Labour race adviser Baroness Lawrence ‘accused Starmer of failing to listen’

The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence is said to have made the criticism at a private meeting on Tuesday.

PA Reporters
Wednesday 20 March 2024 22:40 GMT
Baroness Doreen Lawrence reportedly criticised Sir Keir Starmer in a closed-doors meeting (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Baroness Doreen Lawrence reportedly criticised Sir Keir Starmer in a closed-doors meeting (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

Sir Keir Starmer’s adviser on race relations has reportedly accused him of failing to listen to her and claimed that “gatekeepers” around the Labour leader obstruct her work.

Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, is said to have made the remarks during a closed-doors meeting of the party’s ethnic minority MPs and peers on Tuesday.

She also said he needed to better prioritise visiting diverse communities and churches with black congregations, raising concerns about the Labour leadership’s relationship with black voters, the Times reported.

Speaking at the meeting in front of Sir Keir’s chief of staff Sue Gray as well as senior shadow ministers David Lammy, Shabana Mahmood and Thangam Debonnaire, Baroness Lawrence is said to have complained: “I was appointed as the race adviser but I haven’t been listened to. I wish Keir listened to me. There are gatekeepers who stop things from happening.”

After her comments were leaked to the newspaper, she said: “Of course I’m always going to push the party to do more as the fight for equality is never done, but I’ve known Keir for years and I’ve no doubts about his commitment to equality and fighting racism.

“That’s why I’ve been proud to work with Labour to develop their plans for a new race equality act.”

It comes amid apparent friction within the party over the ongoing investigation into MP Diane Abbott, who was suspended after suggesting Jewish people did not experience racism “all their lives”.

Following a backlash, she apologised for any “anguish” caused and withdrew her comments.

Some Labour MPs including deputy leader Angela Rayner have publicly expressed support for Ms Abbott, who is Britain’s longest-serving black MP, having the whip restored.

While she remains a party member, she has sat as an independent MP while an internal probe of her comments continues.

Other senior Labour figures have been less willing to express an opinion. Yvette Cooper, appearing on LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr, said she could not comment on the independent process.

Last week Sir Keir denounced racist attacks on Ms Abbott and and urged Rishi Sunak to return donations to the Conservative Party from Frank Hester, the businessman who reportedly said the the MP “should be shot”.

But the former shadow cabinet minister later accused both Labour and the Conservatives of failing to tackle racism, saying she was “disappointed” in the also took aim at her own party, of which she remains a member despite losing the Labour whip last year over accusations that a letter she had written to The Observer was antisemitic.

Writing in The Independent, she said the position of the Labour leadership was “disappointing”.

She added: “It seemed equally reluctant at the outset to call out either racism or sexism.

“In fact, a number of Labour statements were issued, and interviews given where neither word was mentioned.”

Ms Abbott’s case was also raised at the meeting attended by Baroness Lawrence.

A shadow cabinet source said the party leadership had been attacked “from all directions” at the session.

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