Starmer’s Labour has found a culprit for losing the Red Wall: Muslim voters

JVL Introduction

Anticipating disaster at Batley & Spen, some Labour enthusiasts resorted to crude smears about Muslim voters, as we reported last week in our post When you can’t blame Jeremy!

In this article from Middle East Eye Peter Oborne explores some of the good reasons Muslim voters may have for not being gung-ho for Keir Starmer.

High among these is Starmer’s failure to address Islamophobia within the Labour Party itself, as well as gross insensitivity on issues many of these voters care passionately about.

It’s not rocket science and a resort to allegations of antisemitism is simply a racist smear.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Fri 25 Jun 2021. Read the original here.

Starmer's Labour has found a culprit for losing the Red Wall: Muslim voters

Instead of honestly examining the problems within the Labour Party, Starmer’s team is again playing the antisemitism card

It was among the most poisonous political briefings in recent times. With Labour facing defeat in next Thursday’s Batley and Spen by-election, a “senior official” from the party turned on Muslim voters, accusing them of antisemitism.

The briefing was deadly: “We’re haemorrhaging votes among Muslim voters, and the reason for that is what [party leader Keir Starmer] has been doing on antisemitism. Nobody really wants to talk about it, but that’s the main factor. He challenged [former leader Jeremy] Corbyn on it, and there’s been a backlash among certain sections of the community.”

When in trouble, pick on a minority. It’s a well-known political strategy.

Starmer’s supporters know that the Labour leader will be plunged into crisis if he loses Batley. They know that Starmer’s poll ratings are lower than Corbyn’s, and that he’s struggling to make headway in the Commons. They also know that he crashed to a humiliating by-election defeat at the hands of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Tories in the Labour heartland seat of Hartlepool in May.

Then, a week ago, Labour lost its deposit in another by-election in Chesham and Amersham, scoring just 622 votes, in what was reported as its worst-ever by-election result.

If Starmer suffers another humiliation in Batley, the knives will come out. Talk of a leadership crisis will intensify. So the Labour official’s briefing to the Mail On Sunday looks like a calculated, preemptive strike to save Starmer’s skin. It sends out the message that the Labour leader isn’t facing calamity in Batley because of incompetence, failure of leadership or lack of vision.

In short, don’t blame Starmer; smear Muslims instead. Disgusting politics of course, but someone close to Starmer has apparently calculated that it will work.

Ugly strategy

At first sight, the Mail On Sunday is an unlikely receptacle for the Labour briefing. It’s a Tory paper, not famous for left-wing connections. But political columnist Dan Hodges, who reported these remarks, does possess important Labour contacts.

His mother, the celebrated actor Glenda Jackson, was for a time a Labour MP, while Hodges himself worked as a Labour researcher before establishing a reputation as a writer and commentator. Politically, he defines himself as a “tribal neo-Blairite”.

Starmer is surrounded by what might be called tribal neo-Blairite strategists, and one has poured his heart out to Hodges. The strategy is ugly, but not stupid. It plays on the fact that there is antisemitism among some British Muslims.

But it is wrong, and cowardly, to stigmatise all Muslims based on the repulsive views of a tiny minority. And it is important to bear in mind the presence of antisemitism not just in Muslim communities, but in many parts of British society – not least, as has been well-documented, in Johnson’s Conservative Party.

The Labour strategist who briefed the Mail On Sunday was not just guilty of shoddy politics. More importantly, there was no evidence that he or she understood that there are legitimate reasons why British Muslims would feel snubbed by Starmer’s Labour.

Belated and bland response

Let’s consider Kashmir, from where many British Muslim families came after the 1947 partition. Many still have family there and travel back regularly, so they are acutely conscious of the terrible, well-documented abuses committed by Indian occupation forces: massacres, disappearances, torture, political suppression and attacks on free speech.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s revocation of Kashmiri autonomy two years ago further heightened tensions. Yet, one of Starmer’s first acts after winning the Labour leadership was to change policy on Kashmir.

Corbyn had insisted that the UN’s resolutions on Kashmir, including a referendum on self-determination, should be implemented. In a statement after meeting with Labour Friends of India, however, Starmer asserted that Kashmir was a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan.

Starmer also disappointed many Muslims over what they saw as a belated and bland response to Israeli plans to expel Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, aggression at al-Aqsa Mosque, and killings in Gaza.

