The leaflet was used at the recent by-election for the constituency of Batley and Spen in northern England, a seat held by the Labour Party
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer clashed within the House of Commons over a controversial by-election leaflet, which had been branded “divisive” and “anti-India” by the Indian diaspora groups in Britain.
During a heated debate over the difficulty of racism at the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson delayed the leaflet showing him during a handshake with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G7 Summit in 2019 with the message “Don’t risk a Tory MP who isn’t on your side”.
He demanded the Labour Leader retract the leaflet used at the recent by-election for the constituency of Batley and Spen in northern England, a seat held by the Opposition party.
“May I ask him now to retract this leaflet I even have here that was produced by the Labour Party during the Batley and Spen by-election, which was condemned by his own MPs as ‘dog-whistle racism’,” Mr. Johnson said.
However, the Labour Leader skirted around the remark to continue his tirade against the ruling Conservative Party for not fighting back against racist abuse faced by England’s footballers on the pitch.
“This is basically simple, either the Prime Minister is with the Britain players in their stand against racism or he can defend his own record, which of his ministers and a few of his MPs, but he cannot have it both ways. Can he tell the House whether he now regrets failing to condemn those that booed England’s players for standing up to racism,” said Starmer.
He made specific regard to the U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel, as he referenced England team footballer Tyrone Mings recently pointing to a number of the senior Cabinet minister’s remarks serving to “stoke the fire” of racism and hatred.
“We love and admire the Britain side and what they did. They represent the simplest of our country. Nobody defends booing the Britain side. But what the house Secretary has been trying to try to do all her life isn’t just fight racism, but take practical steps to advance the explanation for black and minority ethnic groups, which she has done successfully, notably within the police,” Mr. Johnson said in her defense.
The clash re-ignited the row over the controversial by-poll leaflet, which had caused outrage from within the Labour Party ranks and widely across Indian diaspora groups.
“Very disappointing and disturbing that Labour Leader Keir Starmer refuses to condemn ‘racist, anti-Indian’ leaflet published by Labour during recent Batley and Spen by-election – a problem raised by prime minister Boris Johnson at PMQs,” tweeted Professor Manoj Ladwa, U.K.-based entrepreneur and former member of Prime Minister Modi’s electoral campaign team.
At the time of the by-election at the top of last month, the Labour Friends of India (LFIN) diaspora group demanded the “immediate withdrawal” of the leaflet.
Indian-origin Labour MP Navendu Mishra took to Twitter at the time to declare that “racism is alive and well within Labour”.
The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) group reacted by organizing a letter of complaint to party leader Keir Starmer, criticizing the “vote-bank politics” of the campaign leaflet.
“OFBJP objects to the present quite anti-India branding only for vote-bank politics. Such posters and statements are clearly a symbol of divisive politics played by Labour,” said OFBJP President Kuldeep Shekhawat.
Angry messages dominated the first Twitter post on social media, with many remarking that it had been Labour’s perceived “anti-India stance” that was among the factors behind its bruising defeat within the 2019 election under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.