UK Political Parties and previous allegations of Islamophobia
British political parties have long faced criticism over their failure to tackle Islamophobia within their organisations. In May 2021, the Independent Investigation into Islamophobia within the British Conservative party was released (see Euro-Islams report on Islamophobia within the British Conservative party: The Inquiry Findings). Whilst the report urged for a complete overhaul of the current complaints procedure and the re-opening of cases falling short of expected standards, the conclusion that the allegations of institutional racism could not been evidenced1, led to criticisms that the investigation had failed. For example, Sajjad Karim, who served as a Conservative MEP argued “the manner in which this inquiry has been conducted means it is nothing but an attempt to whitewash deep-rooted issues out of sight”2.
In July 2021, the British Labour Party almost lost the by-election in Batley and Spen (a parliamentary constituency in West Yorkshire), which is one of the top fifteen seats in the UK where Muslim voters have the highest impact (see Euro-Islams Falling support of Muslims for UK Labour Party). A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain identified that the declining support from Muslim voters was caused by “local issues as well as labour positions on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia”3. More recently, the Labour Party has been accused of Islamophobia after three Muslim candidates in Tower Hamlets were removed as council candidates, and it was reported these candidates were discriminated against because they were Muslim4. The Labour Party stated the incident will be investigated as a racist incident and will make sure that the members of the review committee have been properly trained on the APPG’s (All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims) definition of Islamophobia.5
The declining political support of UK Muslims is not just limited to the Labour Party. According to a survey conducted by Muslim Census in January 2022, 1 in 4 Muslims aged 18-24 are disengaged from politics because they see that “all current parties are deeply Islamophobic”, and for this reason, would rather not vote6.
Background to the Labour Muslim Network Survey
In November 2020, the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) published a report titled “Islamophobia and the Muslim Experience”, the largest consultation of Muslim members of the party to date. It found that 1 in 3 members had directly witnessed Islamophobia within the party, 1 in 4 Muslim members had directly experienced Islamophobia within the party , and almost half of Muslim members did not believe the Labour Party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously7. These findings were endorsed by the leadership of the Labour Party including Sir Kier Starmer (Labour Party leader), Angela Raynor (deputy leader) and general secretary David Evans. In thanking the LMN for conducting the report, they stated:
“Islamophobia has no place in our party or society and we are committed to rooting it out. We look forward to working with LMN to implement their recommendations and will be meeting with them to discuss the next steps in tackling the scourge of Islamophobia”8.
A year on from the report being published, the LMN has conducted new and more recent research on Muslim Labour members perceptions and experiences of Islamophobia within the party. The results show that experiences of Islamophobia within the Labour Party have continued and disillusionment within the parties ability to handle to problem has increased.
For the purpose of the poll, the LMN uses the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims working definition of Islamophobia, which has also been adopted by the Labour Party9:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”10.
The LMN note that by using the APPG’s working definition, this helps provide the context behind understandings of Muslim members experiences and will help inform their analysis and recommendations11.
In order to collect data, both qualitative (in the form of telephone interviews) and quantitative methods (in the form of an online survey) were used over a three week period (5th – 24th January 2022). All responses were anonymised. Respondents were firstly asked if they identify as a Muslim, and their relationship to the Labour Party. Only if they both self-identified as a Muslim and were a member, or supporter, of the Labour Party were they then permitted to complete the rest of the survey12.
Data collected by the Labour Party and LMN in 2019 estimated that there is between 10,000 – 20,000 Muslim members in the UK party13. The LMN also state that they recognise the heterogenity of the Muslim members, wherein there exists a wide range of opinions, views and experiences amongst Muslims in the Labour Party and across the UK. In attempts to ensure this diversity is reflected in the report, the LMN made every effort throughout each stage of the project to capture a broad range of views and experiences14.
The first two results directly ask respondents about their views towards UK Labours response following the release of the LMN 2020 report. First they ask respondents: “Since the publication of the 2020 LMN titles “Islamophobia and the Muslim Experience”, how do you believe the Labour Party has dealt with the issue of Islamophobia?
Only 13% of those who completed the survey responded in favour of the Labour Party’s dealing with Islamophobia, whereas over half of respondents (59%) believing the Labour Party has not dealt with the issue. Within this figure, 40% of respondents view the Labour Party’s handling of Islamophobia as being “very bad”15. 24% of respondents also recorded a neutral response, with the Labour Party handling Islamophobia neither well nor badly.
The second question, focussing specifically on Labour leader Kier Starmers handling of Islamophobia after his response to the 2020 report. The question asked:
“In November 2020, Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer MP responsed to the LMN ‘Islamophobia and the Muslim Experience’ report by saying “we take Islamophobia seriously and are utterly committed to eradicating it”. In the year since the publication of the report, how well has Sir Kier Starmer handled Islamophobia as the Labour Party Leader?.16
The responses to this question yielded more negative results than the first. Only 11% of Muslim respondents believed Kier Starmer has handled Islamophobia “Quite well” or “very well”. Contrastingly, almost two-thirds of responders (64%) report that Kier Starmer is handling the issue “quite badly” or “very badly”, with 46% of that percentage voting “very badly”17. These statistics show a difference in negative perceptions towards Kier Starmer as Labour leader, handling the issue of Islamophobia, in comparison to the Labour Party as a whole.
The second section of results focuses on “perceptions”. Here Muslim members are asked to what degree they agree with the following statement. These are the same questions asked in the 2020 report and the LMN compare the answers.
Statement 1: “I believe the Labour Party represents the Muslim community effectively”
Results to this statement show a decrease in positive perceptions of the Labour Party’s being able to represent the Muslim community. For example, in 2020 22% of Muslim members agreed they were being represented, compared to 10% in 2022. There has also been a significant increase in those who disagree the Labour Party represents them, with a 39% reporting they “strongly disagree” the party represents them, which is a 23% increase since 202018.
Statement 2: “I feel well represented by the leadership of the Labour Party”
Similarly to trends in the first two questions that were asked in the survey, and newly introduced in the 2022 report, the perceptions regarding the leadership of the Labour Party are less favourable. There has been a 21% increase in respondents who “strongly disagree” they are represented by the Labour leadership, taking the total figure to almost half (47%) of those surveyed19. There was a small decline in those who “strongly agreed” or “agreed” they felt represented by the leadership, however these figures in 2020 were already low, with 15% “agreeing” and 7% “strongly agreeing” with this statement previously.
Statement 3: “I trust the leadership of the Labour Party to tackle Islamophobia effectively”
Again, following the trend in the decline of those who agree, or strongly, there is a 4% decline in those who strongly agree and trust the leadership, and 16% decline in those who agree, leaving only 16% of total respondents trusting the parties leadership in tackling Islamophobia. Whilst there is also a 10% decline in those who disagree with the statement, there has been a 23% increase20, meaning that almost half of respondents now strongly disagree that the leadership will effectively tackle the issue of Islamophobia within the party.
Statement 4: “I believe the shadow cabinet team represents the Muslim Community effectively”
Almost three quarters of respondents do not believe in the above statement with 45% (a 19% increase since 2020) of respondents strongly disagreeing and 26% disagreeing. This leaves a total of only 11% of responders agreeing or strongly agreeing, with 18% remaining neutral21.
The Labour Party are yet to respond to the LMN’s latest report.