labour may want to reflect on once the euphoria settles.

There is a long list of independent candidates standing against Labour politicians to protest against its position on Gaza.

There are 3.9 million Muslims in the UK, according to the 2021 census (6.5 percent of the population). Traditionally, Muslims have been voting for Labour as they have long viewed Labour as being sympathetic to the rights of ethnic minorities and the working-class groups that most Muslims, though not all, fall into. A newly organised group, called The Muslim Vote, is trying to mobilise Muslims to vote against Labour in areas where Muslims make up more than 10 percent of the electorate.

At the local council level, there are, according to the Labour Muslim Councillor Network, more than 500 Muslim councillors across the UK, more than 75 percent of them are members of the Labour Party. In the 2019 general election, more than 80 percent of Muslims voted Labour.

Evidence from local council elections suggests that Labour Party support has declined by eight points since last year in Muslim populations of over 10 percent. Labour recently lost control of the Oldham council, where 24 percent of the voters were Muslim. In the West Midlands mayoral election, the independent pro-Gaza candidate, Ahmed Yaqoob, won nearly 70,000 votes. He is now contesting a ‘safe’ Labour parliamentary seat currently held by shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood since 2010.

The 2024 UK general election is set to be a pivotal moment for independent candidates. The Gaza conflict has provided a rallying point for many. The success of these candidates will depend on their ability to unify their supporters and navigate the complex electoral landscape.

The writer is a correspondent for Geo News, Daily Jang and The News in London

Prepared for the polls