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Editorial: Starmer remains deaf to Muslim concerns

ONE of the clearest messages from last week’s general election was the disillusionment very many British Muslims feel with the Labour Party.

Labour’s vote fell far further in constituencies with a large Muslim electorate, confirming the antipathy expressed in May’s local election results.

After that poll, the party claimed that it was ready to listen to the community’s concerns. Yet just a few weeks later, it axed Faiza Shaheen, a Muslim, as a party candidate in a brutal and unjustifiable fashion.

The core concerns of Muslims, who are in the great majority working-class, about Labour come under two well-understood headings.

First, there has been the persistent willingness of Starmer and his party apparatus to ignore or downplay evidence of Islamophobia. It is simply not taken as seriously as other forms of racism by Labour.

Indeed, Starmer has not seemed averse to consciously indulging in it, as when he made dog-whistle remarks about deporting Bangladeshis in the last week of the campaign.

Second, of course, is the party’s position on the genocide in Gaza, which it gave full-throated support to at the outset. For week after murderous week it refused to call for a ceasefire and only eventually did so when Washington had given permission to shift line.

The slaughter of Palestinians has aroused revulsion in all parts of the community. But there is no doubt that this indifference to the lives of Israel’s victims is particularly keenly felt in Muslim communities.

These positions reaped their harvest on July 4, when four independent candidates won previously safe Labour seats, overturning immense majorities in areas with significant Muslim electorates. They join Jeremy Corbyn on the Commons benches as advocates for Palestine unfettered by the Labour whip.

In several other constituencies, they gave Labour a fright, most notably in Ilford North. There the outstanding Leanne Mohamad came within 500 votes of unseating the now Health Secretary Wes Streeting, a long-standing champion of Israel.

One would have thought that this might have percolated through to the Prime Minister. Apparently not.  Asked on Monday if he was going to reach out to disaffected Muslims, Starmer could only waffle about the supposed breadth of Labour’s support and the size of his mandate.

That is disputable on its own terms, but in the context it sounded like a further studied insult. Labour MP Apsana Begum, herself a working-class Muslim, was right to call him out.

“This is an awful response from Keir and lacks any acknowledgement of the need to build trust among British Muslims who feel that Labour has let them down,” she said.

“There is no doubt that lots of voters have serious concerns about Starmer’s record on Gaza, Islamophobia and migration, amongst a number of other issues. This was an opportunity for Keir to assure British Muslims he was listening.  An opportunity ignored,” Apsana Begum pointed out.

None so deaf as those who will not hear. The election result revealed, behind the lopsided parliamentary arithmetic, a disintegrating Labour electoral coalition. Disaffection among hitherto Labour-supporting Muslims is a large part of that.

The Prime Minister could start to repair the damage by halting arms sales to Israel and announcing the early recognition of a Palestinian state. He could also stop trying to legitimise Reform’s anti-migrant rhetoric and would do well to ignore Tony Blair’s advice in that respect, and indeed in others.

Alas, it seems more likely that further electoral setbacks will be needed to force Starmer to understand that racism and war are not only evils in themselves, but are bad politics too. There are now several MPs who will give him that message daily.



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