What's behind the Labour Party's rift with Hindu voters?

The Hindu Council of Britain have released a statement in support of the Chief Rabbi, and have gone further, accusing Labour of having become an anti-Hindu force. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The Chief Rabbi's intervention has triggered a series of statements by other religious leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury has released a supportive statement, as has the Muslim Council of Britain, who have also accused the Conservative Party of approaching Islamophobia within their party with “denial, dismissal and deceit”. The Hindu Council of Britain have released a statement in support of the Chief Rabbi, and have gone further, accusing Labour of having become an anti-Hindu force. 

What's the cause of the breach between Labour and the Hindu Council? The party's vocal opposition to India's decision to strip Kashmir of its special status. But that Labour is in the firing line speaks to one of the most remarkable and shameless developments of recent times: the Conservatives' local success in running against and demonising a position that they share at a national level with the Labour leadership. A majority of British Hindus voted Conservative in both 2015 and 2017 and are likely to do the same in December.  

Labour was sharply criticised for its condemnation of India's actions in Kashmir in September by both the ruling BJP and the Congress Party, and both major parties think that it will cost Labour among British Hindus in December - but Labour's conference motion is, word for word, identical to the official position of the government.

But a constituency level, Conservative candidates have, seemingly with great success, managed to insulate themselves from that position. British Hindus are being urged on WhatsApp to vote against Labour due to its anti-Hindu position, and those messages have a strong strain of anti-Muslim sentiment in them. 

That's the real problem with the debate about whether or not Boris Johnson is racist, or Jeremy Corbyn is racist. Amber Rudd was one of the most liberal-minded politicians to occupy the Home Office in recent decades, during which she oversaw the Windrush Scandal - that she felt unhappy about it is neither here nor there. As I wrote yesterday, what is in Jeremy Corbyn's heart is a side issue - what matters is what Corbyn has done, or not done, as leader of the Labour Party. 

And whether or not the Conservative Party's leadership is itself hostile towards Muslims is a side issue - what matters is that the modern Conservative Party runs sectarian campaigns in parts of the United Kingdom as a matter of course, saying one thing and doing another, and stirring up cross-community tension into the bargain. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.