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The promotion of an anti-Muslim figure by a Labour MP exposes the ‘hierarchy of racism’ in the party

June 8, 2023 at 9:00 pm

Members of the Labour Party march through Finsbury Park in support of Jeremy Corbyn and to demand that the whip is restored to him by leader Kier Starmer on November 22, 2020 in London, England [Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

The UK Labour Party’s claim that it has a “zero tolerance” policy towards racism has to be questioned after pro-Israel Christian Wakeford MP used social media to promote an Islamophobic figure. The Bury South Labour MP, who defected from the Conservatives last year, has sparked a debate about whether or not Labour is as serious about combatting Islamophobia and anti-black racism as it is about combatting anti-Semitism.

Under the leadership of Kier Starmer, Labour apparently has a hierarchy of racism, whereby anti-Jewish racism is taken more seriously than Islamophobia or other forms of racism. Moreover, Labour’s adoption of the controversial definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has made the party extremely intolerant of any criticism of Israel whatsoever. With seven of the eleven examples of anti-Semitism in the IHRA definition conflating anti-Jewish racism with criticism of Israel, Labour’s supposedly “zero tolerance” anti-racism policy has led to an extremely hostile undemocratic crackdown on critics of the apartheid state, all in the name of fighting anti-Semitism.

READ: Labour is purging ‘anti-Zionists’ from the party says Shadow Chancellor

Allegations that Labour has a hierarchy of racism surfaced again this week after Wakeford promoted Israel-born US musician Gene Simmons. The bass player with the band Kiss was accused of Islamophobia after he described Islam as a “vile culture” that treated women worse than dogs. Muslim women had to walk behind their men and were not allowed to be educated or own houses, Simmons is reported to have said. “Your dog, however, can walk side by side, your dog is allowed to have its own dog house… you can send your dog to school to learn tricks, sit, beg, do all that stuff – none of the [Muslim] women have that advantage.”

In a fawning tweet, a star-struck Wakeford shared a photo of himself standing next to Simmons. “Was going to say @AngelaRayner stole the show at #PMQs this week but I’m afraid it wasn’t to be…” he said, commenting on the performance of Labour’s deputy leader at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons. “Sorry Ange, there isn’t anyone able to upstage Gene Simmons! Great to have him watching in the Chamber today and to meet him to!”

Wakeford’s tweet triggered a response from Labour Muslim Network. “Promotion of Mr Simmonds is Islamophobic and a direct violation of the Labour Party code of conduct,” said the campaign group. It added that it had sent a letter to Starmer and Wakeford calling on the Bury South MP to apologise and take down the offensive tweet. “If we do not act with immediacy and seriousness, it only furthers accusations of a hierarchy of racism in our party,” the Network pointed out.

Wakeford apologised, and said that he had joined several MPs from across the House in meeting Simmons and that as a huge heavy metal fan he wanted to take the opportunity to have a picture taken with. “I have since been made aware of his political views and comments towards Muslims,” said Wakeford. “Now I know this I wish to disassociate myself from those views he has expressed and apologise for any harm or offence caused by having a picture with him.”

Wakeford’s apology hasn’t satisfied Labour’s critics, though, and the party has been urged to uphold its own standard for “zero tolerance”, which was highlighted this week by the blocking by party officials of Jamie Driscoll’s mayoral candidacy. Driscoll, a supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, became the first mayor for North of Tyne in 2019. Last week he was blocked from standing for re-election, ostensibly because he had taken part in an event with pro-Palestine film director Ken Loach, who was expelled from the party in 2021. Senior left-wing Labour figure Andy Burnham, mayor of the Liverpool city region, accused the party of being undemocratic, opaque and unfair.

READ: Ken Loach ‘purged’ from Labour party in ongoing ‘witch hunt’   

“Whilst we appreciate the NEC’s important role in upholding standards within the party, and rooting out any form of anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination, it also has a responsibility to ensure decisions are democratic, transparent and fair,” wrote Burnham to the Labour party’s National Executive Committee. “To exclude a sitting mayor from a selection process with no right of appeal appears to us to be none of those things.”

Driscoll was invited to interview Loach at the Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne in March. They discussed Loach’s new film The Old Oak, the third in a trilogy of widely acclaimed movies portraying, food poverty and racism in Britain. Throughout the political storm arising from the interview, Driscoll has made a number of appearances in the mainstream media. The BBC basically interrogated him for agreeing to share a stage with Loach, as did Labour representatives. Asked whether he thought Loach was anti-Semitic, Driscoll said there was “a lot of smoke but very little fire.” He acknowledged that it is reasonable to disagree with Loach and take a different view on Israel and Palestine, but warned that Labour’s reaction will have a chilling effect on free speech and undermine democracy.

The NEC’s decision has been criticised sharply by Labour Hub. So, according to the logic of the Labour party, “the Cannes jury, BAFTA, film reviewers, cinema-goers who regard Ken Loach as Britain’s greatest living film maker are all colluding with anti-Semitism?” asked the left-wing group. “The only conclusion from Labour’s reasoning is that all Labour members should be instructed not to go and see The Old Oak on its release; it should be boycotted as the product of Ken Loach’s anti-Semitism. Will the Party be issuing such advice and sanctioning any elected Labour politician who ignores this, watches the film and admits to liking it?”

The row continued on social media where Labour was accused of hypocrisy and double standards. If the overreaction to Driscoll’s interview with Loach is the standard for “zero tolerance”, why has Wakeford’s promotion of an anti-Muslim figure gone unpunished, Labour members are asking. “This week we’ve seen the ‘guilt-by-association’ machine kick into overdrive with Jamie Driscoll and Ken Loach,” said political commentator Ash Sarkar on twitter. “Will @Christian4BuryS be barred from standing in a [General Election] for failing to challenge Gene Simmons on his Islamophobia? If not, why don’t the same standards apply?”

A former Corbyn speechwriter, Alex Nunns, also slammed Labour for its double standards. “I see @Christian4BuryS — the Tory-turned-Labour MP who failed to get Roger Waters’ shows cancelled for anti-Semitism because he didn’t understand the concept of theatrical costume — is today parading around parliament with Gene Simmons from Kiss, who has called Islam “a vile culture,” said Nunns, referring to the vicious media attack against the founder member of Pink Floyd. Nunns explained that he was “holding Wakeford to his own standards.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.