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‘Labour no longer stands with Black people – so I’m leaving’

Labour leader Keir Starmer
I immediately cancelled my Labour Party membership (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In case you missed it, it took Keir Starmer just a matter of seconds this week to reduce the Black Lives Matter movement to a ‘moment’ – a tone-deaf term that dismissed the validity, necessity and longevity of the Black British collective struggle, during his interview on BBC Breakfast.

As a lifelong Labour supporter and Black working class woman raised in the late 90s/early 00s ex-industrial town of Doncaster, it was the last straw for me.

In my hometown, the legacy of the Labour Party – which has held the constituency since 1983 – always aligned with my values of prioritising the needs of the vulnerable.

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After Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the new Labour leader in 2015, I felt inspired by a renewed sense of hope in a future that was ‘for the many not the few’, and joined the party.

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It was the first time I felt actively optimistic about British left-wing politics since Tony Blair, whose involvement in the Iraq war I did not agree with.

When Starmer took over this year, I was open to the change in leadership. His voting record on social issues mirrored my values and I was hopeful that this would be reflected in his actions moving forward.

But over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself distancing from the Labour Party at an evolving pace.

The seeds were first sewn when Starmer, who had previously ‘taken a knee’ in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, did not sufficiently call out the racism of the ‘counter protesters’ who marched against BLM protests.

They chanted racist slurs, attacked the police and raised what appeared to be Nazi salutes in the process but instead of condemning these people as racist upholders of white supremacy, Starmer’s main concern was with the violence against police, and not the underlying rhetoric.

This showcased a classic case of performative allyship, which was only cemented further through his interview on BBC Breakfast.

His statement ignored Britain’s collective resentment at our racist history, and the ongoing racial disparities that disproportionately affect Black people today. It suggested that we will ‘get over it’ soon and therefore do not need to be taken seriously.

Starmer went on to dismiss defunding the police and referred to any criticism towards the force as ‘nonsense’. This is despite decades of research revealing police brutality against Black people and institutional racism in the UK.

In my opinion, by saying this, Starmer immediately positioned himself as a leader who will not be exploring this issue for the party’s constituents. He is not only gatekeeping a problematic institution, but also failing to recognise the nuances within the relationship between the police and Black communities in the UK.

His comments are neglectful of the most recent examples of incompetency in the sector, including the circumstances around 12-year-old Shukri Yahye-Abdi’s death by drowning, and the police officers who just weeks ago allegedly took selfies with Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, two murdered Black women.

I immediately cancelled my Labour Party membership

Starmer also positioned the BLM organisation and the protests as two different causes with separate agendas, using divide and conquer tactics to minimise the movement.

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After the statement went viral, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, notorious for his unapologetic bigotry, right wing rhetoric and anti-multiculturalism stance, tweeted that he ‘heartily agrees’ with Starmer’s condemnation of the BLM organisation.

I immediately cancelled my Labour Party membership.

My political and social ethics have always been integral to my identity, without a party to represent these views I feel like I’ve lost that sense of belonging that allyship brings. 

I am not the only one to abandon Labour. My social media feeds, WhatsApp groups and DMs sprung to life with likeminded friends telling me they feel equally betrayed. 

I now have a sense of foreboding. In a political landscape where the left are leaning towards the centre/right, who is going to advocate for the most vulnerable people in society?

If the Labour Party is not prepared to listen to the needs of Black people, unapologetically support these and advocate for our rights to be heard, then the party is no longer a safe place for us. You are either with us or you are against us, there is no room for debating our humanity, excusing our oppressors or talking over us. This only puts us in further danger. 

In the 2019 General Election, 64 per cent of BAME voters chose Labour, but in 60 seconds, in my opinion, Starmer successfully managed to isolate an entire community, leaving me and many others politically homeless.

Questioning the validity of the only organisation that advocates for Black people, questions the validity of all Black people.

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Starmer’s statement othered us so completely that I no longer feel like we have a home in the party, and as an avid and loyal Labour advocate, this turnaround is humiliating.

Cancelling my membership was a knee-jerk reaction, but I do not regret it. Under no circumstances am I prepared to support a party whose leader has his views endorsed by Nigel Farage – even if it was just once.

Black people are often infantilised as people who, with the right amount of distraction, smoke and mirrors, and bargaining, will forget the racism of our oppressors if offered a meet-in-the-middle solution.

I won’t be forgetting Starmer’s comments, and I won’t be returning to Labour under his leadership.

The plausibility of other left-wing parties and their allyship with the Black community during this time will be telling. 

As the left centres in on what appears to be a strategy to gain voters, who am I, a Black working class woman, meant to vote for?

Do you have a story you’d like to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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