Starmer showed little leadership. His call earlier this month for a Palestinian state, made during Prime Minister’s Question Time, felt opportunistic, and occurred only after he realised that the Labour vote was crumbling in Batley.

Islamophobia problem

Another problem for British Muslims is Starmer’s failure to address Islamophobia within the Labour Party itself. The Labour Muslim Network last year published a devastating report showing that 29 percent of Muslim Labour members and supporters have experienced Islamophobia in the party, while more than a third have witnessed it.

It found that nearly half of Muslim members and supporters lack confidence in Labour’s complaints procedure, while 59 percent do not feel “well represented by the leadership of the Labour Party”. It also noted that Muslims feel estranged from Labour over its position on the Prevent programme. For a party that prides itself on being anti-racist and inclusive, these are worrying findings.

In Starmer’s defence, his record on Kashmir, Palestine and Islamophobia is much better than that of Johnson. Indeed, Labour’s problem with Islamophobia, while serious, cannot be seriously compared with Johnson’s Tories. As a YouGov poll discovered, more than half of Tory members believe noxious Islamophobic conspiracy theories about British Muslim “no go” areas. Such views help to explain why approximately 85 percent of Muslims voted Labour in 2017.

It takes some doing for a Labour leader to drive Muslim voters away. Starmer needs to wake up to the fact that his policies are alienating Muslim voters. The answer is not to denounce them as antisemitic, as the aforementioned Labour official recently did. The answer is to probe the honourable and legitimate reasons why longstanding Labour voters are leaving his party.

Starmer needs to wake up.

– Additional Research by Mahdi Mustafa

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.


Comments (6)

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    I read the letter Starmer was sent by Community leaders from Batley&Spen, and it explained in great detail why they are feeling disenfranchised from Labour.
    I did not think that Labour leadership could sink this dangerously low by using smear campaigns against our Asian population. So far they have done their best to lose oaps, people with disabilities, young people, women members, NHS staff, huge parts of the membership, people working in unsafe jobs/zero hours contracts.
    I am really wondering what other demographics are left that they could alienate.

  • It is noticeable that the investigation into who made these comments that Angela Rayner promised has fallen off the agenda. Perhaps Angela realised that the culprit was either Starmer or someone so close to him that no good would come of it.

    The problem with Peter Oborne is that underneath he is a bourgeois columnist and still operates within that consensus, albeit a radical one. So he never questions the basic premise of Labour’s antisemitism crisis which was never about antisemitism.

    That is why there is no attempt to seriously deal with Islamaphobia since you would have to begin with Blair’s government.

    This demonisation of the Muslim community as antisemitic is a favourite Zionist theme. The CAA has even produced a Report on the topic concluding that Muslim’s reserve a ‘special hatred’ for Jews.

    The elephant in the room is in fact Jewish racism. I have no doubt that the level of Islamaphobia and in particular anti-Arab racism amongst Jews is far higher than its equivalent in the Muslim community, yet for some strange reason no one wants to find out or commission an opinion poll.

    The comment to the Mail by Starmer or those close to him is, as Peter says, a classic example of racist scapegoating It is for that reason that the Labour Campaign for Free Speech Steering Committee decided last week that we could not advocate voting Labour in the Batley and Spen by election.

  • Diana Neslen says:

    One of the most important influences on Muslim opinion was the refusal of Starmer to accept the invitation to an Iftar meal because one of the organisers supported BDS. Many Muslims considered this to be the ultimate insult. That action seems to show that Starmer is more sensitive to the views of Israel supporters than to the concerns of the Muslim community

  • steve mitchell says:

    At least Oborne accepts there is no real evidence that Jeremy is antisemitic. That cannot be said of senior Right Wing Labour MPs who should know better.

  • Valentin Kovalenko says:

    “I did not think that Labour leadership could sink this dangerously low by using smear campaigns against our Asian population.” Neither did I. Yet, I suspect we’ll see more of this. I am very concerned about some sort of centrist ‘common sense’ Islamophobia becoming part of their new normal.

  • Jill Azzouzi says:

    Thank you so much. I wrote to my MP today about him also readmitting trevor phillips after his blatant racism. As a muslim i will NEVER vote whilst starmer is in chargen

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