Labour lost control of Oldham council in England's local elections, with its national campaign co-ordinator admitting that the party's stance on Gaza had been "a factor".

Independent candidates, several of whom explicitly campaigned in support of Palestine, gained five seats on Thursday night, pushing the council into no overall control.

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden acknowledged the crisis in Gaza had been “a factor in some places”, saying that with “so many innocent people being killed I’m not surprised people have strong feelings about that”.

But he added that “very local factors” had also played a role in Oldham, while council leader Arooj Shah blamed “13 years of austerity” and a “divisive toxic politics” in the town that pre-dated the latest outbreak of conflict in Gaza.

Asked whether the loss was linked to Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the conflict, Ms Shah told the BBC: “I don’t think that’s a fair statement to make, given that the issue of Gaza has been over the last year but what we’ve seen in Oldham is a lot longer than that… what we have had is 13 years of austerity and that’s been really, really difficult.”

Read More:

Speaking in Blackpool, Sir Keir told the BBC he was “concerned wherever we lose votes” and intended to win them back, but added Labour was picking up seats across the country where it needed to.

Labour’s majority on Oldham Council, which it has controlled since 2011, had already been whittled down to just one ahead of Thursday’s elections thanks to two defections last month.

Councillors Nyla Ibrahim and Akhtar Shoab left the party to sit as independents, reportedly citing Labour’s response to Gaza, with councillor Ibrahim re-elected on Thursday.

Former Conservative Naveed Chowhan was also among the independents elected on Thursday, having left his party over Gaza alongside former Tory councillors Abdul Wahid and Mohammad Irfan.

Labour remains the largest party on Oldham Council with 27 out of 60 seats, while the number of independent councillors has risen to 16. There are also nine Liberal Democrats and eight Conservatives, meaning a coalition of opposition parties could topple the Labour administration.

Not all the independents elected on Thursday campaigned on Gaza, with representatives or former representatives of hyper-local parties elected in two wards.

But Gaza has become a fraught issue for the Labour Party, with multiple defections since last October, including the loss of 11 councillors in Burnley in November.

Former Labour MP George Galloway has also sought to capitalise on the Gaza issue, winning the Rochdale by-election in February and saying he will challenge Labour with a series of pro-Palestinian candidates at the general election.

Nationally, Labour has enjoyed a positive series of results from the Thursday vote, winning the Blackpool South by-election with a swing away from the Tories of 26.33%, and so far gaining 58 seats and three councils in the local authority elections.

With 35 councils out of 107 having declared their results so far, the Conservatives have lost 96 seats, just less than half the number they were defending on those councils, while the Lib Dems and Greens have also made gains.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at pollster Savanta, said Labour has had “a strong set of local elections so far”, but warned it could lose further seats over Gaza with councils such as Burnley and Bradford still to declare.

But, he added, the swing away from Labour in those areas “doesn’t look large enough at this stage to affect them at a general election”.