By Nick Clark
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Backlash in Labour grows as party shifts further rightward

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Issue 2704
Protests erupted across Britain last summer
Protests erupted against repression in Kashmir across Britain last summer (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Labour has provoked a ­backlash from its own members after betraying both tenants and victims of India’s hard right government.

Thousands of Labour Party ­members signed an open letter to accuse Labour of “failing renters” during the coronavirus outbreak.

Labour proposed emergency ­legislation in parliament to supposedly “protect people from ­bankruptcy and homelessness due to rent arrears” if their income has fallen.

Yet its proposals included ­“allowing” renters two years to pay back rent arrears rather than ­cancelling them. This would essentially leave tenants in debt to their landlords, and effectively increase their rent payments.

More than 4,000 Labour ­members signed the open letter in response, calling on Labour to back cancelling rent payments instead.


The letter said, “Private renters cannot with much confidence look to the Labour Party for comfort.

“The Labour Party’s revised ­position of rent deferrals does not help us as workers. It simply pushes the problem down the road.

“If a worker misses out on three months’ worth of income, and has to pay that back over two years, that is a 12 percent increase of rent that must be paid, in the worst recession in centuries. Your solutions simply are not good enough. You are ­failing renters.”

Yet Labour’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire refused to budge, pointing to claims that the state would have to compensate landlords for loss of rent.

It effectively means agreeing that the government should prioritise protecting landlords’ incomes over tenants.

Also over last weekend, more than 100 mosques and Islamic centres wrote to Labour leader Keir Starmer threatening to boycott Labour after it abandoned support for people in Kashmir.

The letter said, “It would seem to us that holding foreign governments to account over their discriminatory policies and human rights abuses does not seem to be a foreign policy goal under your leadership.

“It seems to us that there is an ingrained view that the British Muslim vote has and always will be a secure one for the Labour Party, to be taken for granted with little consideration of the issues and concerns which matter to us as British Muslim communities.”

It came after Starmer said the question of Kashmir is a “bilateral issue,” in which Labour is ­essentially neutral. That means Labour has dropped its position—agreed by members at its conference in 2019—to condemn India’s repression of people in Kashmir.

India’s government, led by the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, has unleashed horrific repression on mostly Muslim people in Kashmir, which it wants to control.

Labour’s conference said the party would “stand with the Kashmiri people fighting against occupation, this is vital as we stand for social ­justice and ethical foreign policy”.

Starmer’s retreat came after supporters of Modi’s government threatened to campaign against Labour among Hindu people. 

It builds on a shift last November when the then party chair Ian Lavery agreed that the conference policy had caused offence to some British Indians and India itself.

Lavery promised “the Labour party will not take a pro-Indian or pro-Pakistan stance on Kashmir”.

Labour’s shifts show that the “responsible” and “electable” ­leadership promised by Starmer really means trying to appease right wing voters and the rich.

It also means MPs can ignore their own members and conference decisions—something they can get away with in a party focussed on elections and parliament.

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