Keir Starmer’s purge has nothing to do with racism

Labour is once again being bitten by its own toxic identity politics.

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan

Topics Politics UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

This week was a dramatic one for the UK Labour Party. A vicious internal dispute has centred on Diane Abbott, the long-serving Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Earlier this week, she claimed that the party banned her from standing as a Labour candidate in the upcoming General Election. Party leader Keir Starmer denied this was the case, and has since announced that Abbott can in fact defend her seat in July.

Abbott’s case has no doubt been poorly handled by Labour. There was certainly no need for all the confusion and lack of transparency surrounding whether or not she would be allowed to stand, following her suspension for her comments about racism and anti-Semitism last year. But some of the reactions to this fiasco can only be described as identitarian hysteria.

Plenty of commentators and Labour politicians seem to believe that Abbott is being unfairly targeted because of her race. John McTernan, former political strategist to Tony Blair, wrote in the Telegraph yesterday that ‘there is a deeply misconceived, malevolent and wicked operation to humiliate Diane’ and that ‘it is virtually impossible to detach that from the fact that she is a black woman’.

The Runnymede Trust, an identitarian charity, also pitched in to accuse Labour of ‘racism and misogynoir’ against Abbott and called the treatment of her ‘abhorrent’.

Today, a collection of black actors, writers and broadcasters signed an open letter, arguing that Labour was guilty of ‘systemic racism’ and accusing the party of deciding that ‘the black and brown vote doesn’t matter’.

Everyone seems to have forgotten the reason why Abbott was suspended from the party in the first place. In April last year, she wrote a letter to the Observer making the baffling claim that Jews do not experience racism, but only prejudice. She implicitly compared anti-Semitism to the dislike of redheads. For this, she had the whip removed, only for it to be restored again this week after a lengthy investigation. This was by no means an unjust or personally targeted suspension, let alone one motivated by racism.

Astonishingly, this is not the only alleged racism scandal engulfing Labour at the moment. Also this week, Corbynite economist Faiza Shaheen was blocked from standing as a Labour candidate for the constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green. This decision was taken after she criticised Labour’s stance on Gaza and allegedly liked questionable posts about Israel on social media in the past.

Predictably, the British left’s merry band of identitarians portrayed this as Labour victimising another ‘woman of colour’. Some suggested that Shaheen’s deselection was proof that the party is ‘Islamophobic’. Shaheen herself has said that her being blocked is the result of a ‘systematic campaign of racism, Islamophobia and bullying’. She’s even planning to take Labour to court over its supposed racism.

The idea that Labour is being uniquely harsh towards ethnic-minority politicians is ridiculous. Especially given the fact that Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a white man, was also suspended from the party this week over a complaint about his behaviour eight years ago. Not to mention the fact that ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn himself had his Labour membership cancelled last week, after he announced he was planning to run as an independent candidate.

The focus on race misses the central point here. This is an ideologically motivated purge of hard-left politicians, who Starmer views as problematic for internal party discipline. He is clearly keen to reduce the influence of the pro-Corbyn left within Labour – a faction to which Abbott and Shaheen both belong. That naturally incorporates those who have firmly disagreed with his position on Gaza. It has nothing to do with these politicians’ skin colour, and everything to do with their politics. This might make for an unpleasant, factional spectacle, but it is clearly not about race.

In many ways, Labour only has itself to blame for the wild accusations of racism now being levelled at it. It has for so long perpetuated the claims that Britain is a bigoted, reactionary hellscape where ethnic minorities are routinely victimised. Why is Labour now surprised that it has also been hit with such accusations?

This is where the racialisation of politics leads us. There are plenty of things to criticise Starmer for, but being racist is not one of them. It’s high time that Labour dropped its obsession with woke identity politics. Perhaps this absurd race scandal will be the wake-up call the party needs.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today