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New Labour chief to mend India ties

A government of national unity is ruled out
Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer

Amit Roy   |   London   |   Published 04.04.20, 07:00 PM

Keir Starmer, who has been elected the new leader of the Labour party after four successive general election defeats and a disastrous four-year-period under Jeremy Corbyn, acknowledged “anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party” and pledged to “tear out this poison by its roots”.

But the “centrist” 57-year-old barrister, who has been the shadow Brexit secretary under Corbyn and served as the director of public prosecutions before becoming the MP for Holborn and St Pancras in London in 2015, was noticeably silent about tackling what was widely perceived to be anti-Indian and anti-Hindu sentiment in the Labour Party, especially during the last general election.

Labour’s decision to adopt a pro-Pakistan Kashmir resolution accelerated the Indian drift towards the Tories, which has been taking place, anyway, over many years but manifested itself strongly during the general election. Without Indian support, it will be difficult for Labour to win at last 20 marginal constituencies where the Indian vote is significant.

After a tortuous voting process, Starmer won in the first round, getting 275,780 votes (56.2 per cent), comfortably beating the shadow business secretary and Corbynite, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who got 135,218 votes (27.6 per cent), and Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan and daughter of the Marxist academic Dipak Nandy, who got 79,597 votes (16.2 per cent).

Angela Rayner, a Corbyn critic, was elected deputy leader. “Under my leadership we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for Opposition’s sake,” promised Starmer, who clearly recognises the political landscape has been changed beyond recognition by coronavirus.

But he also said: “When we do get through this, we cannot go back to business as usual.”

Starmer, whose mother has been a nurse, sent out a powerful message when he declared: “When we get through this it’ll be because of our NHS staff, our care workers, our ambulance drivers, our emergency services, our cleaners, our porters. For too long they’ve been taken for granted and poorly paid. They were last and now they should be first.”

A government of national unity is ruled out.

But it was no coincidence that on that on the very day Starmer was elected, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote to all his traditional foes with the appeal: “As party leaders we have a duty to work together during this time of national emergency.

“Therefore, I would like to invite all leaders of Opposition parties in Parliament to a briefing with myself, the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser next week.”

Keith Vaz, who stepped down as Labour MP for Leicester East after more than 30 years last year, expressed delight at Starmer’s victory and told The Telegraph: “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.”

Swraj Paul, who now sits as an independent peer but was once a prominent figure in the Labour Party and did much to strengthen links with India, especially when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, 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 said that David Cameron, when Prime Minister, “had worked very hard to brings Indians in – and he benefited from it. 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 Indians will not appreciate it?”

The Labour peer Bhikhu Parekh, who was professor of political theory at Hull University and served as vice chancellor of Baroda University, said: “I would urge Keir Starmer to visit India and listen to all sides. I would advise him to be even handed (between India and Pakistan).”

Parekh said that in four years’ time, if Starmer did become Prime Minister, “Britain would rely on the Indian market, Indian doctors, Indian pharmas, and Indian students. Chinese students have dried up. Oxford was expecting 6,000 Chinese students who have disappeared. The other market is India. And India will want British investment. So the interests are in both directions.”

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