Labour leader Keir Starmer has been encouraged to take “urgent action” after a senior Labour official suggested Muslim antisemitism was responsible for the party’s poor polling.
An anonymous party strategist was quoted by the Mail on Sunday claiming that Labour was “haemorrhaging” Muslim voters because of “what Keir has been doing on antisemitism”.
The inflammatory claim – which implies that Muslims are opposed to fighting anti-Jewish racism – comes weeks before the hotly-contested by-election in Batley and Spen, where Labour appears to be on the back foot.
The Labour Muslim Network (LMN), which represents Muslim members of the party have written to Starmer urging him to “urgently and publicly” challenge the views of the anonymous official.
“This is a patently vile, Islamophobic briefing by a ‘senior Labour official’ to the Daily Mail,” the group said in a statement.
They added: “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.”
Responding to the allegation Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner has promised an investigation. In a statement she 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 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.”
However, Sir Keir’s position on Palestine, which has been described as vague, has been brought up repeatedly on the doorstep by voters say the parties’ campaigners in the constituency. The Labour leader’s decision not to attend an Iftar celebration because of a participant’s views on the Middle East conflict have also been reported as being problematic.
On the campaign trail last week in Heckmondwike, the Labour candidate in the Batley and Spen by-election, Kim Leadbeater, received a hostile reception from voters who are unhappy with the party’s stance on foreign policy issues, not only in connection with Palestine but also with the party’s position on Kashmir. This has led to accusations that the party takes some forms of racism more seriously than others.
Over the last 40 years Muslim communities have been some of the most steadfast Labour voters in Britain. Even before the intervention of the LMN, in an open letter to Sir Kier, five Muslim organisations across the West Yorkshire constituency; Ansaar Organisation, Madressa Mahmoodia, Batley & Dewsbury Friends of Al Aqsa Hilal Islamic Centre & Masjid / Bosnian Cultural Centre and the Al Hashim Academy warned that Labour should no longer take the support of their communities for granted.
In the letter the organisations told Sir Keir: “We are writing to you today as representatives from different Mosques and Muslim organisations across Batley and Spen because after decades of supporting this party, knocking on doors, organising voter turnout drives and so much more, we are now in serious doubt over whether we can continue with our support.”
The letter went on to say: “Unfortunately, it seems that while we have been proud to support the Labour Party, for a long time the Labour Party has not been proud of our support. Put simply, our votes and voices have been taken for granted.”
In reiterating the growing backlash to Labour one local voter said: “I’ve voted Labour my whole life, but I won’t be blindly giving them my vote anymore. And that is not just about Palestine. It is everything locally. They’ve been in power here for 25 years but only now they’re under threat do they care about Asians.”
Labour is currently performing badly in the polls; a recent Survation’s phone poll of adults earlier this month revealed the Conservatives were in front on 47%, Labour in second with 43% and George Galloway, the former Labour and Respect MP, was in third place on 6%, with indications that some of those votes had come from Labour.
Sir Kier would face heightened questions about his leadership if Labour loses Batley and Spen, having been defeated by the Tories last month in their former stronghold of Hartlepool.