Keir Starmer is new Labour leader; regaining ‘Indian’ support key task
Keir Starmer, who was on Saturday elected leader of the Labour party after Jeremy Corbyn resigned after the party’s heavy defeat in the December election, has a full in-tray before him that includes trying to regain the support of large sections of the Indian community.
Starmer, 57, who was first elected MP in 2015 and served as the shadow Brexit secretary, defeated Rebecca Long-Bailey and Indian-origin Lisa Nandy in the contest. He has often participated in events of the Indian community.
A former head of prosecutions in the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer admitted that the party has a “mountain to climb” after the fourth election loss in a row, but promised: “Where that requires change, we will change. Where that requires us to rethink, we will rethink”.
India has also congratulated Starmer. Indian high commissioner Ruchi Ghanashyam tweeted: “Congratulations on your election as the leader of the Labour Party Sir @Keir_Starmer. I am confident that under your leadership the Labour Party will further strengthen its historic bonds with India and will build enduring bridges to connect with the Indian diaspora in the UK.”
The Indian community has for long supported Labour, mainly due to its stand on immigration, but has been haemorrhaging support from second and third generation members of the community, who have increasingly gravitated to the Conservative party in recent elections.
Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour riled many for its stand on Jammu and Kashmir, which has been perceived in New Delhi and the UK as being anti-Indian. A resolution adopted at its annual conference in September called for outside intervention in the dispute.
Rajesh Agarwal, deputy mayor of London and co-chair of Labour Friends of India, said: “The Labour Party must also make the changes necessary to win hearts, minds and trust of the British people, including that of the 1.5 million strong British Indian community”.
“Labour is the natural party for British Indians but last few years have seen the relations strained. I hope the change in leadership is the beginning of a healing process & the party will be able to regain the trust of the community”.
Starmer recalled the party’s past achievements while in government in his acceptance speech: “We created the NHS. We created the welfare state. We passed equalities legislation, the Race Relations Act…But we’ve just lost four elections in a row”.
“We’re failing in our historic purpose. Be in no doubt I understand the scale of the task, the gravity of the position that we’re in. We’ve got a mountain to climb. But we will climb it, and I will do my utmost to reconnect us across the country, to re-engage with our communities”.
Under his leadership, he said the party will engage constructively with the government, not oppose it for opposition’s sake; not score points or make impossible demands.
Nandy, who finished third in the election, extended support to Starmer: “We have been competitors in this contest but never opponents,” noting that Labour’s road back to power is “steep but does not have to be long. Our country is crying out for fresh leadership. We start today.”
Manoj Ladwa, a leading London-based community figure and former chair of the community engagement forum of the Labour Friends of India group in the party, welcomed Starmer’s election and called for a ‘reset’ in relations with the Indian community.
He said: “Under the leadership of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour recklessly alienated many British Indians. Corbyn’s supporters frequently sniped against India, a country that is a hugely important strategic and economic partner for the UK. I like many other traditional Labour voters left the Labour Party for those very reasons”.
“If Keir Stammer is serious about becoming the next British Prime Minister, he has to urgently press the reset button with countries like India and communities like Britain’s 1.5 million Indian diaspora, which the previous leadership was overtly hostile to”.