Labour accused of stoking racial divisions with Batley and Spen by-election leaflet

The Labour Party has been accused of stoking racial divisions ahead of the Batley and Spen by-election after campaigners delivered leaflets that say the Conservatives are "not on your side" with a photograph of Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister.

Critics suggested the leaflets were designed to exploit divisions between the substantial number of Indian and Pakistani voters in the constituency and differing views on the border conflict in Kashmir.

The leaflets, designed to appeal to Muslim voters, list examples of Conservative "Islamophobia" including Mr Johnson’s historical comment that compared women in burkas to letterboxes.

They also feature an arrow pointing to a photograph of Mr Johnson shaking hands with Mr Modi, labelled: "The risk of voting for anyone but Labour is clear." Another line calls Mr Johnson "a Prime Minister who is silent on human rights abuses in Kashmir".

Commentators suggested the leaflets were intended to pit Muslim voters against Mr Johnson by his association with Mr Modi, a Hindu nationalist.

The leaflet described Boris Johnson, pictured on a visit to a factory in Batley ahead of the election, as 'a Prime Minister who is silent on human rights abuses in Kashmir'

Credit:  Peter Byrne/ PA

Labour Friends of India, chaired by Darren Jones MP, issued a statement condemning the leaflet.

"It is unfortunate that the Labour Party used a picture of the prime minister of India, the world’s largest democracy and one of the UK’s closest friends, from the G7 in 2019, on its leaflet," the group said. "We ask the Labour Party to withdraw the leaflet immediately and we will also be writing to the leadership about this."

On Monday night, a party spokesman defended the leaflet and said Labour would "always bring communities together".

"This leaflet makes it clear that a vote for anybody other than Kim [Leadbeater, the Labour candidate] would lead to a Tory MP who would support a Prime Minister who insults Muslim women and calls it a joke, refuses to deal with Islamophobia in his party and fails to speak out on human rights abuses in Kashmir," he said.

The party did not respond to questions about whether the leaflet would be withdrawn.

In an apparent reference to the leaflet, Navendu Mishra, a Labour MP of Indian descent, tweeted: "It saddens me to post this, but racism is alive and well within Labour. A hierarchy of racism exists inside the party and some groups are seen as fair game for attacks based on religion/race/heritage."

Richard Holden, a Tory MP, tweeted a photo of the leaflet and accused Labour of "playing the identity politics they have a go at George Galloway for".

The election campaign in Batley and Spen is becoming increasingly divisive, with Mr Galloway and Labour competing for the votes of an anticipated 8,600 Muslim voters in the seat.

Mr Galloway, a former Labour MP, has said it will be "curtains" for Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, if he becomes the seat’s next MP. He is campaigning on a pro-Palestine ticket.

The row over Labour’s leaflet comes as Tracey Brabin, the outgoing Labour MP, said activists for her party had been egged in the street and kicked in the head while campaigning. West Yorkshire Police are investigating reports that party members were targeted on the doorstep.

"The group I was with included young people and the elderly. I witnessed them being egged, pushed and forced to the ground and kicked in the head," Ms Brabin said.

Voters in the constituency go to the polls on Thursday. The latest polling suggests Labour could lose the seat to the Conservatives for the first time in 24 years.

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