UK Labour Party MPs and peers have criticised a “despicable” tweet by former Northern Irish MP Lord Kilclooney that referred to new Vice-President-elect of the United States Kamala Harris as “the Indian”.
Asking what would occur if new President-elect Joe Biden needed replacing, Kilclooney tweeted: “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President. Who then becomes Vice President?”
The comment posted by John Taylor, Baron Kilclooney, who was deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 1995 to 2001, has been widely criticised as racist – including by the leader of the Labour Lords.
Leader of the opposition in the upper chamber Angela Smith, Baroness Smith of Basildon, quote-tweeted Kilclooney, adding the comment: “Just despicable and beneath contempt.”
Smith added: “I am so angry about this comment… I will be making an official complaint to both the Commissioner for Standards and the Lords Speaker.”
Harris is set to become the first woman and the first Asian American and African American Vice-President in US history on January 20th, after the Democrats defeated Donald Trump and Mike Pence last week.
Responding to Kilclooney’s tweet, Labour MP and opposition frontbencher Thangam Debbonaire replied: “She’s been democratically elected to VP of the USA and you don’t use her name?
“I’m of Indian origin and proud of it, but I’m not ‘The Indian’. As an elected representative I have a name and I expect better of a member of our second chamber when referring to VP [elect] Kamala Harris”.
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said: “She is called Kamala Harris. Please send this awful comment straight back to the dark ages.”
Shadow minister Wes Streeting said “action must be taken” over the tweet, adding: “This sort of racism would be unacceptable from anyone, but from a member of the House of Lords it beggars belief.”
Luke Pollard, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “This is disgusting. There should be no place in our politics for racism and racists.”
Another shadow cabinet member, Jonathan Reynolds who is responsible for Labour’s work and pensions brief, commented: “Appalling. Just get out of the Lords. No-one with views like this should be making UK laws”.
Lord Speaker Lord Fowler has told Kilclooney to “retract” his “offensive” comment about Harris and “apologise”, warning: “The comment is entirely unacceptable and has no place in British politics. I could not be clearer.”
Approached about the tweet by the Evening Standard, Kilclooney said: “Biden refers to himself as being Irish. There’s no difference. India is celebrating her victory which was well-deserved.”
He denied that his comment was racist, saying: “No, not at all, not at all. People in America claim to be Black, claim to be Irish, claim to be Indian.
“I don’t like the way the American media yesterday was referring to her as being Black, that is rather racist. But she’s certainly Indian and proud of her Indian origin.”
When it was pointed out that Harris’ father is Black, he told the Standard: “Look, the girl is an excellent candidate, she’s had a great victory, she’s proud of her Indian heritage.”
Kilclooney has since tweeted: “Whilst Biden is proud to be Irish and Harris is rightly proud of her Indian background I certainly withdraw my reference to her as an Indian as it seems to have upset some people.”
Claiming that he had “never heard of her until three days ago”, he added: “I did not know her name and identified her with the term Indian. Most people understood.Racist NO.”
The life peer was accused of racism in 2018 when he referred to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, then the head of the government in Ireland, as a “typical Indian”. He also denied that this remark was racist.