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The Challenges that Labour’s New Leaders Face

The Challenges that Labour’s New Leaders Face

Categories: Latest News

Monday April 06 2020

Following a three-month leadership race, Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have been elected as the new leader and deputy leader of the Labour party. Their new positions come at a time of social, political, and economic upheaval, the likes of which barely exist within living memory. While the current crisis caused by the coronavirus remains securely at the top of every agenda, it is important to recognise the wider repercussions and continuing issues facing BAME communities that should not be overlooked in formulating the Labour Party’s policy agenda for the next five years.

An economic crisis

The impact of the coronavirus crisis on the national and global economy is all but inevitable, with the toll of lockdown likely to have a continuing effect on thousands of people across the UK. Meanwhile, the hardships caused by the lockdown can only serve to compound existing economic challenges that particularly impact minority communities.

Indeed, the Government’s Race Equality Audit published in 2018 highlighted the fact that people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity suffered from the highest levels of unemployment and low pay. Pakistani and Bangladeshi people were also the most likely to be unemployed, with 11% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people unemployed in 2016, almost three times the rate (4%) of unemployment amongst white British people. Meanwhile, amongst all minorities, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers were more likely to be concentrated in the three lowest-skilled occupation groups, with more than 2 in 5 Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers in these lower-skilled occupations, compared to 1 in 4 of white workers. Bangladeshi and Pakistani employees also earned the lowest average hourly pay; £11.42, compared to £13.75 per hour received by their white counterparts.

Considering the difficult decisions that are no doubt ahead, it is important that policymakers are mindful of the existing disparities that will be compounded by the current crisis when developing strategies to combat it.

Political divisiveness and hatred

In a video message following his election, Keir Starmer apologised for the “stain” of anti-Semitism within the Labour party and pledged to “tear out this poison by its roots”. Eradicating hatred and prejudice is essential for the thriving of any representative democracy and MEND thanks, Sir Starmer, for his commitment to tackling anti-Semitism within his party. In the words of John Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”.

At this time of uncertainty, a lesson that must be learned is the need for solidarity and constructive engagement. Over recent years, several organisations, including MEND, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), and Hope Not Hate, have repeatedly called for an inquiry into the prevalence of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. These calls have largely either been ignored or dismissed as irrelevant by the party leadership, including Brandon Lewis, Henry Smith, Nicky Morgan, and many others.

We hope that in the coming times’ Labour will take a renewed stance on tackling prejudice in all its forms and encourage Boris Johnson to show true leadership by announcing an immediate Independent Inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. This must be the cornerstone of any attempt to tackle the hatred that is pervasive throughout the party and in society more broadly. Only by taking meaningful steps towards eliminating hate in his own party can religious and ethnic minority communities have confidence in Mr Johnson and his government’s willingness and ability to tackle hate crime in wider society.


The lockdown and closing of schools and universities is a natural concern for thousands of families across the UK now attempting to home-school their children or remain committed to university study. Again, we must be aware of the potential for this crisis to disproportionately impact minority communities by exacerbating existing disparities.

Certainly, a recent report by Advance HE has highlighted the under-attainment of Muslim students at university compared to the wider student population, suggesting that Muslims are systematically disadvantaged within education. According to the Advance HE report, the attainment gap was due to “differences in students’ backgrounds and experiences, differences in treatment from staff and other students, and “barriers specifically associated with religious observation”. Existing research also suggests that negative student experiences amongst Muslims are a result of both overt, structural, and institutional Islamophobia, compounded by a lack of religious literacy and a lack of appropriate safeguards to prevent a culture of discrimination and racism.

Meanwhile, an NUS report has demonstrated that 1 in 3 students said PREVENT had a negative impact on them, including the apprehension of engaging in political debates in case of referral. Furthermore, in the NEU’s report, “Barriers”, teachers talking about the implications of PREVENT felt that “Prevent is so strong that teachers feel that disagreeing with them [PREVENT guidelines] is seen as condoning extremism and there is pressure to ‘watch’ Muslim students and their work.” The fact that the highest proportion of PREVENT referrals comes from the education sector necessitates that teachers adopt the role of agents of the state and monitor students who are in turn positioned as a suspect. It is inevitable, therefore, that the impacts of PREVENT manifest themselves in both staff/student interaction and student’s performance, thereby affecting their educational achievement.

Consequently, an examination of the impacts of lockdown on the attainment of students must take existing challenges into account.

During this time, all political leaders have an unenviable task of guiding our nation through this crisis. We hope that they will use the expertise of MEND and similar organisations in formulating responses to this crisis that avoid compounding the challenges that many minority communities already face. MEND would welcome the opportunity to offer its expertise and services wherever they may be of assistance in this task.


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