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Labour Muslims urge Keir Starmer to take ‘urgent action’ over party official’s ‘vile Islamophobia’

Party strategist had briefed newspaper claiming Muslims opposed efforts to combat antisemitism

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Sunday 20 June 2021 14:10 BST
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party (Getty Images)

Keir Starmer has been urged to take “urgent action” after a senior Labour official claimed antisemitism amongst Muslims was responsible for the party’s bad polling.

The anonymous party strategist was quoted by the Mail on Sunday newspaper claiming that Labour was “haemorrhaging” Muslims voters because of “what Keir has been doing on antisemitism”.

The claim, suggesting Muslims were opposed to fighting anti-Jewish racism and were abandoning Labour because of this, comes ahead of a by-election in Batley and Spen, where the opposition appears on course to lose yet another seat.

Activists in the constituency say Labour’s equivocal position on Palestine has been repeatedly brought up on the doorstep by voters, as well as Sir Keir’s decision not to attend an Iftar supper because of a participant’s views on the Middle East conflict.

The Labour Muslim Network, which represents Muslim members in the party, on Sunday wrote to the party leader and urged him to “urgently and publicly” challenge such views.

Approached for this article, Labour declined to comment on the record about the claims in the original briefing, but The Independent understands that the official’s comments were unauthorised and do not represent the party’s official view.

“This is a patently vile, Islamophobic briefing by a ‘senior Labour official’ to the Daily Mail,” Labour Muslim Network said in a statement posted on social media.

“This racism needs to be challenged urgently and publicly by the Labour leadership and the party as a whole. There can be no hiding behind the anonymity of the source and briefing.”

Stating that they had written to Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, they added: “LMN and Muslim members expect thorough and immediate action. Islamophobia from ‘senior Labour strategists’ cannot be tolerated.”

Miqdaad Versi, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Those who have tried to understand have identified many local issues as well as Labour positions on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia – and being seen to take Muslim voters for granted. If advisors to the Labour leader don’t get this, they shouldn’t be talking about it.”

Describing the comments as “astonishing”, he said: “Any senior Labour official who tells media that Muslims are not voting Labour because Muslims support antisemitism should be sacked. No ifs, no buts.”

In comments posted on social media after the original publication of this article, Sir Keir’s deputy, Angela Rayner, said: “As deputy leader I want to make clear publicly that these comments that are being attributed to a member of Labour Party staff in a newspaper today are not a Labour Party response or statement, are completely unacceptable and are not condoned or sanctioned in any way by the party.

“I will be ensuring that the party investigates this reported comment in line with our party’s rules and processes. Anybody who has made these comments should and will be dealt with in line with our independent disciplinary procedures, which I have no role in as deputy leader.”

And party chair Annelise Dodds said: "This attributed quote is disgraceful, and categorically not a Labour Party statement in any shape or form.

"Islamophobia has no place in the Labour Party or anywhere else, and we remain committed to rooting it out."

A poll by Survation released over the weekend shows Labour is set to lose Batley and Spen, with 47 per cent of the vote expected to go to the Tories, and 41 per cent to Labour. Former Respect MP George Galloway, who is also standing, is apparently on course to retain his deposit, polling at six per cent of the vote.

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