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Editorial: Starmer isn't ‘reaching out’ to Muslims: he's cracking down

LABOUR’S leader is the reason support for the party among Muslims has halved since 2019, and Labour’s leader is not going to fix the problem.

The Keir Starmer machine has not changed course on any of the issues driving the trend. It is not listening, it is not learning and its war on the party’s left continues apace.

The war on Gaza still draws hundreds of thousands onto the streets every other week.

Labour refuses to back a ceasefire in Gaza, though the death toll approaches 30,000. 

Early in the war, this was explained by Starmer supporters in the media like the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee as down to his need to appear statesmanlike as a prime minister in waiting (“statesmanlike” meaning readiness to shadow the United States on all foreign policy issues). 

Yet if anything, Starmer’s positioning on the war is worse than that of the US or British governments. 

Both are complicit in the slaughter in Gaza, supplying the Israeli war machine and taking the lead in bombing Yemen for targeting Israel-linked shipping. 

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has ordered a review on recognising a Palestinian state, and Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has also suggested this could form part of a post-Gaza settlement. 

Neither is trustworthy, nor do we have detail on this state’s territory or viability. It’s more than we can say for Starmer though. 

He chose to use a period when bombs are raining on Palestinian hospitals and soldiers are systematically demolishing Palestinian homes to drop his party’s commitment to recognising a Palestinian state: adding insult to injury, as veteran journalist Peter Oborne noted on Middle East Eye, by announcing this to the Jewish Labour Movement without bothering to inform Palestine’s ambassador in Britain Husam Zomlot.

Gaza has prompted the biggest internal revolt of his control-freak leadership — over 50 MPs breaking the whip to back a ceasefire motion in Parliament and over 100 councillors resigning from the party, with a planned conference of ex-Labour councillors potentially posing the closest thing Labour has seen to a serious challenge from its left in decades.

But his enforcers remain unfazed. Has Andy McDonald — ludicrously suspended for saying he wished Jews and Palestinians to live in peace “between the river and the sea” — had the whip restored? No. 

Indeed, on Friday Labour whips briefed Politics Home that a harsher crackdown was coming, that Kate Osamor, suspended for referring to Gaza as a genocide, would be prevented from standing again on a Labour ticket (another middle finger raised to black communities following the ignored Forde report and the suspension of Diane Abbott) and so would Tahir Ali, a Birmingham MP, for saying that Rishi Sunak has blood on his hands for backing the Gaza war.

Gaza is not the only reason Labour is haemorrhaging Muslim votes. The party competes with the Tories to scaremonger about immigration. Its treatment of its Muslim MPs is often appalling, as revealed in complaints of “ongoing harassment” from Apsana Begum earlier this month. More broadly, it now emphatically rejects the politics of wealth redistribution and investment in services so important to all working-class voters, including ethnic minorities.

But its attitude to Gaza sums it up. And every socialist still in Labour should be appalled at what purges of the likes of Osamor and Ali indicate: the party Starmer is working hard to forge is one in which you cannot raise your voice for justice or act according to your conscience. It is an authoritarian, intolerant and repressive party that in government would run an authoritarian, intolerant and repressive state.

Socialists often describe their dilemma as whether to support left challenges to Labour or the Labour left. It may not be so clear cut: showing left challenges to Labour carry real weight could be the best defence the Labour left has against the accelerating purge.

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