Candidates standing to be the next leader of the Labour Party have criticised Prime Minister, David Cameron, for effectively demonising the entire Muslim community in Britain and attempting to deny them the right of having any opinions themselves at all.
“People will express opposing views and I have expressed my view pretty forthright. I don’t see how it helps tackle extremism for the Prime Minister of the country to alienate the community it is trying to deal with the problem” of terrorism, Andy Burnham said.
“I feel at the moment that the message that is coming out from politicians and politics makes members from the Muslim community in my own constituency feel like they are being demonised and that is wrong,” said Liz Kendall.
The two MPs, seeking to replace Ed Miliband, were questioned on a range of issues, including Cameron’s latest outburst in Birmingham, when The Muslim News Editor, Ahmed J Versi, caught up with them just before they began hustings on July 30. The other candidates, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn, have yet to arrange requested interviews.
Burham said that he had made his concerns about the speech known from the first hustings in Stevenage, including Muslims accused of supposedly not criticising terrorism enough. “I have repeatedly criticised David Cameron for the words that he used ‘quietly condoning’ extremism,” he said.
“We have the Prime Minister talking quite disgracefully in my view about the Muslim community ‘quietly condoning’ extremism. I think it is an appalling thing for a Prime Minister to say because we need to be working with the community to tackle the tiny percentage of people who are extremists or danger of radicalisation.”
“So to alienate the community seems to me to be a terrible thing to do. So Labour needs to be the voice of the community, the voice of reason and we build the right leadership.”
Kendall said that she knew about the outrage in the Muslim community about the Prime Minister’s attempts to consider every Muslim as a potential extremist from her many conversations she had in her Leicester constituency and across the country.
“I feel at the moment that the message that is coming out from politicians and politics makes members from the Muslim community in my own constituency feel like they are being demonised and that is wrong,” she said.
“I know that there is a rise in Islamophobia. I see that and feel that in my own constituency and people are very concerned. My job as a Labour Leader would be to build a constructive dialogue.”
“Security forces need to be able to have measure in force. They need to take action. We need to get to the root causes of the radicalisation that we see. But we can only do that with the partnership with the Muslim community.”
Research by The Muslim News shows that Labour still relies on Muslim votes, which in May’s elections significantly helped them gain eight seats, and consolidate other seats across London, Manchester and Yorkshire.
Kendall said she would “never take the Muslim vote or support for granted. It is a huge error if you do that as a party.” If she was leader, she would not want that support “go to waste because we are not in the Government.”
“I know from my own constituency that the Muslim community has supported and voted for Labour because they want to see a change and won’t be able to achieve that change if we are not actually in power. So we have to regain people’s trust on the economy and with their taxes.”
Burnham also recognised it had happened in the past and that it was “not just the Muslim community but other communities (who) have felt that Labour has taken them for granted. And we have been punished for that.”
“This is what we need to change. Labour shouldn’t take any part of the BAME community for granted. It needs to reach out; it needs to ensure that we are properly representing those communities both in local politics council and in Parliamentary selections.”
He said that if he became leader he would make a commitment to have in constituencies where at least 50% of the population is from the BAME community have a balanced short list as the party needed to reach out and show they are not taking any community for granted particularly the Muslim community.
On the thorny issue of whether Labour will have to change their policies to move towards the left rather than stay on the right or centre right due to the huge support for Corbyn. Kendall insisted that she “cannot change what I believe in.”
“I want us to be a modern relevant Labour Party that offers people credible hope that we can have a alternative Government. I could never change my beliefs and my values and what I argue for. I know Party members – they want an alternate to where we’ve been in the past five years. They want to have hope that we can have a more equal and fairer society. We want the same objectives but I believe we can just get there in a different way.”
She refused to say if so-called Blairite philosophy was out, saying the philosophy she believed in was when Labour applied its values in 1945, 1964 and and built a broad coalition of support.
“We represented the majority of the country. That is how we won the elections. We were modern and relevant to the world as it is. It is not right for us to turn back to the kind of politics of the 1980s. But I have no doubt I have a long way to go in convincing people of that case but I will carry on making these arguments and I will never change what I believe in, the same way as Jeremy has never changed what he has believed in.”
Burnham was more non-committal about how support for Corbyn may change the party. “We have to see. It is not over this race is it? Jeremy has things to say which people responded to but the race is far from over. I think the Party will make its choice when the ballot papers land in the Labour Party. Then we’ll decide are we a party of protest or are we a party of Government.”
The picture being presented was more distorted he suggested. “Sometimes people have to separate the people who are activists in twitter. They make a lot of noise. Then there are people who are the silent majority of Labour Party who voted for David Miliband as a majority did in 2010.”
“People need to separate where most of where Labour members are where the media wants to take things at the moment. But I am quietly confident that I have put out a vision for most Labour members will see not just inspiring but also credible. And that’s the key thing.”
On whether he believed Blairites are finished, Burnham said he did not see it that way. “The key thing is if everybody looks at this contest as case of one faction wining over another then we are making a mistake because what we will do is we will cement factionalism in the Labour Party.”
“The key thing is about uniting the Party. It’s not the case of Blairites being finished. There are voices on the right of the Party and there are voices on the left of the Party. They key bit is coming out of this contest is uniting people behind the Labour Party direction going forward.”
Israel’s continuing defying of international law by refusing to vacate occupying Palestinian lands since 1967 and continuous building of illegal settlements, is acknowledged by the candidates. Burnham said that he was shocked at the change in the West Bank between two visits he made in 2004 ad 2012.
“It was a very different reality. It made me question the viability of a two-state solution when the West Bank starts to look like Swiss cheese,” he said referring to the growth in illegal Israeli settlements and the completion of barrier wall coming into the West Bank in places.
“I have been public in my criticism of that change of that permissiveness of settlements which the Netanyahu Government has taken. I was one of those who voted in Parliament for recognition of Palestine as I believe a change needs to be made in terms of this current stalemate.”
“It seems to me that the two-state solution which we should always say is the right solution is receding before our eyes and it needed a change to put it back on the agenda,” Burnham warned but still rejected imposing any sanctions against Israel, saying it would be “a step too far.”
Kendall refused to say whether she would impose sanctions against Israel although she insisted she felt and shared the “absolute anger and despair that the Palestinian people feel and many Party members and many people across the country too.”
“I’ve always behind in a two-state solution and the way to get there is through negotiations. But I think many people feel that that just doesn’t feel credible or possible at the moment. That there isn’t the commitment to either to the goal of the two-state solution let alone the process to get there. I still believe that the best way is negotiations.”
“I do understand why people feel so strongly that’s what we should be doing. I think we need renewed effort right across the board here and the illegal occupation people rightly think that no action has been taken on that. We as a leading international community we have to redouble our efforts there because the horror of what has been happening can no longer be tolerated,” she said.