Newham Labour rocked by independent anti-war candidate victory in by-election

by Niall Mulholland, Newham and East London Socialist Party

The Labour Party in Newham, east London, is reeling from the result of the Plaistow North council by-election, which saw the Independent anti-war candidate, Sophia Naqvi, win with 46% of the vote (1,266 votes). Labour lost the seat, securing only 750 votes – a collapse of 39.1 percentage points.

Stratford anti-war protest
Stratford anti-war protest. Photo: Angharad Hillier

Sophia had resigned as women’s officer of the local Labour Party a few weeks earlier in protest at Keir Starmer’s appalling support for the Israeli state’s bombardment of Gaza, and his refusal to condemn Israel for cutting off water and electricity to the strip. After a Labour councillor in Plaistow North ward resigned, Sophia stood for Newham Independents, with the backing of Newham Socialist Labour (mainly made up of purged members of Newham Labour Party).

Sophia also had the endorsement of figures in the local trade union movement, including officers of Newham Trades Union Council.

After her spectacular win, Sophia reported that on the doorsteps during the election campaign many voters in the largely Muslim ward described themselves as deeply “pained” by Gaza and appalled by the response of the Labour Party both locally and nationally. “The Labour Party is no longer a party for us; it can’t be our representative and voice”, said Sophia. “Working-class people in the borough feel let down by the Labour Party, the mayor and councillors, and also Lyn Brown MP, who did not vote for a ceasefire”. The “arrogant and out of touch” Labour councillors and mayor “could not bring themselves to call for the resignation of Keir Starmer for his shameful comments about Gaza.”

As well as the attacks on Gaza, Sophia said local people are “fed up with record council tax bills, crumbling infrastructure and the filthy state of our streets.” Newham is one of the most deprived boroughs in London, with the worst overcrowding and high levels of child poverty.

After a Labour councillor, Zuber Gulamussen, defected last week to Newham Independents in protest at Labour’s position on Gaza, the group is now the official opposition. “We believe change is needed for everyone, whatever their faith or no faith,” Sophia said.

East London Socialist Party and Newham TUSC warmly welcome Sophia’s victory. We look forward to further collaboration with the Newham Independent councillors in opposition to the war and to the Tory-lite policies of the Labour-run council. As part of this, we will be discussing the possibility of tabling an alternative needs budget that means no more devastating cuts by the council. With three Newham Independent and two Green Party councillors, the Labour Party in Newham no longer holds all the seats and faces potentially more divisions, defections and splits. For years, Labour in Newham has arrogantly carried out cuts and taken voters for granted. Now, the building of a working-class, anti-war and anti-cuts opposition is starting to take off.