By Amit Roy
LABOUR’S apparent backing for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue is hardly a priority for Sir Keir Starmer, except that on being elected party leader last week after four disastrous years under Jeremy Corbyn, he pledged to “tear out this poison” of anti-Semitism.
Sooner or later, he will have to tackle the “anti- Indian and anti-Hindu” sentiment, which is also alleged to have infected Labour. Hence, the emergency Kashmir resolution that was adopted during the Labour party conference last year.
The woman who presided over that session, Claudia Webbe, is now Labour MP for Leicester East. She was imposed on the constituency by Corbyn after Keith Vaz was forced to step down after 32 years of representing the seat.
Expressing delighted at Sir Keir’s victory, Vaz told me: “This is a real opportunity to reset our relationship with India and the British Indian community. A huge amount of damage has been done to this relationship in recent years.”
It is not that India’s prime minister Narendra Modi’s government is above criticism – far from it. But Labour should not play divide and rule.
Virendra Sharma, the Labour MP for Ealing Southall who was hospitalised with the coronavirus for a week and is now recovering at home, said: “I have spoken to Keir and (deputy leader) Angela (Rayner) and they both recognise that the Labour party seriously needs to improve its relations with British Indians and are intent on doing so.”
Lisa Nandy, the new shadow foreign secretary, whose father is the Bengali Marxist intellectual Dipak Nandy, should be an improvement on her predecessor, Emily Thornberry. But it remains to be seen whether Nandy can repair Labour’s damaged relations with India.
Lord Swraj Paul, who now sits as an independent peer but was once a prominent figure in the Labour party, pointed out: “The number of Indians active in the Labour party is falling – and that is where it is getting more influenced by people from Pakistan.”
He acknowledged that as prime minister David Cameron “had worked very hard to brings Indians in (to the party). Now look at the Indians in Boris Johnson’s cabinet – Priti (Patel), Rishi (Sunak), Alok (Sharma) who are all doing a first-class job. Which Indian will not appreciate it?”
Sir Keir has promised to work with the government on tackling coronavirus, but Labour will almost certainly want to use the crisis to further its chances of winning the next election.
Rayner has already launched a class war. When the health secretary Matt Hancock warned over the weekend he may have to take away people’s right to leave their homes because the rules were being flouted by a minority, she hit back: “It’s all right for people who have got big houses and huge back gardens to say that.”