Labour Leader fails to retract anti-India by-election leaflet in House of Commons

Labour Leader fails to retract anti-India by-election leaflet in House of Commons
Courtesy: House of Commons - PA Images | PA Images via Getty Images

The UK’s Opposition Labour Party reignited the anger of British Indians when the party leader failed to retract a controversial leaflet used in the recent Batley and Spen by-election in West Yorkshire.

The leaflet featured Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a handshake with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a message: “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side”.

It was widely condemned by diaspora organisations in the UK and MPs within the Labour Party itself, however, when the issue reared its head again during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons this week, Labour Leader Keir Starmer chose to skirt the issue.

“May I ask him [Starmer] now to retract this leaflet I have here that was produced by the Labour Party during the Batley and Spen by-election, which was condemned by his own MPs as ‘dog-whistle racism’,” said Boris Johnson during an exchange over the issue of racism.

“The Prime Minister is not kidding anyone in this House, he is not kidding the public and he is not even kidding his own MPs,” was Starmer’s response.

The topic in question at PMQs was the racist abuse faced by England’s footballers in the wake of their defeat in the Euro Cup final last weekend. The Opposition party accused the Conservative Party of stoking the flames by not openly supporting the players taking the knee as a symbolic gesture against racism before their matches, in particular attacking UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“We love and admire the England side and what they did. They represent the best of our country. Nobody defends booing the England side. But what the Home Secretary has been trying to do all her life is not just fight racism, but take practical steps to advance the cause of black and minority ethnic groups, which she has done successfully, notably in the police,” said Johnson, in defence of his Cabinet minister.

The latest exchange in Parliament follows widespread condemnation of the by-election leaflet, which had led to allegations of Labour resorting to “anti-India branding just for votebank politics” and “cheap divide and rule” politics.

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