Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

Pro-Pakistan Labour leader steps down

India seems to be losing the propaganda war over Kashmir because Pakistanis in the Midlands

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 8.11.19, 1:57 AM
  • Updated 8.11.19, 1:57 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Deputy leader of the Labour party Tom Watson (AP)

Tom Watson, one of the most bellicose supporters of Pakistan in the UK, has stepped down as deputy leader of the Labour party in what is being described as a “shock resignation”.

Watson has also taken the country by surprise by announcing he will also not be a parliamentary candidate in West Bromwich East, a reasonably safe Labour seat in the West Midlands which he has represented since 2001.

Like many Labour MPs with a large number of Pakistani constituents, he has been vociferous in supporting Pakistan against India on the question of Kashmir.

But he has gone further than others in lining the Labour Party solidly behind Pakistan — a policy that has alienated Indian voters across the country.

By and large, India seems to be losing the propaganda war over Kashmir because Pakistanis in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire are putting enormous pressure on Labour MPs. Also, as sitting white Labour MPs stand down, they are being replaced in several cases by Pakistani origin candidates, both men and women, in safe seats in the name of “diversity”.

Even if Jeremy Corbyn does not become Prime Minister after the general election on December 12, the takeover of the Labour Party by Pakistani origin MPs and councillors on local authorities now seems almost complete.

When Narendra Modi abrogated Article 370, Watson marched at the head of a protest rally in Birmingham called by a local Kashmiri group.

Holding a megaphone, he told the assembled Pakistanis: “I bring you solidarity on behalf of the Labour movement in the UK. I’ve worked with many of you for the last 20 years and I’ve never seen more worries on your faces and I have seen on your faces in the last 25 days.

“You’re worried about your loved ones you can’t communicate with. We’ve read the stories where people do not get medical supplies. There is no food, or water, or basic provisions. That is what they call a humanitarian crisis. And this is a responsibility for all of us in the international community.”

Raja Farooq Haider Khan, the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), expressed his gratitude: “We the people of Kashmir are grateful to Tom Watson for his comments in favour of oppressed people of Jammu & Kashmir.”

Watson told Pakistan’s Geo News: “The UK government has got to stand up: it’s got to do all it can to try and resolve this issue.

“You can’t starve people into submission, you cannot put a whole nation of people into essentially a communications form of solitary confinement, you need to find a political process. I think I’m responsible for doing that as a Midlands MP but I also think the real responsibility currently lies with the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, that’s his job he should speak out. These people expects their government to do that for them.”

In his resignation statement, Watson, who is only 52, said he was stepping down for reasons that were “personal, not political”.

In the complicated politics of the Labour party, he is seen as a “moderate” who wants to pursue a softer line on Brexit. , certainly when compared with the policies that have been pursued by Corbyn.

There have been attempts by the hard Left to oust Watson by abolishing the formal post of deputy leader. This is why his departure

is also being interpreted as a blow for moderates.

Liz Kendall, who ran against Corbyn for the leadership in 2015, said she was “very sad” to see Watson go.

“I will continue to fight for our progressive, social-democratic, pro-European Labour values and know that many other MPs and members will do the same,” she said.

In Ealing Southall, there was an attempt to oust the sitting Labour MP, Virendra Sharma, one of a handful of Asian MPs willing to speak in support of India.

On Wednesday night, he was given a last minute reprieve by Labour’s National Executive Committee which is axing a number of sitting MPs. Sharma revealed to The Telegraph on Thursday: “I am delighted to have been re-endorsed as the Labour Party candidate for Ealing Southall.”

Whether the NEC will also endorse Keith Vaz in Leicester East, which he has represented since 1987, remains to be seen.