Keir Starmer has been warned that he is at risk of deepening the fracture within the Labour Party and triggering mass defection if he fails to demonstrate a commitment to real policy change towards Palestine and address the growing scourge of Islamophobia.
The warning was issued in a letter to the embattled Labour leader by representatives from different mosques and Muslim organisations across Batley and Spen, where Labour is fighting to defend its seat in a crucial by-election in the West Yorkshire constituency.
In the letter seen by MEMO, Starmer was reminded of the years of support enjoyed by the Labour Party from the highly active local Muslim communities who went knocking on doors and organising voter turnout drives to preserve Labour's dominance. "We are now in serious doubt over whether we can continue with our support," said the letter accusing Labour of taking the voices and votes of Muslims "for granted".
In addition to domestic concerns around a lack of housing, school resources being cut, closing down of GPs and hospitals, Islamophobia, the group cited international issues such as Israel's occupation of Palestine, India's occupation of Kashmir and China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
On the issue of Palestine, the letter urged Starmer "to go beyond the usual political rhetoric and show a commitment to real policy change." They accused the Labour Party of only giving lip service to the Palestinian issue. "As Leader of the Opposition, yourself and your ministers in the Shadow Cabinet, must make clear statements on your position. This includes the recognition of Palestine as a state, support for a full arms embargo against Israel in addition to support for BDS as an ethical form of resistance," said the representatives in reference to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement to end Israeli crimes.
Earlier this month Starmer pressed on Prime Minster Boris Johnson to advocate for a Palestinian state during the upcoming G7 talks in Cornwall. Speaking from the dispatch box during Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour leader used his final question to highlight Israel's latest aggression on Gaza and the occupied West Bank while urging Johnson to support the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.
With the demand coming on the back of a heated campaign in the Batley and Spen by election, Starmer was accused of being insincere. Critics have accused him of throwing the Palestinian issue under the bus and he is now cynically using the plight of the Palestinians to fend off the challenge from George Galloway. The former member of parliament poses a serious challenge and is likely to split the labour vote and pave the way for a Conservative victory.
The full text of the letter can be found below:
Dear Sir Keir Starmer MP,
For over 40 years Muslim communities throughout the United Kingdom have supported the Labour Party loyally. In Batley and Spen particularly, through different leaders, times and political climates, our community has been amongst the most steadfast Labour voters anywhere in the country.
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.
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.
The issues facing Muslims in our constituency are vast and deep rooted. Some are consistent with those you may see in areas similar to ours; a lack of housing, school resources being cut, closing GPs and hospitals etc. Others are specific to our community and our area. This includes concerns regarding the rising tide of Islamophobia, the racism inherent in the Prevent duty as well as ongoing international crises in Palestine, Kashmir, Xinjiang and beyond.
If we are to continue supporting and fighting for the Labour Party, our expectation is for Labour to be on our side. In particular, to speak and campaign on the following issues:
Since 2016, the rising tide of Islamophobia has been of great concern to every single Muslim in the UK. From a 500% rise in violent and non-violent attacks since the Brexit referendum, to the release of the Labour Muslim Network report in 2020; the issue of overt and structural Islamophobia is of highest pertinence to our communities. We need to see more than lip service on this issue. We need real leadership and a commitment to taking the necessary steps to resolve the issue of Islamophobia within the Party. We need to see a direct pledge communicated by yourself and the Shadow Cabinet on this matter. We also need firm commitments and proposed actions on tackling Islamophobia across society as a whole.
The ongoing occupation, violence and oppression taking place in Palestine is an issue almost inseparable from the hearts of thousands in Batley and Spen, including its Muslim constituents.
The Labour Party has to go beyond the usual political rhetoric and show a commitment to real policy change. Again, this cannot just take the forms of motions passed and lip service paid to the issue. As Leader of the Opposition, yourself and your ministers in the Shadow Cabinet, must make clear statements on your position. This includes the recognition of Palestine as a state, support for a full arms embargo against Israel in addition to support for BDS as an ethical form of resistance.
We would like to hear an unequivocal commitment to these issue before the election. It is unfortunate that you did not make time to hear the views of ordinary Labour voters during your recent visit to Batley & Spen. Under the circumstances, can you please clarify whether you will make a public statement; or whether you prefer a more personal forum – in which case we are ready to meet you.
It is as painful for us to say, as we hope it is for you to hear, that this long-established relationship between our community and the Labour Party – which we have given so much to – is in this difficult position.
Our reaching out is with the singular intention of repairing this relationship. With all due respect, we cannot stress enough, the urgency of the Labour leadership to take the above seriously. You will already be aware of defections by many previously prominent Labour campaigners and activists, and even former councillors in the Batley & Spen area. They cite the above reasons as their main cause of dissatisfaction with Labour.
You will already be aware that this is not just a local issue confined to Batley & Spen. The recent poll conducted by the Labour Muslim Network, has shown that the Labour Party are losing the support of Muslim communities nationally.
A significant number of prominent Imams / individuals, Mosques and Community organisations are eager to receive a progress update to this particular letter, and are watching the situation closely.
If the needs and issues close to our hearts are not addressed – it is inevitable that local congregations, members and communities will conclude that the Labour Party no longer have our best interests at heart. This scenario is likely to impact on other constituencies in the UK; where significant sections of the electorate share the same concerns on these issues.
We hope this can be avoided, and that the Labour leadership respond positively to the above. We look forward to hearing from you.
*Batley & Dewsbury Friends of Al Aqsa
*Hilal Islamic Centre & Masjid / Bosnian Cultural Centre
*Al Hashim Academy