United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson pulled out a Labour Party leaflet from the last by-election in Batley and Spen constituency to make a point about racism during Question Hour in Parliament this week.
Johnson and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer clashed in the House of Commons over the controversial by-election leaflet, which had been branded “divisive” and “anti-India” by Indian diaspora groups in Britain.
During a heated debate, Johnson held up the leaflet showing him in a handshake with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G7 Summit in 2019 with the message “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side”.
It was presented as an accusation to win over Pakistani voters in the constituency. Johnson pointed to that as anti-India racism within the Labour Party, which has been accusing him of failing to stop racism through the European Cup football.
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 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’,” 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 really simple, either the Prime Minister is with the England players in their stand against racism or he can defend his own record, and that of his ministers and some of his MPs, but he cannot have it both ways. Can he tell the House whether he now regrets failing to condemn those who booed England’s players for standing up to racism,” said Starmer.
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 - an issue raised by prime minister Boris Johnson at PMQs,” tweeted Professor Manoj Ladwa, UK-based entrepreneur and former member of Prime Minister Modi’s electoral campaign team.
At the time of the by-election at the end 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 organising a letter of complaint to party leader Keir Starmer, criticising the “vote-bank politics” of the campaign leaflet.