Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has defended his record on tackling Islamophobia, after a senior Newcastle councillor was suspended from the party for alleging a “Muslim plot”.
It emerged last week that Joyce McCarty had asserted in a text message that Muslim councillors in the West End had conspired to have Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes deselected earlier this year.
Cllr McCarty, who served as Cllr Forbes’ deputy for more than a decade, has been suspended by Labour pending an investigation and the party says it no longer endorses her at May’s local elections.
However, she remains on the ballot as Labour’s candidate in the Wingrove ward and was seen on the campaign trail after being suspended on March 31.
Last month, a report by the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) found that 68% of Muslim Labour supporters did not trust the party’s leadership to tackle Islamophobia effectively.
Asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) during a visit to Sunderland on Monday how Muslim members could have confidence in the party with Cllr McCarty still on the ballot in May, Mr Starmer replied: “With the Labour Muslim Network we have been working hard, they did a report and we have been working hard with them in relation to that.
“Only last week I was speaking to various Muslim communities and making it very clear that on issues such as Islamophobia we stand very firmly with them in terms of rooting it out.
“They can have every confidence in the Labour Party under my leadership in relation to the issues that they frequently raise with me, and quite right too.”
Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, tweeted last week that Labour “cannot call itself an anti racist party with examples such as this”, referring to Cll McCarty being allowed to stand in next month’s elections despite her suspension.
She has been a councillor in Newcastle since 1994, was Labour’s deputy leader in the city from 2007 to 2021, and served as deputy leader of the council from 2011 to 2021.
Cllr McCarty also remains the local authority’s cabinet member for inclusive economy, taking responsibility for issues including support for refugees and asylum seekers.
In a text message seen by the LDRS, the former teacher said she had heard there was a “specific Muslim plot” to oust her long-time ally Cllr Forbes in order to get more black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates.
The council leader lost a selection vote to local activist Abdul Samad in his Arthur’s Hill ward in February and has since announced he will leave city politics in May.