How Labour under Starmer lost BAME voters like me

How Labour under Starmer is losing BAME voters like me
5 min read
30 Sep, 2020
Comment: Labour's repeated dismissal of issues which affect minorities shows that their 'progressive patriotism' approach isn't aimed at us, writes Aleesha Khaliq.
Sir Keir Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party in October 2020 [Getty]
Last Wednesday, the UK parliament passed the Overseas Operations Bill which was widely criticised not only by the public, but by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, who argue the bill gives alleged war criminals a "free pass".

Some of the most vocal opposition to this bill came from former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who said that it "violates essential rule of law principles, including with regards to the absolute prohibition of torture", adding that "It also fails to protect the safety, well-being and rights of our military personnel".

Corbyn was one of only 18 Labour MPs who voted against the unethical legislation, after Labour leader Keir Starmer imposed a whip on the party's MPs to abstain on the vote. In defying the whip and voting against the bill, parliament's youngest MP, Nadia Whittome, and two other MPs lost their shadow minister roles.

What this shows is that Labour has its "progressive patriotism" approach completely wrong. In a bit to appear patriotic under Starmer's leadership, Labour has ended up on the wrong side of history by abstaining from a bill which would effectively decriminalise torture.

Most notably of all to Labour's past is the Iraq war, and this legislation means that war crimes that were potentially committed there could no longer be deemed prosecutable, as it establishes a five-year window for such proceedings that - in the case of Iraq - has already elapsed. 

Starmer's leadership and his repeated dismissal of the concerns of BAME communities has not only turned me into an ex-member, but also a non-voter

Labour choosing to sack one of its best MPs for voting against a bill which aims to introduce a presumption against prosecution for British soldiers serving abroad, is clear evidence the party seeks to appease white nationalists for more votes. The party is gaining a reputation for consistently missing the mark when it comes to defending basic human rights, especially those of groups that diaspora communities here in Britain hold dear. This is especially ironic, given that Starmer is a former human rights lawyer. 

As a Kashmiri Muslim woman who has passionately advocated for the party for five years, including for Miliband and Corbyn, these past few months under Starmer's leadership and his repeated dismissal of the concerns of BAME communities have not only turned me into an ex-member, but also a non-voter.

I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a party that thought it was fine to abstain on a bill which would essentially give war criminals a free pass. This is not "progressive patriotism" … in fact, it's completely regressive and is almost as though we've gone back to the Blair years. 

Labour's decision to abstain on the bill came just days after Labour's virtual party conference 2020, where there was significant discussion about "progressive patriotism", "putting Britain first", and "new leadership".

Read more: Shameful bill grants a free pass for British war crimes in Iraq

But if Labour was truly prioritising Britain, why were Starmer's first actions as leader to release a statement and revoke Labour's support for an independent Kashmir? His words came at a time when Kashmir was (and still is) under lockdown, and while the state remains 
on Genocide Watch after systematic human rights violations. 

These new nationalist-type slogans are designed to appease and entice new voters, but they hold no regard for Britain's BAME communities. Corbyn's Labour might have come under criticism for not prioritising Britain or working-class voters, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He proudly championed migrants' rights, immigration, Muslims, BAME communities, and more.

Instead, with Starmer at the helm, the rules have changed, and there is no championing BAME communities and the issues many of us care about. Labour has always taken BAME voters for granted, and it is doing it again now, because at the polling booth we're reminded that it's a choice between the Tories or Labour - overt oppression with the Tories or covert oppression with Labour.

These new nationalist-type slogans are designed to appease and entice new voters, but they hold no regard for Britain's BAME communities

Starmer, in his role as leader, has written in the Daily Mail and other right-wing publications which have a significant history of demonising and criminalising minority groups. He has called the Black Lives Matter protests "a moment" and in revoking support for an independent Kashmir has alienated not just me, but many other BAME Labour Party supporters across the country. Over 100 mosques have threatened to boycott Labour over its dismissal of Kashmir as an international issue.

Many of us now consider ourselves "politically homeless", and Labour must realise it cannot win back or maintain seats in places like Oldham, Derby, Bradford and Birmingham without support from BAME communities.

So, if Labour is serious about championing human rights, it needs to stop appeasing nationalists for votes. The "progressive patriotism" approach has only further alienated minorities, and as someone who once saw Labour's values fit with my own, I can no longer support the party which once felt homely and welcoming to me.

Aleesha is a freelance journalist and a political columnist for gal-dem. She previously worked for CNN International and her writing has appeared in various publications. 

Follow her on Twitter: @a_leesha1

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.